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|Sports & Recreation|
Lacrosse takes flight
By Lana C. Maciel
In a state where football rules, the sport of lacrosse is holding its own, emerging as one of the fastest-growing sports in Texas – and across the country.
Since 1999, youth participation (ages 15 and under) in lacrosse has more than tripled nationwide, and no sport has grown faster at the middle school and high school levels in the last 10 years. In fact, about four to five new teams are formed every year at the middle-school level in Houston. And the popularity doesn’t end at those age groups.
Lacrosse stands above the rest as the fastest-growing men’s and women’s college sport in America, and in the Houston area, approximately 250 adults participate in 10 club teams, giving post-collegiate players a place to play, from experienced athletes to beginners. It’s a significant growth in the last several years for lacrosse participation.
“There really has been an explosion of adult teams in the area to mirror that of the growth of the youth game,” said Bobby Jee, board member for the US Lacrosse Houston Chapter. “I think in 2005, there were only six men's league teams in Houston. Since then some have folded, but more have filled the void and seem to be growing steadily as the game grows around the country.”
The average age for adults participating at the club level ranges from early 20s to mid-30s, with an occasional 50- or 60-year-old joining in the action. Teams in the Gulf Coast Lacrosse Association (GCLA) are open to all recreational skill levels, while the Southwest Lacrosse Association fields more competitive traveling teams that play in national tournaments. As for locations, certain pockets in the Houston area are big on lacrosse, including The Woodlands, Clear Lake, Kingwood and Katy, and it’s come a long way since being virtually unknown in the area 30 years ago.
“Between 1980 and 2000, Texas wasn’t really aware of the sport. It was a lacrosse wasteland,” said Mike Ormsby, coach for the Rice University men’s club team. “In 2000, it was very rudimentary, and it was mostly played at private high schools, but it has grown a lot since then and spread to public schools.”
Though there are no varsity college teams in Houston (University of Houston fielded a team in 1978, but it folded), Rice University offers both women’s and men’s club teams, which play against other club teams from Baylor, University of Texas, Southern Methodist and other Division I schools across Texas.
A mix between soccer, hockey and basketball, the fast-paced sport requires a great amount of agility, speed, movement and hand-eye coordination, making it one of the more challenging sports to not only learn, but also to recruit and retain new athletes, Ormsby said. But perhaps it’s that challenge, and the fact that it’s so unique, that has drawn a new generation of Texas athletes into lacrosse.
“It’s sort of a cultural shift in sports here,” said Lee Shelton, captain for the GCLA’s Bayou City men’s team. “The sport is growing in all directions, and it’s becoming more and more competitive among kids, especially those looking for alternative or off-season sports.”
While men’s lacrosse in Houston has a stronger following, there are a handful of women involved in the game, though there are currently no active women’s adult teams. But with the rapid growth at the youth level, it won’t be long before lacrosse rivals baseball and football as one of Texas’ most popular sports.
America's First Sport
It’s a bit surprising to think that lacrosse has only now begun to grow in popularity when you consider the fact that it’s the oldest sport in North America. Lacrosse has its roots in Native American religion and spirituality, as it was often played by the Indians to resolve conflicts, heal the sick and develop strong and virile men.
The sport began to evolve in 1636 and was eventually adopted by the French pioneers and spread to the Canadians before basic standards for the modern game were established in the late 1860s. New York University fielded the nation’s first college team in 1877, and the first women’s lacrosse game was played in 1890 in Scotland. It was not until 1926 that the first American women’s lacrosse team was formed at the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore. And not until the 1970s did the sport began to spread into the southern United States, mostly at the college level.
Lacrosse was an Olympic sport in 1904 and 1908, but has not returned since. Instead, the biggest stage for the sport is the quadrennial World Championship for both men and women, similar to soccer’s World Cup.