The Case for Club Lacrosse in CA Community Colleges

Lacrosse, as of fall 2012, has a presence in four California community colleges. As word continues to spread about the success of lacrosse at Diablo Valley College, which formed in 2008 and three subsequent programs at Cabrillo College, San Diego Miramar, plus the latest team at Sierra College, players at the other 108 community colleges are beginning to ask the question, "Why not here?"  The author provides a history of this dynamic game and urges for more participation by other colleges in the community college system.

If they haven't come already, they are coming.  Lacrosse players, both men and women are on your campuses NOW.  Take a breath,  open yourselves, inform yourselves, read this article, take another breath;  support the entrepreneurial spirit of these young men and women;  take pride in offering these young men and women the opportunity to represent your respective colleges, and most importantly enjoy yourselves as you watch your students compete in what is quickly becoming the most popular youth sport.  Lacrosse, the only modern sport that originated in America, is now the fastest growing sport in the country (Krumboltz, 2012).  It is incredibly entertaining to watch; and made clear by its growth, even more fun to play.  Between 2001 and 2010, the number of youth playing lacrosse tripled, and growth continues at a rampant pace.   

A Brief History of Lacrosse

The first intercollegiate lacrosse game occurred in 1877 between New York University and Manhattan College.  The sport had been introduced to the state of New York in 1860, four years after William George Beers, a Canadian dentist founded the Montreal Lacrosse Club and modified the sport from the original Native American game to the modern version.  The Native American game could sometimes last several days, with the field spanning up to several miles, and as many as 1,000 men playing.  There were several purposes of the game, among them being to settle inter-tribal disputes, toughen their young men and prepare them for combat, and to please “the Creator."

Lacrosse, a Native American game

Pretty, oh so pretty!

In 1876, Queen Victoria of England, is said to have watched an exhibition of lacrosse and left impressed, "The game is very pretty to watch."  Indeed, there is something to be said about the entertainment value.  Commonly referred to as the "fastest sport on two feet," players can be seen sprinting up and down the field deftly "cradling" the ball in the stick or passing it to a teammate,  who winds up and shoots the ball from the stick, which is called a "la crosse," by the goalie and into the net for a goal.  The pace of the game is furious. Scoring can be lighting fast.  A defenseman scoops a ball on the ground near his own goal, whips the ball 50 yards downfield to a midfielder running at full speed toward the goal, who passes quickly to an attackman in front of the opponent's goal, who "rips" it into the net.  This can occur faster than you can read that description, with the ball, at times travelling over 100 miles per hour.   With offensive and defensive approaches much like basketball, along with similarities with other sports, it is reasonably easy to learn the basics of the sport.  Offense tries to score by creating "open looks" so the offensive player can take a clear shot toward the goal.  The defensive players try to stay in front of the each of the offensive players and prevent or interfere with shots.  There are typically from 15 to 30 goals scored in a single game.  It is fast paced, action packed, and high scoring! You can visit laxrules.com to learn more about the rules of both men's and women's lacrosse. The diagram below illustrates the positions and positioning of two teams on the field, as well as the field dimensions.  In this scenario, team "red" has the ball on offense.

Diagram of Lacrosse Field

A truly beautiful tradition of the modern game can be seen at one of the most unfortunate moments in any game.  If there is an injury to a player on the field who is unable to immediately bounce up from the ground, it is tradition. lacrosse etiquette, respect for the opponents and respect for the game that all players on both teams kneel on one knee until the injured player is able to rise.  As one player puts it, "If one man is down, we are all down."  When the player is able to rise, they all rise as one in support of their fellow lacrosse player.  Such a formal act of respect for opponents is rarely seen in other sports.

Lacrosse player from Viking team kneels to show respect for fallen player
Current Viking, Sergio Orduna [foreground] and #41 Al Warner kneel as an injured St. Mary’s College Gael receives attention from a sports med trainer.

The Fastest Growing Sport

In fact, lacrosse is the fastest growing sport on the west coast, at all levels:  youth programs, high school programs and four year college and university programs. But why is lacrosse growing so rapidly?  Casey O'Neill, who began playing lacrosse in the early 1980s and now is a high school coach in Washington, D.C., when interviewed by The Atlantic suggested that it is the speed of the game.  At a time when communications are faster than ever through texting, and Twitter and Facebook applications on handheld devices, there is not a lot of patience with the more traditional sports which occur at a slower and more deliberate pace (Craft, 2012). Others suggest that the speed, and the high scoring, as well as the physicality and finesse required to play is the magnet that draws players.

 Throughout the United States, it is estimated that participation in the sport increased five-fold from 1990-2008 (Krumboltz, 2012). In Alameda and Contra Costa Counties alone, there are roughly 2,500 youth between the ages of 7 and 15 playing lacrosse (Abajian interview, 2012).   High lacrosse programs in California have grown from  160 to 230 since 2001 (Sandler, 2011), and average 90 players per high school , including varsity, junior varsity, and girls' lacrosse.  Yet, unless these players immediately attend a college or university that has a lacrosse program, they have few opportunities now to continue their sport.

