In 2003, Julie Brandt was interested in playing a spring sport, but her school didn’t have one that she liked. So she and her friends started a petition at Centennial High School to create a girl’s lacrosse team. Seven years later, Julie is currently the head coach of St. Paul’s fifth and sixth grade girls lacrosse league.
Although Lacrosse is one of the oldest sports in the U.S. – Native Americans played it – it’s just now starting to get more popular among teens. The number of youth and high school players in the U.S. jumped to 524,895 in 2009 from 225,925 in 2001, a 132 percent increase, according to an annual U.S. Lacrosse survey.
“Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in the nation,” said Jim Reilly, assistant head coach at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., who’s been coaching lacrosse for the past 10 years.
ThreeSixty Journalism is nonprofit youth journalism program based at the University of St Thomas in St. Paul. It is committed to bringing diverse voices into journalism and related professions and to using intense, personal instruction in the craft and principles of journalism to strengthen the civic literacy, writing skills and college-readiness of Minnesota teens.
In 2001, there were roughly 500 youth lacrosse players and almost no girls teams in Minnesota, according to an annual U.S. Lacrosse survey. Now, leagues such as the St. Paul Youth Lacrosse Association, which was created nine years ago, is becoming so short on staff that the fifth and sixth grade teams are coached by a few star high school players.
“In Minnesota, there are more lacrosse players than qualified coaches or officials can handle,” Reilly said.
The goal of lacrosse is to use a yard-long metal shaft with a mesh net on the end to pick up and carry a ball downfield and shoot it into the opposing team’s goal. The catch: There are 10 opposing players, in upper body pads, helmets and gloves, ready to knock you to the ground.
Dayne Smith, a recent graduate and player for the University of St. Thomas, decided to play lacrosse in his freshman year of high school in 2002.
“I had watched the National College Lacrosse championships on TV,” Smith said, “so I researched the sport and joined a summer league.”
Smith was part of a St. Thomas team that won back-to-back national championships in 2009 and 2010.
Smith thinks lacrosse is on the rise because it combines many sports in one, like the roughness of football, the running of track, the fast-paced play of hockey, and the strategy of basketball.
“It has a spot for everyone with a skill,” Smith said.
Ben Mooney, the head coach and founder for the St. Paul High School Lacrosse program, believes the sport is on the rise for the same reasons that Smith does.
“It offers elements from other sports that are combined into one fun game,” Mooney said.
Mooney said he’s seen the number of high school varsity teams in the metro area shoot up to 80 in 2010 from 6 in 2003.
Bobby Lee, 17, plays right wing defenseman for a junior varsity team in the St. Paul High School Lacrosse league.
“I started playing because my brother started playing, and I just kind of tagged along,” Lee said, “and pretty soon all my friends were playing, because their brothers were playing too.”
Lee is just one of many examples of a kid who’s been swept up by a sport on the rise.