NJJLL Provides Launching Pad for 25,000 Boys in North Jersey


This article appears in the May/June edition part of a series on community-based lacrosse leagues that are thriving despite the growing trend toward privatization in youth sports. Don’t get the mag? Join US Lacrosse to start your subscription.

Jim Donovan fills a couple of different roles with the North Jersey Junior Lacrosse League.

Not only is Donovan the president of the largest youth boys’ lacrosse league in the country, but also he has helped contribute to its evolution as the founder of one of the NJJLL’s newest programs in his hometown of Lyndhurst.

“Lyndhurst Lacrosse is growing,” said Donovan, who started the program six years ago. “The only enemy I have is ‘Fortnite.’ That’s it. I’m very happy with the growth I have.”

Before Lyndhurst, Donovan had worked for nearly 15 years with the Maplewood organization. When he became president of the NJJLL in 2005, there were 16 youth lacrosse programs in New Jersey. The NJJLL grew to the point where it eventually split into South and North Jersey leagues. North Jersey alone now boasts 86 programs, and Donovan is thrilled to see more players taking up the sport in new areas.

“I see Jersey City getting bigger, Hoboken, I see new programs popping up,” Donovan said. “Passaic is new. In South Jersey, there are programs popping up left and right. It’s exploding.”

Donovan likens the NJJLL to a missionary. They are especially there for new programs. Towns interested in starting a program call the league and the NJJLL offers advice on how to make it a seamless inception. Donovan went through it himself with Lyndhurst in 2013, and is watching his town grow.

“I say we’re a launching pad,” said Donovan, who hopes to see Lyndhurst offer lacrosse in high school soon. “I’m here to brainwash the kids into loving the game. I’m here for them to learn the fundamentals and to love the game.”

The NJJLL sees the potential to continue to expand. The demand is growing from areas that don’t have lacrosse yet. Many of them are like Lyndhurst and don’t have lacrosse teams at their high schools, and youth lacrosse programs give them a starting point.

“Rutherford, they joined the league last year,” Donovan said. “Rutherford and [Lyndhurst] are the only two towns in Southern Bergen County. You’d have to go up two more towns and then Paramus and Saddle Brook have programs.

“It’s going to still keep growing. Once inner cities get involved — I don’t know the template to get it in, but in Newark and East Orange, if you have to have to right person that’s willing to commit — they’re going to get it going.”

The NJJLL has more than 25,000 boys playing under its umbrella and tiers its programs into three levels based on the league’s size and experience. The NJJLL sells lacrosse as an opportunity for all to play.

“We have a rule: If you have a game, every kid that comes to practice should be playing at least a quarter of the game,” Donovan said. “It’s a huge selling point. The kids are moving and they’re all engaged at practice.”

Donovan has watched products of the NJJLL go on to star in high school and college. Some have come back to the area to help lacrosse continue to flourish.

“It gives you great satisfaction,” Donovan said. “I’m a launching pad.”

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