Lacrosse has been played on the North American continent for centuries. Today, it’s one of the fastest-growing team sports in the U.S., spreading out from its original mid-Atlantic and Northeastern roots and proliferating across the country.
In fact, it’s probably fair to say this is one of the fastest-growing sports in the last decade. Participation on organized teams, as tracked by US Lacrosse, the sport’s national governing body, has grown 225 percent from 2001 to 2016. And according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, lacrosse grew by nearly 30 percent from 2010 to 2015, and more and more states are sanctioning the sport for high school students.
More than 180,000 high school boys and 135,000 girls are playing lacrosse, says US Lacrosse. College programs continue to experience growth, too, with men’s programs expanding by more than 33 percent and women’s programs by nearly 37 percent over five years.
All of this is good news for communities looking to add a field sport that is an exciting, active, physical game, yet does not result in the number or severity of injuries found in other team sports. Another reason for lacrosse’s growing popularity is that it’s essentially gender-neutral — boys and girls, and men and women play the same game.
So, where should you bring your next lacrosse event? Here are some top locations across the country you might want to consider.
Columbia, South Carolina
“Lacrosse is the fastest-growing team sport that we have in our community,” says Scott Powers, the executive director of Experience Columbia SC Sports. “It is gaining momentum on soccer.” Lacrosse recently was sanctioned as an official high school league team sport for both boys and girls in South Carolina.
The newest venue in the Columbia area is the Fields at Saluda Shoals Park, which opened in April 2016 and is owned and operated by the Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission. Saluda Shoals features six natural grass, lighted fields, two of which are considered stadium fields, built with berms that offer seating for spectators. The site also offers restrooms and concession buildings.
Powers says Saluda Shoals has hosted large lacrosse events, including the South Carolina Shootout last year that brought in more than 100 teams. The Shootout will return to Saluda Shoals in 2018.
The Gibson Road Soccer Complex, which is operated by the Lexington County Recreation & Aging Commission, offers lighted field space that can accommodate eight full-size lacrosse fields, which can also be configured to multiple smaller fields, too. The location, which has restrooms and concessions, has hosted the Carolinas Open Lacrosse Championships for a number of years.
Powers says that in addition to high school lacrosse teams, there are a number of club teams, too, so there is a pool of volunteers to help event owners when they bring tournaments into the area.
Harford County, Maryland
In 2004, lacrosse was named the “official team sport” for the state of Maryland (the official state sport is, believe it or not, jousting). US Lacrosse is based in the state.
“Lacrosse is huge here in Maryland,” says Greg Pizzuto, executive director of Visit Harford, and the county is prepared to handle all types of tournaments and events.
The 110-acre Cedar Lane Regional Park is where much of the action happens. Opened in 2008, the facility is a joint venture between Harford County government and the Cedar Lane Sports Foundation, featuring 12 grass fields and one turf field. The turf field has a state-of-art scoreboard with LED video display and sound system, along with seating for more than 900 spectators.
Close by Cedar Lane are the 12 grass fields at Carsins Run. “The two facilities go hand-in-hand,” Pizzuto says. “When huge tournaments come in to the county, we’ll use the fields at both locations.”
Cedar Lane and Carsins Run host a number of large lacrosse events each year, including Summer Sizzle, Summer Classic and Summer Showcase tournaments that brings out more than 14,000 players, coaches and fans — and where a number of college coaches come to recruit. “Some of the largest tournaments draw more than 350 teams,” Pizzuto says.
Lake County, Illinois
“Lacrosse is really growing here,” says Teresa Lewis of Visit Lake County in Illinois. “There are a lot of local lacrosse clubs, and next year, it will be a sanctioned high school sport, so we expect it to take off even more.”
There are a number of venues where lacrosse events thrive in Lake County, which is the area just north of Chicago up to the Wisconsin border. The Pipe City Lacrosse Festival, hosted by Lacrosse America, takes place at the 41-acre Vernon Hills Athletic Complex and is the largest lacrosse tournament in the Midwest, with nearly 600 games drawing more than 6,000 athletes. “The Vernon Hills Park District pulls this together nicely,” Lewis says, “and the village of Vernon Hills really opens their arms to all the athletes and fans.”
If there is a need for more fields for the Pipe City event, the 138-acre Waukegan SportsPark will get called into service, with its 14 fields, concession stands and much more.
The area also has indoor field facilities available. The Canlan Sportsplex Lake Barrington is the largest multi-sports complex and fitness center in the Midwest, and offers an 85,000-square-foot indoor turf field, while the Libertyville Sports Complex offers two indoor artificial surface fields.
Long Island, New York
Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island, New York, are huge destinations for lacrosse, says Jennifer Rothman of Discover Long Island. Both Hofstra University and Stony Brook University offer facilities for lacrosse. Hofstra annually hosts the NCAA men’s lacrosse quarterfinals each May; the school’s James M. Shuart Stadium holds 13,000 fans. Stony Brook will hold the 2018 Women’s NCAA Division I Championships and the US Lacrosse Women’s Division National Tournament, both utilizing the 8,200-seat Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium.
