Explosive growth of lacrosse providing spring athletes with more opportunities

Charlie Mackenzie | Sports Writer

Fifteen years ago, lacrosse would have seldomly been considered when choosing a sport to play. Today, roughly 750,000 kids lace up lacrosse cleats each spring and take the field.

Lacrosse caught fire in the Midwest and has been rapidly spreading in popularity. At first, the sport was an East Coast phenomenon. Recently, Ohio athletes have abandoned their baseball bats and running spikes during springtime to get a taste of the growing Eastern pastime.

High school lacrosse is currently organized by the Ohio High School Lacrosse Association and the Ohio Schoolgirls Lacrosse Association. About 122 boys’ teams and 118 girls’ teams have sprouted up in Ohio, prompting the OHSAA to sponsor the sport beginning next season. With its bustling popularity, lacrosse has also sparked an interest in Mason’s youth. The Mason Lacrosse Club was founded in 2004 for athletes in first through eighth grade looking to get involved in the new sport, and currently has around 400 players.

Senior lacrosse player Charlotte Doran ran track in middle school but decided to quit her freshman year after her friend told her about the growing popularity of lacrosse. Doran said that she was looking for a sport with a team facet, something track lacked.

“There is always a team aspect to every sport, but running is a different aspect because I don’t benefit from other people,” Doran said. “On the field, we all benefit from each other and have to work together to win. It is a totally different dynamic, and I had never experienced that before.”

Lacrosse has not only boomed at the high school level. US Lacrosse reports that the number of collegiate lacrosse players has increased 4.4 percent in 2013 to over 36,000 athletes. Thomas More College, a Division III school, started a girl’s lacrosse program last year in hopes of drawing more women to the college. According to head coach Jon Durham, it was possible due to the growth of lacrosse.

“There has been a huge growth at the college level,” Durham said. “College lacrosse is actually growing faster than it is at the high school level here in midwest. There are more college programs than we have lacrosse players.”

While the trending novelty of lacrosse attracts new players every season, other spring sports such as baseball and track are suffering from the opposite effect. According to a survey conducted by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA)/Physical Activity Council, kids’ participation in lacrosse climbed 158 percent to about three-quarters of a million between 2008 and 2012 while the number of kids from six to 12 years old who play baseball has fallen from 5.44 million to 4.34 million since 2007.

With a school of about 3,500 students, Mason has a large pool of athletes to pull from when filling rosters. Despite the growing popularity of lacrosse, boys’ head lacrosse coach Paul Limpert said that other spring sports have remained at a constant level.

“We have pulled some from track,” Limpert said. “I don’t know that anything else is really troubled.  As far as I can tell, we haven’t seen any drop off (with other sports). Lacrosse has improved. The girls a couple years ago went to the state final four, and the boys went to the state final four in 2011. That same year as far as I can tell baseball was dominant as it always has been and so was softball.”

Smaller schools, however, are not given the luxury of numbers when it comes to fielding teams. Mariemont High School has an enrollment of about 500 students and a significantly smaller number of athletic participants than Mason. With the addition of lacrosse to the spring sports docket, Mariemont’s head baseball coach Joe Regruth said that more athletes have left baseball, which has impacted his program considering the school’s small size.

“(There has been a decrease) speaking from our perspective at Mariemont,” Regruth said. “Any season that has multiple sports will not have as many boys in my case to chose from and the same thing  with girls sports. You add lacrosse to the spring with the roster size that they have while cutting into a smaller sample size and you would have less kids playing other sports.”