California High School Lacrosse Participation: Only 173 High Schools (Out of 2,079) Play CIF Lacrosse Due To Issues That Include Funding, Liability, And Fear Of School Boards To Elevate Schools

Of 2,079 California high schools, only 173 play CIF lacrosse.

Liability questions have been raised. Staffing issues have been raised. Medical supervision issues have been raised. Maintenance issues have been raised. Playing site issues have been raised.

(From article)    Their zeal was electric, fusing our phone connection with hot sparks that, I am Northern California Junior Lacrosse Associationsure, could be seen for miles outside on the phone lines linking our conversation. Todd Samet and Ted Spores were talking lacrosse, a sport for some, a caffeine derivative for them. So intense was their attachment to the sport, I suspected their wives aren’t permitted to say “lacrosse” at 10 p.m. for fear the word would keep their husbands up at night.

Three reasons have prompted them to be that way.

First, the lacrosse club teams from Petaluma and Casa Grande will be competing for a shot at the state club championship this weekend in Newbury Park. From the same city, they are Northern California’s representatives, a neat trick if there ever was one.

Last weekend in the quarterfinals, Casa beat the Palo Alto Tomahawks, a team with players from two high schools (Palo Alto and Gunn). In turn, Petaluma beat a team composed of players from Folsom and Rancho Cordova.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Petaluma and Casa play for the state championship on Sunday,” said Samet, Casa’s coach.

Second, there’s the $20,000. The Petaluma Youth Lacrosse League will write the Petaluma School Board a check for that amount, with the flexible stipulation that the school board apply that money as it sees fit, ostensibly to help boast underfunded sports programs at the city’s two high schools.

“Some people may call it a bribe,” Samet said. “I don’t think I would use that word.”

A sweetener, perhaps?

“That might be a better word,” Samet said.

A sweetener so that the school board and the administrators at the two schools may relax their defenses, wash away their fears and elevate these two club teams to CIF status next year.

Which would lead to the third reason: Samet and Spores, the PYLL president, are at the point of the spear, relentlessly thrusting lacrosse into the consciousness of the school board and school officials. Elevate it to a CIF sport, please. No good reason to deny.

“They want to be safe,” Spores said, “and not to be placed in a bad light if it fails. They are afraid of failing. I don’t have a lot of faith in them (school board) at all.”

If that sounds like the voice of exasperation, it’s the product of a two-year battle and counting. The PYLL is in its fifth year, with Samet and Spores turning up the flame the last two years as they felt Petaluma lacrosse had reached self-sustainability.

The organization was in place, running smoothly. Fund-raising now has $40,000 in the bank. Once with only 70 kids on the field, PYLL now has 375. Once with only four teams, it now has 16. It has youth programs beginning at 11. That’s why they thought that $20,000 “sweetener” would attract attention, if not to soften the hard realities of an economically challenged school district.

“Now if the check had been for $750,000 to resurface Durst Field,” said Troy Sanderson, school board president, “no … I’m only kidding, I would never ask them for that. Fact is, it doesn’t change the actual problems, doesn’t address the actual issues.”

Liability questions have been raised. Staffing issues have been raised. Medical supervision issues have been raised. Maintenance issues have been raised. Playing site issues have been raised.

Popularity issues have been raised: Of 2,079 California high schools, only 173 play CIF lacrosse. Funding issues have been raised, such as financially strapped parents reducing or even abandoning their donations. Commitment issues have been raised, as Casa and Petaluma are the only Sonoma County League schools playing club lacrosse.

“They really present false barriers,” Spores said.

So, the arguments for and against remain the same, a battleground in which there has been little advancing in the last two years.

Only two things have changed: Petaluma lacrosse attaining a higher profile because of that $20,000 check and its two teams playing for a chance to play for the state championship this weekend.

Of course, to be fair, being a state club champion in lacrosse is not the zenith of the lacrosse experience in California. Only 36 club teams remain in the state, and the number becomes smaller each year.

The two teams Petaluma and Casa beat last weekend, they represent four high schools that will play CIF lacrosse next year. It is a feather in their cap that Petaluma and Casa won by not merging into one team while each beat a club team that did. It is, however, a small feather.

“We want to face better competition,” Samet said. “That’s the big reason we want to go CIF.”

Ironic, isn’t it, that a club sport doesn’t supply the best competition in California, when in almost every other sport in this state the club brand is much preferred over the high school variety.

Club volleyball, club soccer, AAU basketball, summer league baseball are just a few sports that gather more attention and college recruitment than their high school counterparts.

“In two years,” Spores predicts, no club lacrosse teams will exist in the state. They will have either moved up to CIF or vanish. The parents, he predicts, will tire of making considerable time and funding commitments that won’t result in CIF status.

If two years indeed represents the endgame, then Todd Samet and Ted Spores should have one and only one immediate goal. They need for school officials to feel what they feel, that caffeine rush, that lacrosse rush, something strong and powerful to keep you up at night.

For more on North Bay high school sports go to Bob Padecky’s blog at You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5490 or

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