When Cathy Samaras watches indoor lacrosse at the Roger W. "Pip" Moyer Recreation Center this winter, she sees more than draws, checks, shots and ponytails.
She sees the protective scoreboard cage that her Quickstix lacrosse league bought as part of a $7,000 contribution to nurture new relations between her organization and the city of Annapolis.
She sees players from the Eastern Shore and southern Maryland who were lured to the league by competitive games, experienced coaches and sharp-eyed referees. She sees advancing skills among players from schools like North County, where lacrosse is still developing roots.
And she sees Speaker of the House Michael E. Busch coaching his daughters’ Quickstix team and demonstrating the connection between local sports, business, government and politics.
Samaras sees a lot of things she has helped establish in her community over the past 30-plus years.
“She’s the godmother of lacrosse,” Busch said during a break at a recent game at Truxtun with his daughters, Megan and Erin. “In many ways, the lacrosse program that we have today has a lot to do with Cathy Samaras.”
Samaras, 67, is a local product, a graduate of Annapolis High School and Towson University. She married her high school sweetheart, George, and taught in Montgomery and Baltimore counties while he attended medical school. The couple returned to Annapolis to start their family and launch George’s medical career.
The couple raised six children and seven dogs and built George’s busy private practice that led him to the current chairmanship of the department of medicine at Anne Arundel Medical Center.
But one phone call back in the 1980s added a different dimension to their lives and those of thousands of young women in the community. Cathy Samaras contacted the fledgling girls’ lacrosse league run by Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks and said her 9-year-old daughter, Cory, wanted to play.
“They told me she could play if I coached,” Samaras said.
Her answer to that question launched the Samaras lacrosse dynasty. Samaras is now president and CEO of Synapse Sports, a lucrative business that includes recreational leagues, club teams, publications, tournaments, websites, recruiting services and more.
It has been a successful business model that spurred other athletic ventures, while providing far-reaching recreational, collegiate and career sports opportunities for women.
“She made sure girls’ lacrosse had the same opportunities as boys' lacrosse in the county,” Busch said. “She made sure they had stick skills clinics. She made sure the referees were well trained. She developed the types of relationships that have strengthened girls’ lacrosse not only in Anne Arundel County but throughout the state.”
Samaras credits others with planting the seeds of the women’s game in Anne Arundel County. “I did not start it,” she said. “I made it go.”
The Quickstix indoor recreation league was started in 1989. She created it because she was unhappy that the county league provided trophies to all participants. Awards, she insisted, should be earned. This year, it outgrew the Annapolis High School gym and has spurred a relationship with the city.
Synapse Sports began publishing The Draw college lacrosse yearbook in 1995, which for many years was the go-to guide for girls looking to connect with college programs. A number of Internet recruiting sites have since followed that same successful formula.
Her CCLax Club program, started with area long-time coach Sue Chittim, offers advanced skill development, competition and recruiting guidance. Since 2000, girls from more than 90 schools in the Chesapeake region have played for that club, among them the 2011 pre-season collegiate player of the year Karri Ellen Johnson (Broadneck High, University of Maryland) and current USA national team member Acacia Walker (Annapolis High, University of Maryland).
Synapse also runs an insurance plan for club members, a travel agency, seminars for referees, websites and tournaments that draw club teams from throughout North America.
Three Samaras daughters─Cory (Princeton), Christa (Princeton) and Stephy (Virginia)─were collegiate All-Americans and earn their living through the sport. Stephy is head coach at the University of Richmond, Christa runs club teams and coaches training programs across the country and Cory works at Synapse. Her other children, Staci, Dean and Drew, along with her husband, can be spotted behind the wheels of golf carts at her tournament, shuttling coaches, refs and scorecards from field to field. All of them, she said, are entrenched in her “grassroots to global” vision of lacrosse.
Samaras has amassed dozens of honors for her contributions to the sports world, including selection into the US Lacrosse Chesapeake Chapter Hall of Fame. Her business savvy earned her the local Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year award and a spot on the Sports Business Journal’s list of top 10 sports executives.
She is current president of the Annapolis Recreation Council and the Galaxy Lacrosse conference and has served in leadership roles for US Lacrosse, the International Federation of Women’s Lacrosse Associations and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Annapolis & Anne Arundel County. And she leads the marketing arm of her “other” business, Zachary’s Jewelers.
She said she has no interest in slowing down any time soon.
Samaras just returned from Palm Springs, where her 4-year-old Sand Storm Tournament has grown to 64 girls’ teams and 14 boys’ teams. She is looking to deepen her involvement in boys’ lacrosse tournaments and in field hockey events.
And she is revving up her relationships with the Roger W. "Pip" Moyer Recreation Center and the Boys & Girls Clubs with the intention of extending lacrosse opportunities to more children from the Annapolis community.
“I want to affect the kids who grew up here and I think I have,” she said. “They’ve taken the lessons they learned onto the lacrosse field into life.”