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Lacrosse popularity on the rise



The love for lacrosse is not restricted to Huntley. From 2001- 2010, the sport's participation has tripled and has only increased since (M. Krebs).

A 5-year-old walks onto a field in New Jersey, stick in hand with gear too heavy for his body; he is about to play his first game of lacrosse. His dad is on the sideline cheering for him and the rest of the team. Since dad is also the coach, this is not unusual for the boy to have dad so close to him, but still makes him nervous. This boy would later play on his high school team, play college lacrosse, and the head coach at the University of Iowa. This man is Huntley’s junior varsity coach Josh Cole.

Lacrosse’s influence on Huntley High School started small, but now has an incredible fan base. The first home game versus Jacobs had a large turnout. What most do not understand is that the turnout of a game is a big deal to the players as well at the parents who dedicate their time.

Four years ago, parents and players could not have expected such a turnout to a game, even if it was at home. When lacrosse first started, there were only 16 players on the varsity team, and it was hard for the parents to even follow the game.

“We used to have to give the referee the benefit of the doubt because none of us knew what the rules were,” said the Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Raiders Lacrosse Cheryl Meyer.

Before Huntley had a team, players from miles away came to join the single league in all of north Illinois, Crystal Lake. The demand for teams has been growing starting along the north-shore, western suburbs, and the intercity schools.

As the fandom sweeps the mid-west, the potential grows on how incredible the program at Huntley could possibly be.

The board of directors was created to increase the growth and efficiency of the sport. President Tony Nigro Sr. said he helped create the board because it was the next logical step in development. The board is not the only aspect that keeps this program prosperous. Without parent involvement, the sport would wither away. With this new board of directors, the sport could grow exponentially.

“The board is part of the process to attract better players and coaches as well,” said Nigro.

The Raider Lacrosse Club becomes bigger each year with a narrower focus.

“The goal is not to grow the sport here just at Huntley,” said Nigro. “We want to involve the entire McHenry Country area.”

However, Lacrosse is only a club in Illinois. The IHSA has not yet sanctioned this sport to make it recognized state-wide. This determines which teams they face, the amount of money that is put into the program, and the workings of state competitions. The IHSA must sign a pre-emergent sport agreement in order to sanction the sport said Nigro. Until then, all programs will be self-funded.

The IHSA considers both girls and boys lacrosse as an “emerging sport.” In the fall of 2009 the state had considered a state series for the following season. A minimum of 65 boys teams and 40 girls teams were to enter the tournament to create the series. Since the enrollment was not met, the state has “delayed the inaugural tournament indefinitely until participation in lacrosse increases,” stated on the IHSA website.

For lacrosse to become a school sport, the Athletics Committee needs to consider multiple aspects: how the conference is doing, who nearby has lacrosse as a school sport, and the amount of interest in the game. Then the economy plays its role. The school district would have to pay for uniforms and equipment.

“Part of the reason why we’re not able to add it as a school sport is the financial side of funding the sport,” said Athletic Director Bruce Blumer.

As lacrosse continues to grow, girls continue to join the craze. If the demand calls for it, a girls’ team will be created. Although it is still a few years out, the board will be ready to take the challenge. Barrington High School has already created a girls lacrosse team. If the wait is too long for some, girls can still join the boys team.

“We won’t turn any girl or anybody for that matter if they are interested in this sport,” said Nigro.

As a player on the Jacobs team, they would have had to work around the school recognized sports. Players used to only be able to practice at certain times, just like at Huntley. Jacobs players used to have to get up at 5:30 a.m., get to school by six, practice, shower, and then head straight to class.

“It takes more devotion to be in lacrosse than any other sport,” said Karen Yurchik, a Jacobs parent.

Devotion to the sport happens to almost every team in Illinois. Junior Raiders Lacrosse makes sure that this happens. About 65 fourth through eighth graders are a part of the youth group. They practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays. When varsity players have time, they come to the youth group’s practices and help them run drills. Any equipment they grow out of, players generously give to the younger players.

The inspiration to create this youth feeder program actually came from the varsity members of the lacrosse team.

“The older players act as role models to the younger kids giving them frequent inspiration on what they can become,” said Nigro.

All aspects from a variety of sports like hockey, soccer, and old Native American games intertwine into lacrosse.

“No matter what size you are or what sport you come from, it all builds off each other,” said varsity coach Phil Ryan.

In lacrosse, there are more positions than almost any other sport.

“The number of players on the team and the amount of rotations is phenomenal,” said Jacobs Athletic Boosters president Cliff Surges. “I’ve never seen another sport with as much participation as lacrosse.”

Behind every program’s growth, parents are working hard behind the scenes.

“Dedicated parents, dedicated kids, and good strategy are what makes programs what they are,” said Yurchik.

Since lacrosse is not IHSA-sanctioned, all clubs have to be self-funded. With players going around looking for sponsors, selling pizzas, and raffle tickets, sometimes it is not enough to keep the programs going.

“It’s tough to keep programs going given the current economy,” said Surges. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of parents writing checks or the athletic boosters pitching in.”

Lacrosse will be prosperous in the near future and Cole will be a part of it. As the father, he has already bought his son a lacrosse stick to play with. He wants to put as much devotion into the sport as he can so new lacrosse players will have the same opportunities that he had. Lacrosse has an exciting future, and he will undoubtedly take a part in it.

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