(From Enterprisenews.com…By John R. Johnson,GATEHOUSE NEWS SERVICE)
“The number of high school lacrosse players in the U.S. has doubled to just over 200,000 since 2001.”
“Since 2001, the number of players in youth lacrosse has nearly doubled, from 125,000 nationwide to more than 241,000 in 2007.”
Lacrosse is a sport that continues to gain in popularity
Summer is here, and baseball will always carry the reputation as America’s quintessential pastime.
But the baseball diamond is getting a run for its money from the high drama of lacrosse, which claims to be America’s first sport, tracing its roots back to the North American Indians.
Lacrosse continued to explode at the youth, high school and collegiate levels in the spring.
More athletes are trading in their baseball and softball bats for lacrosse sticks, face cages and the opportunity to play a fast-paced sport that blends many of the other sports they participate in — namely basketball, soccer, hockey — and even football.
“Lacrosse has become a big youth sport,” Pembroke High School athletic director Bill Fallon said. “It reminds of when we had the soccer boom way back in the early ’80s and youth programs started it and everything went from there.”
Jim Quatromoni, athletic director at Hull High School, agrees that lacrosse is coming of age.
“There will always be that classic element of baseball as America’s pastime, but this game (lacrosse) is coming quick,” said Quatromoni, whose school fielded its first varsity boys and girls program this past season.
“You’re out there running in the sun and hitting people in the boys game, and in the girls game the overall athleticism is magnified the most. So I see it continuing to grow.”
Hull High is one of many schools that have elevated lacrosse to varsity status.
In addition to Hull, Whitman-Hanson and Pembroke played their first varsity seasons this year (the second season for the Pembroke girls team), and Silver Lake hopes to elevate its self-funded lacrosse program to the varsity level next year.
The Oliver Ames girls have had a program for several years and made tournament for the first time this spring.
The growth of lacrosse is evident in the statistics kept by U.S. Lacrosse, the national governing body for the sport.
Since 2001, the number of players in youth lacrosse has nearly doubled, from 125,000 nationwide to more than 241,000 in 2007.
With 18,242 athletes participating in youth lacrosse programs in Massachusetts, the state ranks third in the country.
Similarly, the number of high school lacrosse players in the U.S. has doubled to just over 200,000 since 2001.
“What happens is that the youth programs usually create a real fervor for the game, and then a boosters group will try to deliver it to the high school level,” said Scituate High School boys lacrosse coach Rick Bagby.
“Kids like to be active, and it’s a very active game. Kids need to have very good hand-eye coordination, and it helps them in other sports like soccer and basketball.
“It’s a great hockey cross-over sport. It bridges a lot of sports and it’s fun — who doesn’t like to go around running into people with a stick?”
Bagby has watched the sport explode — especially over the last decade. When he was an assistant coach at BC High School in 1995, there were only 35 teams in the state with varsity teams. Today, there are 135 in Eastern Massachusetts alone.
While the sport has a combination of many other sports, unfortunately kids can only play on one spring team. That sometimes means choosing lacrosse over traditional spring sports like baseball, softball and track.
Silver Lake athletic director Bill Johnson said the 24 players who made up the boys JV team and the 22 on the girls’ roster might have taken away from the school’s track numbers slightly, but that there has been no dropoff in numbers on the baseball or softball squads.
Fallon said the same is true at his school.
“I know that’s an argument that a lot of people bring up, but I haven’t seen it impacting the other sports at our school,” said Fallon. “It’s just exploding on the South Shore.”
The game is also booming at the collegiate level, where lacrosse is the fastest-growing sport in the NCAA, growing by more then 25 percent over the last 10 years.
Lacrosse is the fourth-fastest growing women’s sport in the NCAA.
Bridgewater Sate College has fielded a women’s varsity lacrosse squad for years. Its men’s team competes at the club level, but is highly popular and is likely next in line to go varsity.
Title IX limitations and budget restraints have prevented that from occurring thus far. BSC’s 19-member women’s squad lost an 18-10 decision to Western New England in the ECAC championship game this season.
“So far we’re not seeing a dropoff in softball, but I also think that’s because both programs have their own identity,” said BSC athletic director John Harper. “Both programs are strong enough that they can survive on their own.”