Breaking Away From the Field
30 Jun, 2014By: Peter Francesconi
ALREADY POPULAR IN MANY AREAS OF THE COUNTRY, LACROSSE CONTINUES TO GAIN IN PARTICIPATION
If anyone has any doubts about the popularity of lacrosse in the U.S., look no further than the venue for this year’s NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championships. The Division I, II and III title matches were held in May at the 70,000-seat M&T Bank Stadium in the heart of Baltimore, the home of the 2012 Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. They were also televised on ESPN2. (Duke University claimed its second straight Division I lacrosse championships, while Limestone won the Division II crown and Tufts took the Division III title.)
“Lacrosse has been enjoying steady and consistent growth since 2007, increasing in both actual numbers of participants and in the percentage of Americans who play the sport,” says Keith Storey, vice president of Sports Marketing Surveys USA, which spearheads research throughout the sports and recreation world for the Sports & Fitness Industry Association and the Physical Activity Council (PAC). “While lacrosse is particularly appealing for those in their teen and young adult years, there also is a large number of participants in the six- to 12-year-old age group.”
According to PAC research, which looks at participation in more than 120 sports and activities, there are 1.6 million lacrosse participants in the U.S. ages six and above, up from about 1 million in 2007. Among those, over half are considered “core” lacrosse participants, playing more than 13 times a year. While about two-thirds of both overall and core players are male, participation by girls and women continues to increase.
Also showing consistent year-over-year growth is the number of high schools offering lacrosse teams. Currently, 2,436 high schools have boys’ lacrosse, with more than 101,000 players, according to PAC research, while there are 2,212 schools offering girls’ lacrosse with over 77,000 participants.
The sport is growing in all areas of the country. “Lacrosse has seen most growth away from the traditional lacrosse heartlands of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Florida, for example, has seen an increasing number of rec teams and schools,” Storey says. “Plus, as a field sport, it’s easy to set up lacrosse fields on readily available football or soccer areas.”
And, as these venues show, you don’t need to have an NFL stadium handy to host lacrosse matches.
Binghamton, New York
“The popularity of lacrosse in our area seems to be growing,” says Judi Hess, manager of tourism and special events for the Greater Binghamton (New York) CVB. “We have leagues from younger ages up through high school and the tournaments we host give us an opportunity to bring elite teams into the area.”
Among the facilities that Binghamton has available for lacrosse is the Greater Binghamton Sports Complex, which not only has outdoor fields but also includes an indoor facility that is the largest dome air-structure in the U.S. Every February, the complex hosts the annual John Mack Southern Tier Shoot Out Boys Lacrosse Tournament, which brings in about 100 teams.
Another venue, the Edge Sports Complex, has two state-of-the-art indoor turf fields and also hosts events at outdoor facilities, too. This year, Edge will host at least two outdoor lacrosse tournaments. The University of Birmingham hosted a men’s tournament last year that is now an annual event, says Hess, and starting this year the university’s women’s program will hold a lacrosse event. “Also, the university is beginning to host boys’ and girls’ lacrosse events,” she says.
Located at the crossroads of major interstate highways, and with the Greater Binghamton Airport, the area is centrally located and easy to get to, with accommodations to suit all budgets, Hess adds.
Georgetown, South Carolina
If you’re looking for an area that’s a testament to how quickly lacrosse can grow, check out Georgetown, South Carolina, just south of Myrtle Beach. The community recently built a four-field multipurpose sports complex, Stables Park on Pawley’s Island, which can accommodate all field sports.
“Our high school didn’t have lacrosse when we started this process,” says Beth Goodale, director of recreation/community services for Georgetown County. “But a teacher who had played the sport before coming here decided to start intramural lacrosse, so last year the school started a club team and we gave them field space. It was so popular that this year we have boys’ junior varsity and varsity and a girls’ team. Lacrosse is something we see expanding. We’re certainly set up well here to hold tournaments.”
The area also is set up for sports tourism, too, with plenty of facilities for events, along with accommodations. Between the historic town of Georgetown and all the attractions of nearby Myrtle Beach, the region has the infrastructure to handle large events, while giving families plenty to do when not watching athletes compete.
“We’re really proud of Stables Park,” Goodale adds. “It’s a very special site.”
“Lacrosse fans have nearly a dozen choice locations throughout the city of Glendale, with our sports field complexes,” says Lorraine Pino, manager of the Glendale CVB. “All have scoreboards and lights and are beautifully manicured and maintained. And they’re in the heart of Glendale, with all the surrounding amenities.”
Among the facilities is the five-field Glendale Youth Sports Complex, which also offers a field with a press box, bleacher seating, restrooms and plenty of parking and is just a half-mile from amenities such as restaurants, entertainment and shopping. The Paseo Sports Complex has four fields, restrooms, large parking area and concessions. And the Foothills Sports Complex offers three fields, restrooms and plenty of parking. Other parks with multiple fields for lacrosse and other sports include Thunderbird Paseo Park and Sahuaro Ranch Park Soccer Fields, with fields available at other schools and parks in the area.
