A few decades ago, soccer was taking American towns by storm. The hottest American sport since the seventies, soccer has had an impressive reign, resulting in an abundance of first-rate soccer facilities all across the country. But today another sport is poised to dethrone the king. That sport is lacrosse, and fortunately, lacrosse can be played on a variety of fields from soccer to football. That means, wherever you are, even if it hasn't shown up in your town yet, America's newest it-sport is on its way to a facility near you.
The Next Big Thing
During its first heyday, the sport we now know as lacrosse got its name from early French settlers, who learned the game from the game's inventors, Native Americans. Several factors, such as wagering and violence surrounding the sport, sent traditional lacrosse into decline in the late nineteenth century, but an adapted version of the game hung on in Canada and soon began its comeback.
Today, with nearly 600,000 players in the U.S. alone, lacrosse is quickly becoming one of America's favorite sports. One of the fastest growing segments of the sport is youth lacrosse, which has more than doubled in the past seven years with the strongest growth in Georgia, Connecticut, Oregon, Texas, Colorado, New Jersey, Washington and Florida. Data from the National Federation of State High School Associations underscores the trend: no high school sport has grown faster over the last decade than lacrosse.
The sport's national governing body, US Lacrosse, founded in 1998, unified several national lacrosse associations, bringing together the talents of individuals from the Lacrosse Foundation, the United States Women's Lacrosse Association, the National Junior Lacrosse Association, the United States Lacrosse Officials Association, United States Lacrosse Coaches Association, United States Club Lacrosse Association, the Central Atlantic Lacrosse League and National Intercollegiate Lacrosse Officials Association.
With a growing membership of over 300,000 lacrosse players, coaches, officials and more than one million enthusiasts, US Lacrosse inspires lacrosse participation with information,services, programs and a network of 63 regional chapters that support local youth organizations and provide playing opportunities across the country.
The Lacrosse Facility
Unlike most sports, lacrosse offers three unique experiences depending on who's playing and where the game is played. Men's and women's lacrosse differ in terms of field size, rules, equipment, playing techniques and strategies, and box lacrosse offers another completely distinctive experience, taking the game indoors.
A regulation men's lacrosse field is roughly the same size as a football field, 110 yards from end-line to end-line. Women's lacrosse, much closer in terms of rules and play to the original Native American version of the game, is played on a longer field with the end-lines as much as 140 yards apart.
While some colleges and universities have dedicated lacrosse facilities, lacrosse fields can typically be set up on any soccer or football field, making it easy for even the most lacrosse-novice communities to get in on the game. And from East to West Coast, one thing is certain: America's towns are ready to play.
Round Rock, Texas
Well-known to sports leagues all across the country, Round Rock's Old Settlers Park sets the bar for sports destinations with 570 acres of sports facilities, including cricket, a 20-field baseball complex, 5-field softball complex, a 7-field lacrosse/soccer complex and two regulation football fields. But if nine fields aren't quite enough for your next event, Old Settlers Park has something else up its sleeve. New for 2010: two fully lit multipurpose fields.
"Our new multipurpose fields, on over three beautiful acres, have just been sodded and offer a beautiful setting for a lot of different types of sports," says Nancy Yawn, director, Round Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau. "And if you really want to create an impressive championship game, the Round Rock ISD Athletic Complex, just minutes away from Old Settlers Park, is the place for you."
This $28 million stadium, host of the International Women's Football League (IWFL) national championship and training camp, offers seating for 11,000, parking for 2,500 and, most importantly, the opportunity for young lacrosse players to have a professional championship playing experience.
"Lacrosse isn't new to our area,but statistics show that in Texas in particular it's one of the faster growing sports," says Yawn. "When the high schools get involved, and ours are into lacrosse in a big way, then league and youth play really start to pick up, and that's why we at the CVB are really gearing up."
Butler County, Ohio
Lacrosse is making inroads in the Midwest, too. Offering a variety of adventures ranging from arts and museums to shopping and unique festivals, Butler County also boasts some of Ohio's best high school facilities, a variety of scenic parks, and the exceptional facilities at Miami University in Oxford, all assets the Ohio community has put to use as host of events for USA Archery, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Girls Basketball, USA Cable Wakeboarding and many others.
"Lacrosse is a growing sport in our areas, and it's definitely one of the areas we're trying to get into," says Stephanie Gigliotti, sales manager, sports and events, Butler County Visitors Bureau. "And we've got the facilities support it."
Joyce Park in Fairfield offers an open space that can accommodate up to 10 lacrosse fields. No stranger to flexible operations, Joyce Park hosts a variety of events, from this summer's flag football tournament to a range of soccer events, large and small. Joyce Park has a range of amenities, too, including on-site restroom facilities, concessions, ample parking, another nearby soccer complex for larger events and access to one of Ohio's most unique sports parks, Wake Nation, a cable wake park that allows both beginners and experienced riders the opportunity to wakeboard, water ski, kneeboard, and wake skate without a boat.
A short drive from both the North Georgia mountains and downtown Atlanta, Alpharetta offers easy access to the best facilities and fun that Georgia has to offer.
