While the sport of lacrosse has remained almost eternally popular in certain segments of the country – generally white collar regions in the eastern U.S. – it’s starting to enjoy a raised profile nationwide.
In 2011, the sport achieved a milestone in that broke into the top 10 ranking for girls’ sports in the annual participation study compiled by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Nationwide, it is estimated that 188,689 students participate in high school varsity lacrosse: a tiny number compared to football, basketball, track and field and baseball, but a growing one. Among school-aged athletes nationwide, participation in lacrosse has grown 158 percent since 2008, to more than 700,000 players in both varsity and recreational settings.
But despite this growth, some schools have been slow to implement new varsity lacrosse teams. An article in the Post and Courier of South Carolina noted a number of factors holding them back
One reason is money, says one local coach, David Scully, who works at Porter-Gaud High School.
“It’s not a cheap sport to play,” said Scully. “The equipment is expensive, which may prevent a lot of schools from taking it on. At Porter-Gaud we purchase the helmets and collect them back after each season, but the players are responsible for all of the pads, gloves and sticks. The stick itself can run into a lot of money — at least $200.”
Scully said the cost to properly equip one lacrosse player is about $600.
“In our case, a lot of the players already own their equipment because of rec or travel teams. But for a school just starting a program, maybe without a lot of kids who have their own equipment, the cost is a major concern.”
Other schools are hesitant to add yet another varsity sport to already overloaded schedules. In addition, field space in the spring is already at a premium.
Lacrosse also still has some public relations to do. The sport’s popularity is surging in suburban areas, but still lagging behind in city schools, where funds and fields may not be readily available, and scholarships based on achievement in the sport are nearly non-existent.
However, lacrosse is raising its profile at the professional level, and this may help boost interest. According to The Atlantic, the NCAA Division I Men's lacrosse championship now regularly draws crowds that are smaller only than those at the men's basketball championship and certain bowl games, and professional franchises in Denver and Buffalo regularly draw more than 15,000 fans -- impressive numbers for a 900-year-old sport.