, Salem, MA

February 22, 2013

Latitude Sports programs expanding -- with some help from the pros

By Jean DePlacido

---- — Bringing in some former professional athletes to help work with their programs is working wonders at Latitude Sports in Peabody.

Gary Leavitt, a Peabody native who took over as program director last November, brought in some pros to run the various programs at Latitude.

“I get to have a job I’m having so much fun doing,” Leavitt said. “We have something going on all the time, and the athletes running things are great to deal with.”

For instance, Steve Lomasney, the one-time Red Sox catcher from the Tanner City, ran a February vacation camp this week. Former Peabody High greats Jeff Allison (ex-first-round draft pick of the Florida Marlins), Ryan Moorer (of the Mariners) and Peter Soteropoulos (a 2004 member of Greek Olympic baseball team who was drafted by the Cardinals) helped out with the baseball side, while Courtney and Stephen Pilcher handled the softball end of things.

Latitude also installed a new turf field, which allows for greater use of the facility. On Sundays, the North Shore Flag Football League plays there from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., with kids from all over the North Shore playing indoor flag football. During the week, league founder Austin Bradshaw runs a men’s league there.

“We have between 400 and 500 people involved between the kids and adults,” Leavitt said. “My son plays quarterback for one of the teams and loves it. That sport is rapidly growing in popularity.

Lomasney, the Peabody High Hall of Famer and Super Bowl-winning quarterback (in 1993), said his Show Baseball Academy works quite nicely with what Leavitt and Latitude Sports have to offer.

“This (was) something new for us, but we’ve been very successful at Show Baseball. We offer a good-quality baseball program, and the new field at Latitude is gorgeous. It’s like “Field of Dreams”; if you build it, they will come. Gary and his people are doing a great job.”

Former New England Patriots tight end and current Boston sports analyst Jermaine Wiggins did the coin toss to get the eight-week flag football league going. He plans to offer a combination of football training/personal training in a combine-type program for middle school and high school kids in the spring.

“I’ll focus on a mix of strength and conditioning along with football position drills,” said Wiggins, who lives in the Tri-Town area. “We’ll have drills set up specifically to help kids become better football players. We want them to improve their technique, learn skills they haven’t acquired and not rely on athletic ability alone. I’m going to bring in some guys I know to help out with the main focus on fundamental skills.

“Latitude is a great place to offer this program. There’s a lot of stuff going on there. My son plays flag football there now, and it’s a great way for kids to stay active when they can’t play tackle football.”

In addition, Martian League and Tribal Lacrosse play at Latitude during the week; Salem State soccer All-American Alvaro Ibanez will run the Viking Soccer clinic; St. John’s Prep basketball head coach Sean Connolly, a former star at Ohio State, has a basketball clinic planned for April vacation; and Marblehead High track coach Mike Toomey handles indoor running clinics on Sundays.

“We’re going to have the first Saucony Mile for runners of all different levels,” Leavitt said. “They’ll come from all over New England, and we hope to have these events once a month throughout the spring. Some members of the New England Revolution will be coming in during the spring to run clinics for the kids.

“We’ve got all kinds of different programs with Rich Vasapoli doing mixed martial arts, Craig Lewin doing triathlon endurance training, cheerleading and Vibe Dance Academy with Brian Santora, who is the choreographer for ‘America’s Got Talent.’ We also have a four-story rock-climbing wall.

“There’s something for everybody.”