The 49-acre Mitchel Athletic Complex, owned and operated by Nassau County, offers seven fields for lacrosse, along with a multi-purpose turf stadium field that can seat more than 9,000 fans. The Three Village Soccer Fields, also at Stony Brook University, offers multiple fields suitable for lacrosse events, too.
“We also have a lot of parks across Long Island that offer two or three fields, and our high schools have fields and stadiums available, too,” Rothman says. “Lacrosse is huge here, as it is in the Northeast, and it continues to grow. It’s one of our biggest sports.”
In Rockford, the flagship facility for lacrosse is Mercyhealth Sportscore Two, which offers 23 fields, including a turf stadium that seats 2,000 spectators. The 124-acre complex also includes the Mercyhealth Indoor Sports Center, which contains three multi-sport indoor fields, along with a casual, family-friendly restaurant and sports bar.
There is, of course, Mercyhealth Sportscore One, a 179-acre sports complex that features 17 fields available for lacrosse, along with a building containing concessions and locker facilities.
Both Sportscore complexes hold lacrosse tournaments, including two new events this year, both in July: a regional youth tournament at Sportscore One, and a new 100-team Corrigan Sports tournament for girls at Sportscore Two, called the 2017 JUNK Brands Midwest Cup.
“Lacrosse is growing fast here in Rockford,” says Nick Povalitis, the sports destination and sales manager for the Rockford Area CVB. “In fact, for the Corrigan event at Sportscore Two, more than 90 teams had registered in the first few minutes the registration went live.”
Povalitis says the lacrosse tournament business “has picked up substantially” in the past 18 months. “Lacrosse is certainly a great fit for our community. Rockford has some large-scale complexes that can accommodate a multitude of sports, and we look to these activities to help drive participation locally.”
Virginia’s Blue Ridge
“We have great lacrosse programs in a number of our schools,” says Carey Harveycutter, the director of tourism for the City of Salem, Virginia. “The sport has advanced very rapidly here and moved from a club sport to almost all of our high schools. Our recreational programs in lacrosse are growing faster than any other programs we have. We’re really happy with it.”
In early June, Spartan Field at Salem High School hosted the Virginia High School Division 3 and 4 tournaments. Spartan Field, which is a fully functional, lighted turf field, also has hosted NCAA lacrosse championship events.
In May, the turf facilities at Roanoke College hosted the women’s NCAA Division III Final Four Championships, with plans to host other Divisions II and III championships in the future. Roanoke College’s Donald J. Kerr Stadium, which is home to the school’s men’s and women’s lacrosse programs, seats 1,400 fans.
One of the largest parks in Roanoke County is Green Hill Park, which offers 11 fields suitable for lacrosse, including four that are lighted. The park also has many other amenities, including a playground, picnic areas and picnic shelters, hiking trails and more, so families can enjoy their time when not watching matches.
Other facilities include a turf field and three grass fields at Ferrum College, which recently held a 30-team youth tournament.
“We’re putting a major emphasis on sports,” says Alex Michaels, the vice president of sales and services for Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge. “We recently developed a sports council, which falls under the CVB umbrella and will operate like a true sports commission. Lacrosse is one of the sports that we’re heavily pursuing.”
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
The premier facility for lacrosse in Winston-Salem is the BB&T Sports Park, which offers 13 full-size fields, including a stadium field with seating for 1,400 fans. Nine of the fields have lights, and the facility has portable lights to use on the other four fields if needed. The complex’s 5,800-square-foot field house has concessions, restrooms, laundry facilities, medical/athletic trainer room, team classroom, multi-purpose meeting room that seats 120, wireless internet and more.
In 2016, the facility hosted a women’s collegiate lacrosse championships, and various lacrosse clubs have hosted events at BB&T Sports Park. “The weather here works well for us,” says Christian Schroeder, director of convention & sports sales for Visit Winston-Salem. “With our climate, you can play frequently outside, so we’re fortunate from that perspective, and it’s led to lacrosse popularity continuing to grow.”
In April, Twin City Soccer changed its name to the Twin City Sports Association, to better reflect its broadened scope in bringing in sports such as lacrosse. TCSA also announced a capital campaign to expand BB&T Sports Park, purchasing additional land to build three lighted, artificial turf fields, among other improvements.
“Lacrosse is relatively new within our community, within the last decade or so,” says Rich Austin, director of sports for Yakima Valley Tourism. “The Central Valley Lacrosse organization has done a phenomenal job promoting the sport here. We have high school teams and teams all the way down into grade school.
“But lacrosse also is a sport that we’re very excited about, especially with the new Sozo Sports Complex,” Austin adds. Currently, there are six grass fields and two turf fields at Sozo, with three more grass fields in the works.
“We had our first multi-day lacrosse tournament last November at Sozo,” Austin notes. “This past April, the Yakima Valley Sports Commission joined with the Sozo Sports facility and Central Valley Lacrosse to put on a tournament for kids. It’s great to have an organization dedicated to the sport, and there were many in the community who helped to make the event a success. I think that will just continue to grow.” SDM