On a chilly April afternoon at Bay Shore High School, an American flag whipped in the breeze on the lacrosse field near Sunrise Highway. “God Save the Queen” blared from the speaker system and two dozen teenagers from Kent, England, sang the words.
Moments later, two dozen girls from the high school held their hands over their hearts as “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played.
For the fourth time in a tradition that began in 2000, girls’ lacrosse was the vehicle for a cultural exchange that included exhibition contests between Bay Shore and a small prep school team from across the pond.
“This trip will stay with me forever,” said 17-year-old Olivia Wyatt, who plays defense for Walthamstow Hall in Kent, about an hour’s drive south of London. The school’s name is so tricky to spell and pronounce, she said with a grin, that the front of the jerseys simply read “Wally Hall.”
The cross-Atlantic tradition began in 2000 when Bay Shore, then coached by Allison Pfeffer and her husband, John, invited a team from England for a series of lacrosse games. The idea was sparked by Amanda Mazzarella, Bay Shore Class of ’95, who starred for the Pfeffers and was teaching and coaching in England.
“The whole international experience was way beyond winning or losing. The girls always had an incredible time and lots of laughs hosting the Brits overnight in their homes,” Allison Pfeffer said. “The Bay Shore students and fans were terrific. Some of the boys from our PE classes cheered for England because they told me later, ‘No one was cheering for them.’ I thought that was wonderful.”
The couple retired from coaching after the 2014 season. Natasha Fuchs, who played for them, took over and is now in her second year as coach.
To the Bay Shore girls, meeting the English players was “cool.”
“We stayed up a really long time talking to them, comparing our schools, our teams,” Bay Shore goalie Annie Casey said. “Some of the habits we have and the things we say . . . It’s really funny,”
Bay Shore defender Sofia Leone was struck by the differences in the size of the two schools as well as the commitment to lacrosse. “They only get to practice 40 minutes a day during their lunch period. We have three hours after school,” Leone said. “That’s pretty amazing.”
The British girls were awed by the size of Bay Shore High School (nearly 2,000 students, compared with 400 at their school) and its commitment to athletics.
“Over here, the girls start at a much younger age and have much more developed skills than we do,” Wyatt said. “It’s crazy how different it is.”
Wyatt said Wally Hall had played a couple of exhibition games in prior stops on their tour in Washington and Philadelphia, but Bay Shore’s team dominated their scrimmage. That was to be expected, said Wally Hall coach Alison Earnshaw-Punnett.
“In England, lacrosse is very laid back and informal at the school level. Here it’s very serious,” she said. “For my girls, it’s a fantastic experience to see how lacrosse is played here.”
Lifetime experiences were plentiful. In Washington, the British girls visited the White House, the Washington Monument — George Washington does not get much mention in England’s history books, Wyatt noted — and the World War II memorial.
In Philadelphia, they visited the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. After their stay in Bay Shore, they visited Ground Zero, took a boat ride around the Statue of Liberty and attended the Broadway show “Wicked.”
“We did so much. We saw a lot of history; learned a lot about sports,” Earnshaw-Punnett said. “And as teenage girls, they took it all in.”
The Bay Shore girls had a learning experience, too.
“We were so lucky to be able to host them, bring them to our classrooms to talk to our teachers and see the way we learn,” Bay Shore midfielder Sarah Trupp said.
And, Trupp said, the English girls “really enjoyed the bagels and pizza. They don’t see much of that in England.”
“Girls are girls,” Fuchs said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re English or American. We all like the same things. The only thing they liked a lot more than I did was tea.”
This year’s end-of-game ceremony on April 8 at Bay Shore was an exchange of hugs, email addresses, T-shirts and emotions. Scores were not officially kept.
“It’s always a teary goodbye,” Pfeffer said.