US Lacrosse reported in 2009 that there were approximately 250 men's college lacrosse teams playing in the NCAA, Divisions I, II and III.  Beyond that, mostly west of the Mississippi, there are 211 college teams which play in the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association, the NCAA equivalent for college sponsored club teams.  In addition, there are over 300 women's college lacrosse teams in the United States. (Burton, R, and O'Reilly, N., 2012).  It has been estimated by Jeff Brunelle in "The Remarkable Growth of Lacrosse in America" that in 2012, there are more than 750,000 active lacrosse players in the United States, and furthermore if the historic growth continues, there will be approximately 2 million active players in 2022.  (Brunelle, 2012)

 In 2006 the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) was organized to formalize club lacrosse as an intercollegiate sport among major universities who were not otherwise affiliated with NCAA lacrosse, which were primarily located in the eastern United States.  In the early 1970's, west coast teams such as UC Berkeley (Cal), Sonoma State, and Stanford were among the pioneer programs who helped develop the US Lacrosse Men’s Division of Intercollegiate Associates (USL MDIA), the predecessor to the MCLA, the current national lacrosse club organization.  In 2012, there are ten leagues split into two divisions that included 211 major colleges and universities;  universities such as Cal, Stanford, Michigan State, University of Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, University of Oregon, Oregon State, and USC, to name a few. 

While high school and four year college and university programs have grown steadily over the last ten years, community colleges, particularly on the west coast, have embarrassingly lagged behind.  Community colleges, generally considered to be agile and responsive to community needs have completely "dropped the ball" on lacrosse...until recently.  In 2008, after a fateful, chance encounter between myself and a former high school lacrosse player who dreamed of starting a program at Diablo Valley College (DVC) in Pleasant Hill, CA, an initial meeting was scheduled to discuss how to start a lacrosse club at DVC.  Five young men, a high school coach, and I met in a small room in the Counseling Center at DVC.  Within days, the group had completed the requisite paperwork, broadened to twenty players, and DVC Viking Lacrosse was off and running.  Guided by Al Boyce, the high school coach in the initial meeting and our current public address and play by play announcer on our web-streamed games, the team not only took shape, but has developed into a program that NCAA, and MCLA universities are paying attention to in their recruiting efforts.  Historic wins over nationally ranked university teams has lent credence to a program that initially referred to itself as "the scrimmage dummies" of the west coast who would take on anyone, any time, simply to play for the love of the game.  The passion remains and in fact continues to grow.

As one player put it, "The happiest time of my life is when I am playing lacrosse. When I played football and ran into a player on a rival team off the football field, we would ignore them or chastise them.  It is different with lacrosse.  When we see another person wearing a lacrosse shirt of any team, it is like a welcome sign to approach and 'talk lacrosse' as we're immediately comfortable with our brothers and sisters who play or support the game."

Lacrosse, as of fall 2012, has a presence in four California community colleges and as word continues to spread about the success of Diablo Valley College, which formed in 2008 and three subsequent programs at Cabrillo College, San Diego Miramar, and the latest out of Sierra College, players at the other 108 community colleges are beginning to ask the question, "Why not here?"  Already, players have moved from great distances to play at DVC, the first, and so far, most accomplished community college lacrosse team in the state.  From Yuba City to the north, San Diego to the south, and various locales in between, parents have moved their sons to the Pleasant Hill area so that they can continue to play the sport that they and their sons have grown to love.  It is  inevitable that lacrosse will continue to grow at other California Community Colleges, as more and more youth in the state are exiting other youth sports to pick up a "stick of the Americas," the only sport which truly originated in North America.  

Lacrosse player Chris Banks secures a pass
A transplant from Coronado High School, Chris Banks [center] secures a pass. In the foreground, Jake McIntyre (36) drives one hour from Santa Rosa every day to play for DVC. #21 Travis Hayes is a former DVC Viking, who now plays for Division I, Simon Fraser University in Canada.

Requests will grow to form club teams at community colleges.   The rich history of this sport which teaches respect for opponents, respect for officials, respect for fans, and great appreciation and respect for those who afford them the opportunity to compete will be fabulous additions to the colleges.  As club teams, these young men and women will be responsible to pay dues and fundraise in order to compete, not directly costing our cash-strapped colleges any financial resources.  They will pay to stripe the fields for lacrosse, pay for their own uniforms representing their schools, pay officials, pay sports med staff, arrange competitive scrimmages and games with other colleges, and with a little support and field time from the colleges' club offices and athletic directors, be able to continue to compete in the support they love, represent the school with honor, and enhance their abilities to play at the next level after transferring.

Curse us, blame us or credit us at DVC, as you wish, but regardless, the inevitability and demand for this sport will grow at the community college level.  Community colleges are the last frontier for lacrosse in California; youth programs, high schools and universities have robust programs.  Embrace and foster the entrepreneurial spirit, not if, but when these young men and women come to you seeking your support to "grow" the game they love at your colleges.  You may just be surprised that soon, you too will become a fan.

 

References

Abajian, Frank (October 27, 2012), Interview at UC Davis Lacrosse Tournament.

Brunelle, J., (April 4, 2012), The Remarkable Growth of Lacrosse in America, LaxAllStars.  Retrieved from http://laxallstars.com/the-remarkable-growth-of-lacrosse-in-america

Burton, R., O'Reilly, N., (May 31, 2010), Why lacrosse’s popularity is spreading across the U.S. Sports Business Daily. Retrieved from http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/ 2010/05/20100531/Opinion/Why-Lacrosses-Popularity-Is-Spreading-Across-The-US.aspx

Craft, Kevin (April 13, 2012). Will Lacrosse Ever Go Mainstream, The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/ 2012/04/will-lacrosse-ever-go-mainstream/255690

Krumboltz, M., (April 26, 2012), Lacrosse is the Fastest Growing Sport in the US, Team Mom. Retrieved from http://shine.yahoo.com/team-mom/lacrosse-fastest-growing-sport-us-203700673.html

Sandler, A., (September 26, 2011), The Fastest Growing Sport in America is...Lacrosse, Business Insider. Retrieved from http://articles.businessinsider.com/2011-09-26/sports/30203241_1_lacrosse-participation-basketball-players-decade

http://spotlightsportsmag.com/sergei-oleg

http://www.cnbc.com/id/44628826