"Soccer has always been popular in this area, and lacrosse is kind of spurring from that," says Anna Brostrom, sports sales manager, Alpharetta Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It's already strong on the collegiate level, and our high school lacrosse teams are growing, too."
The area's Legacy Lacrosse Tournament, now in its third year, provides strong evidence that in Georgia, lacrosse is here to stay. Held each April at Chattahoochee and Milton High Schools the tournament showcases some of the best young lacrosse talent in the country and includes interactive booths, vendors, music and big-screen lacrosse videos.
Growing interest in lacrosse means that the area's ample soccer facilities are seeing some serious action. Milton High School's artificial turf stadium seats 4,000 and provides top-notch specs, including concessions, restrooms, lighted field, electronic scoreboard and meeting rooms. Alpharetta High School continues Alpharetta's tradition of first-rate lacrosse facilities with a 4,500-seat lighted stadium, electronic scoreboard and meeting rooms as well.
Lacrosse also finds an Alpharetta home at the lighted, artificial turf field in North Park, a 109-acre recreation complex with restrooms, concession space, PA system, picnic area and playground. Sharon Springs Park offers two lacrosse fields, one with artificial turf, within a 58-acre park. Movable bleachers provide seating for 600 around Sharon Springs' fields, and the park comes fully equipped with lighting, electronic scoreboard, restrooms, concession space, meeting rooms, playground and picnic facilities.
But the wealth of great facilities is just one of the reasons sports events flock to Alpharetta.
"Great location and unmatched hospitality are key to what makes Alpharetta awesome," says Janet Rodgers, chief executive officer, Alpharetta Convention and Visitors Bureau. "We invite our guests to stay at one of 23 upscale hotels, to play in our award-winning parks, to enjoy 150 dining options and to visit more than 300 attractions within a 50 mile radius. Add to that the complimentary sports planning assistance from the Alpharetta Convention and Visitors Bureau, and we feel our community is a real sports destination hub."
Binghamton, New York
Building on a long sports history that includes being home to the Triplets, once an eastern league farm club of the New York Yankees, Binghamton hosts a huge range of local, regional and national sports events, including the Empire State Games Summer Games, Special Olympics Spring and Fall Games, the STOP DWI World Youth Classic (baseball), the Snicker's & President's Cup Soccer Tournament and the 2003 and 2004 US Lacrosse Youth Festival.
Held at Binghamton University, the 2003 US Lacrosse Youth Festival brought together more than 90 teams and 2,000 lacrosse players for three days of non-tournament youth lacrosse. Rather than fierce competition, the event emphasizes participation, sportsmanship and a quality experience for players.
The ideal host for such a sizable event, Binghamton University offers as many as seven lacrosse fields in one facility, along with housing and dining services for athletes.
In addition to Binghamton University's facilities, the area is also home to six high schools with lacrosse fields, most of which are no more than 10 miles apart, making Binghamton the perfect spot for larger events that need to spread out without inconveniencing players and their families.
"When we're looking to host lacrosse events, we've definitely got a number of options," says Judi Hess, tourism and special events manager, Binghamton Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The University has a beautiful campus and great academic standards, and they value being able to host sports events, all of which add up to really outstanding events."
In Shreveport, La., lacrosse gets the Cajun cowboy treatment. Known for its riverboat gambling, exciting festivals and vibrant culture, Shreveport draws events with its personality as much as with its facilities.
Where lacrosse is concerned, it's Shreveport's higher education facilities that get the chance to show off their southern hospitality. The campus at Louisiana State University Shreveport provides 35 acres of soccer fields, which can easily be converted to accommodate lacrosse as well.
Centenary College is also home to lacrosse facilities, where in 2010, the athletics department will host its second lacrosse camp. The inaugural Centenary Lacrosse Camp took place June 2009, enrolling 50 players in a four-day lacrosse experience with coaches from Misericordia, Medaille, Herkimer and Johns Hopkins as well as players from the Centenary lacrosse program. In 2010, Centenary will offer a youth camp as well as a high school camp, both taking place in June.
The Final Call
When looking for the perfect location for your next lacrosse event, what factors will decide who makes the cut? It all depends on the unique needs and goals of your event. Doug Wheeler, principal of Summit Performance Group, a full-service conference management and incentive travel, site selection and sports event coordination company, says that when planning the company's newest event, PacificXPOSURE, the first-ever "all-inclusive" Southern California lacrosse tournament, enthusiasm was one of the key drivers of the company's decision-making process.
Open to all ages and skill levels, the event offers competition in boys and girls divisions U-11, U-13, U-15, HS and Open Division, for high school graduates and above, and welcomes solo players as well.
For such a wide-ranging event, Wheeler and his team needed both support and great facilities, and they found them at North County San Diego's high and middle schools.
"We were looking for a strong demographic of lacrosse players, families, programs and enthusiasts," says Wheeler. "We found support in the lacrosse community and the strong interest in lacrosse, which is particularly strong in this area of San Diego."
Whatever your event's goals, America's communities have the facilities and the eager enthusiasm to support them. To learn more about America's next big sports craze, go to www.uslacrosse.org.