Larger facilities include the University of Phoenix, at whose stadium the NFL Arizona Cardinals play (it is also where the 2015 Super Bowl will be played), and Jobing.com Arena, an indoor facility that is the former home of a minor league lacrosse team.
“Over the past decade, a transformation has taken place in this area,” Pino says. “With the arena and University of Phoenix, we now have all the necessary infrastructure to host large events and large crowds. This is now a premier multisport entertainment district.”
Five years ago, when Alan Verlander was the athletic director at Jacksonville University, he started to notice more and more lacrosse nets in the area. As he started talking to people around the city, he realized lacrosse was something they should have at Jacksonville University, which now is the only Division I men’s lacrosse program in the state. The women’s team is one of only two DI lacrosse programs in Florida.
“Lacrosse has really grown in this area since we started those teams five years ago. Having the local Division I school start that sport really catapulted the growth,” says Verlander, now the executive director of the Jacksonville Sports Council. “Now, more and more youth associations play it, the university is doing clinics, teams are being formed.”
There are a number of facilities in the area available for lacrosse, including fields at Jacksonville University and the University of North Florida. There are also fields available at the Creeks Athletic Association in St. John’s County, plus the area has several turf fields.
“There is now a truly concerted effort among all the players in the city to bring major lacrosse to the community,” adds Verlander.
Lubbock in West Texas is known as “Hub City” because five major highways converge on the area. But it’s also a hub for sports and with the massive Berl Huffman Complex, which offers 49 fields of all sizes, the area can easily accommodate lacrosse. The new John Walker Soccer Complex at Texas Tech University also offers fields that can be used for lacrosse events, too. In addition, says Cris Rohrer, the sports sales manager for Visit Lubbock, two turf fields are available at local high schools.
Not only does Lubbock average 263 days of sunshine a year, adds Alyssa Kitten of Visit Lubbock, “It’s very easy to get around here. You can be anywhere in 15 minutes and there is easy access from the airport.” The city currently offers about 5,300 hotel rooms with three new hotels under construction and ground being broken soon for three more. In addition, many of the restaurants are “group-ready,” Kitten says.
Visit Lubbock helps tournament organizers with everything they need to host a winning event, including finding suitable accommodations, helping to market events, providing visitor and restaurant guides and more. Off the field, there are an array of museums to visit, including the Buddy Holly Center and the National Ranching Heritage Center.
Morgan Hill, California
The 38-acre Morgan Hill Outdoor Sports Center offers 11 full-size grass fields and a half-field, which can be configured to suit all types of lacrosse events, says Jeff Dixon, president of the Morgan Hill Youth Sports Alliance, which manages the facility, which also has two lighted turf fields.
“We’ve been steadily adding more lacrosse events to our calendar since we opened in 2010,” Dixon says. Last year, the U.S. Lacrosse Association brought the Western Regional Championship to Morgan Hill, and will again this year. There also are lax camps taking place there in the summer and fall. “We can easily handle lacrosse tournaments with up to 130 teams,” he adds.
The Morgan Hill Sports Complex, which is about 25 minutes from San Jose, is a “one-stop, full-service” entity that can provide all the infrastructure tournament organizers need, including hotel reservations, entertainment, tourney directors if needed and connections in the community. The sports complex can offer food service, custom photography, space for vendors and a pro shop. “We can couple the tournament needs with their off-the-field activities in town,” Dixon says.
Ocean City, Maryland
The beach resort town of Ocean City offers a great backdrop to sports events such as lacrosse. “Families can enjoy the beach and boardwalk and all the attractions on their down time,” says Donna Abbott, the director of the Ocean City Department of Tourism.
The city uses fields at the Downtown Recreation Complex and the 58-acre Northside Park, which also has concession stands, playgrounds, conference room and more. Neighboring counties also have fields available, all a short drive from the beach resort. “We’ll set up the fields in different configurations depending on the age level,” Abbott says.
Ocean City has plenty of lodging and dining choices, including 10,000 hotel rooms and more than 25,000 condo units.
Traverse City, Michigan
“Traverse City is probably a strong lacrosse town because it’s a strong soccer town,” says Michael Norton of Traverse City Tourism. The Midwest’s top lacrosse event, the Cherry Bomb Tournament, takes place there in late July, drawing more than 175 teams. And the sport continues to grow in the area.
Youth tournaments are held at the 38-acre Traverse Bay Area Youth Soccer Complex, which has 15 fields, along with restrooms. The West Middle School Athletic Complex and nearby Grand Traverse YMCA Field host a number of tournament high school matches. Thirlby Field, which is artificial turf, is Traverse City’s main athletic field and offers grandstands, restrooms and food concession areas. It’s owned by the school system and is the largest high school stadium in northern Michigan.
“Lacrosse has an interesting connection to northern Michigan,” Norton says. “It was a favorite game of local Indian tribes, especially the Ottawa, who used the game in a trick to capture a fort in 1763 during the French & Indian War. They organized a game outside the fort, but ‘accidentally’ sent a ball over the stockade walls. When the gates were opened for them to retrieve it, both teams grabbed weapons (hidden under the robes of women spectators) and rushed into the fort.”