WILLIAMSTOWN — Twelve Mount Greylock athletes signed NCAA Division III "non-binding" celebratory forms on Thursday morning, declaring where they would go to college and play a sport. But for four of them, it was as much a celebration of how far their sport has come so quickly.
Boys lacrosse player Cal Filson and girls lacrosse players Haley Reinhard, Maggie Rorke and Arianna Walden are all going to college to play a sport that didn't even exist in the high school when their graduating class came to Greylock as seventh graders.
"It's quite humbling," said Filson, who will be playing lacrosse at Oberlin College in Ohio. "It's very interesting. Obviously, not many people in Berkshire County are familiar with the sport. It definitely has grown over the past 10 years in the county.
"I feel a lot of pride, signing this letter and going to college next year for a sport that's growing in Berkshire County."
In the eyes of the NCAA, the ceremony means little. By signing those forms, the athletes are not bound to participate in their sport, does not guarantee them a roster spot, and doesn't even require said student to attend said college.
Of the dozen, lacrosse was the sport for most of them. There were two swimmers, Liz Bernardy and Emma Whitney, and two track and field athletes, Ellie Williams and Julia Szczepaniak.
One of the dozen, Grace Smith, is going to Division III Bates as a Nordic skier. But Smith will join Jake and Jenna Benzinger as a Division I athlete. Bates skis as a Division I team, along with NESCAC rivals Williams, Colby and Middlebury.
But Nordic skiing, football, baseball track and field and swimming are sports that have been around in Berkshire County for decades. Not so lacrosse, a sport that had slow beginnings at the Pittsfield CYC almost 20 years ago and did not become a varsity sport until the 21st century.
"For a while, it was just basketball," said Walden, who will be going to Western New England to play lacrosse and basketball. "This year, I came to realize that, wow, I want to continue this sport. For the past two years it was fun and a fun sport to have on the side.
"Now, when I was talking to the coach, that's when it became real."
For Greylock's Maggie Rorke, lacrosse has been a part of her life for a long time. Rorke, who will play at Babson, is the daughter of Williams College field hockey coach Alix Barrale. Barrale played field hockey and lacrosse at Williams and has been the field hockey coach for the past 16 years.
Rorke has been playing the sport since she was in the fourth grade, which coincided with the development of the Berkshire County Lacrosse League.
"It doesn't feel real yet. I think I'm excited to go off to a better program and learn even more," she said. "It's such a great experience. We've all been playing together for so long, and that's why, I think our team is so successful. We are really close. We've played with each other for so long, because there are no other teams around here to join."
Reinhard will be heading across the country to play at Chapman University in Orange County, Calif.
"Last year, I went to a camp for [the University of Southern California], but it was held in New Jersey. The coach came to New Jersey and we played there," said Reinhard. "I was talking to her about playing, and she said it's D-I, you probably won't play until your senior year.
"I wanted to play. It wasn't about playing D-I or D-III. It was about playing."
Bernardy will be swimming at Wheaton College, George Hedreen will play football at Willamette in Oregon, Josh Jezouit will be playing baseball at Framingham State, while Whitney will swim for Ithaca. Benni McComish, a longtime soccer standout, went off the board and will play Squash at Bates. Squash is not a high school varsity sport. Szczepaniak will run at Castleton, while Williams will take her talents to Hamilton
And then there's Smith, who will be a classmate of McComish, but will be training and competing against Division I schools like NCAA champion Denver and Vermont. Bates was 19th in this year's NCAA championships.
"It's definitely going to be a big change from high school training. I'm really excited to have that next level of competition," she said, "to keep motivated and hopefully to keep improving."
That "keep improving" will be quite a challenge. After all, the national champions from Denver had nine Europeans on its women's ski team, six of them coming from Norway.
"It's going to be a big jump," said Smith. "I'm really excited to be able to do that, but it's going to take some hard work."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.