Due to growing safety concerns in youth football and a decline in popularity of little league baseball in some areas, it is becoming increasingly difficult for parents to find the right sport for their kid. However, many parents see lacrosse — a fast-paced game using netted sticks and a rubber ball slightly smaller than a tennis ball — as a safer solution.
Lacrosse — a sport derived from the traditional Native American game of “stickball” — is traditionally played with ten players on each team; of those ten, four (including the goalie) must stay in the defensive half, three must stay in the offensive half, and three are free to move around the field as they see fit. However, in girls’ lacrosse, the rules are slightly different. Each team plays with 12 players on the field. The field has two restraining lines, and four players must always stay behind the defensive line, while the rest of the players can cross over.
As with any fast-paced athletic activity, injuries can occur in lacrosse, such as concussions, strains, sprains, and bruises, but with the equipment and rules implemented to protect players, they are about as common as in sports like soccer or basketball.
While lacrosse remains most popular in the Northeast, the sport is quickly growing across the nation, and Bloomington is no exception. There used to only be one high school team, the Bloomington Outlaws, but the original team split into Bloomington North and Bloomington South due to a league rule that states all players must come from the same high school when a team reaches a certain number of players — although these two teams are not directly affiliated with the high schools, meaning they are independently funded. This rule doesn’t apply to the girls’ team, Pride Girls’ Lacrosse, which receives players from Bloomington North and South, Martinsville, and Ellettsville high schools. In addition, there is also a Bloomington Middle School Lacrosse team.
In Sean Millikan’s first year as head coach at Bloomington South, the spring 2017 season, the team started with only nine committed players but recruited eight more, six of whom were new to the sport. And this season it has about 19 players.
Millikan believes one reason lacrosse can continue to grow is because it allows players to be creative. “In other sports, there’s specific mechanics that are important for every player to know,” he says, “and you don’t want to go outside of those mechanics, such as shooting a basketball — all players are taught to shoot the same way. But in lacrosse, you can have players that have their own style, and know the fundamentals and proper mechanics, but step outside of it and put their own creativity into the game.”
Lacrosse isn’t an Indiana High School Athletic Association sanctioned sport, meaning that even though the local high schools are allowed to offer the programs, the schools aren’t required to foot the bill for costly necessities such as field reservations and equipment. This financial burden is placed upon the parents and coaches. In addition, it means there are only enough resources for Pride Girls’ Lacrosse to accept high school students, so if girls want to become lacrosse players earlier, they must first train with the boys in middle school, who play by a different set of rules.
“One major difference is the level of contact between the players,” said Leslie Cook, head coach of Pride Girls’ Lacrosse. “Girls’ lacrosse is considered a non-contact sport because the girls are not allowed to use their sticks to hit each other. Girls are only allowed to make stick-to-stick contact, while boys are allowed to make stick-to-body contact, hence the extra padding the boys have to wear. Some other major differences include the field markings, the number of players on a field, the rules and general play of game.”
The transition from boys’ lacrosse in middle school to girls’ lacrosse in high school can be awkward for many players, so Pride Girls’ Lacrosse has plans to create a middle school girls’ rec team this summer. Just four years ago, there were only about 14 players on the high school team, but despite the transition, this year Cook has more than 25.
With demand growing for both boys’ and girls’ lacrosse at every age level, the current system is struggling to accommodate. The sport thrives in wealthier areas such as Carmel, but without the proper resources, it’s having a more difficult time in Bloomington.
“Resources and incorporation into the schools are our biggest challenges,” says Cook. “That makes it challenging to find indoor practice fields — especially in the early spring when the weather isn’t ideal for outdoor practice — and outdoor practice and game-day fields while staying within a reasonable budget and not having to increase player dues.”
Like Cook, Millikan agrees that being an IHSAA-sanctioned sport could do wonders for lacrosse culture. “What would help is if athletic programs in Indiana came together and got lacrosse recognized through IHSAA,” Millikan says. He also thinks it would help if field space were donated to developing programs, as was done with some soccer programs in the past.
Currently, Bloomington Lacrosse faces a dilemma. The teams are excited about the growth in community engagement but are struggling to provide the resources to support it. Ultimately, it boils down to becoming a sanctioned sport, which isn’t too farfetched considering the popularity of the sport in Indianapolis-area towns. Some believe it is just a matter of time. However, the local programs have begun to adapt to the situation and provide each other support to keep the sport afloat.
“We are starting to work more collaboratively, where it makes sense to, and working separately where we need to,” says Cook. “We had to overcome some major financial challenges at the beginning of [the 2016] season and our board worked really hard to get through those challenges. Since then we have come out a stronger program, and we now have our eyes set on the strengthening and growth of lacrosse in the area.”
[Editor’s note: The Bloomington Lacrosse spring schedule is beginning with a Boys’ vs. Girls’ Matchup on March 2. Check out their calendar here.]