Growing Pains of a New High School Sport

Central Oregon Lacrosse

While summer’s approach may mean putting the books away, kids across the high desert are keeping the sports equipment out. The spring athletic season may be over, however summer training and tournaments are just beginning. While basketball, baseball or soccer may be the traditional choices, lacrosse is widely considered the fastest growing sport in the country.

Traditionally an East Coast pastime, lacrosse has seen over a 200 percent increase in participation in Oregon in the last five years and continues to grow in urban and rural areas statewide. Here in Central Oregon and around the country, lacrosse players continue to compete throughout the summer and fall on various club teams and training camps, which are often held out of state.

While Oregon lacrosse has been supported and nurtured by the Oregon High School Lacrosse Association and the Oregon Girls Lacrosse Association, the sport has yet to be recognized by the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA), which regulates funding for school athletics. The OSAA has very strict rules on how each sport is sanctioned and hasn’t added a school sport since 1979. According to the OSAA rulebook, the OSAA can consider adding a sport if the number of member schools sponsoring the sport is at least 75 percent of the total number of 6A schools. In other words, 50 varsity boys’ teams and 50 varsity girls’ teams are needed for a sport to be considered.

“My favorite part of coaching is developing relationships with the boys and helping them utilize on-field lessons to develop relationships with those around them.” – Luke Hansen.

While Oregon has the participation numbers for boys’ teams, the number of girls’ teams is lacking. Several Central Oregon girls’ teams are a combination of two schools because there are simply not enough players. A case in point is the Sisters girls’ team, as each year players, coaches and parents hope the participation numbers rise. Even when the school is able to field a team, they must compete against schools with larger numbers of players.

“The distribution of talent can vary when it comes to a team that has tryouts and both a varsity and JV team compared to a team that allows walk-ons to be on varsity,” says Sisters High School Girl’s Varsity Coach Mikaela Trott-Rickards. “There are beauty and positives to both sides of the coin, but I think that for lacrosse to progress in the area, there is a need for more teams to compete with one another who are at similar levels of play.”

While waiting for girls’ teams to catch up to the boys’ teams, becoming an OSAA-recognized sport could take up to another three to five years. In the meantime, players, parents, coaches and the community spend countless hours volunteering, fundraising and waiting patiently for the chance to be taken as seriously as football, baseball and basketball.

This year, Summit High School fielded 20 boys on their varsity team, a relatively low amount for most teams. However, their achievements in the past five years mirror the combination of expert coaching and the team’s hard work. Luke Hansen, Varsity Head Coach for Summit, believes that lacrosse teaches integrity, accountability, selflessness and toughness.

“My favorite part of coaching is developing relationships with the boys and helping them utilize on-field lessons to develop relationships with those around them,” says Hansen. “Learning how to contribute in various roles to the overall goals of the team is one of the biggest benefits for the boys.”

Bend Senior High School Varsity Head Coach Dan Brostek moved to Bend two years ago from the East Coast to discover the West Coast wasn’t as much of a hotbed for lacrosse as it was back home, yet he wasn’t surprised at the rise in popularity. He uses his coaching time to not only teach better strategy but to implement character building and life skills beyond the field.

Pay to Play

“The bigger factor impacting lacrosse becoming an OSAA sanctioned sport are the costs that will be incurred by schools implementing these programs,” says Brostek.

Fundraising is extremely crucial in order to continue these successful and competitive programs. Dinners, auctions and local community events help make the sport possible to play for all age groups. Travel and field use is expensive and in most cases, schools have “pay-to-play” fees to cover costs. These fees are typically $200 to $250 per player, per season.  In addition, players have to provide their own expensive equipment.

“(Another) main difficulty is field usage,” says Dan Marut, Head Coach for Mountain View High School (MVHS). “OSAA sports have priority over club sports even though all student athletes and their parents pay the same fees and taxes.”

“Parents, coaches and board members are all volunteers, which can be difficult as everyone has professions of their own,” adds Marut, who began coaching at MVHS four years ago. He has admirably dealt with the challenge of having less than 20 players on his combined varsity and JV roster, leading MVHS to winning records three years in a row.

They do it for the love of the game.

Marut is very proud that this year MVHS has raised the funds to participate in the Medicine Games in Burns with the Paiute Tribe, which takes lacrosse back to its original roots as part of Native American culture.

“As a coach, our responsibility is to prepare our student-athletes for life’s challenges through the sport of lacrosse,” adds Marut. “Dealing with success, failures, learning, focus, and re-evaluating go into each practice and game. Preparing the student-athletes to be leaders. Leaders don’t create followers, leaders create more leaders and that is what we are doing at Mountain View High School lacrosse.”

Jason Kingrey, MVHS Boys Lacrosse Club President and 7th/8th grade boys’ coach, encourages middle school players to participate in the high school lacrosse community by going to games, meeting players and coaches and playing recreationally as much as possible. He believes staying involved keeps the momentum going. Meanwhile, Sisters School District begins teaching lacrosse—and providing equipment free of charge—in elementary school.

“All fundraising for our team is done by players and parents reaching out to family members, friends, and businesses in our community,” says Kingrey. “We are always trying to find better and more efficient ways to run fundraising for our team.”

Raising money for lacrosse is a necessary thing to keep teams viable, however it’s not the only sport or organization that needs to raise money for their expenses. Local businesses continuously get asked to help fund many different sports and activities.
“Many of the middle school lacrosse players quit playing lacrosse in high school because of the cost to play,” adds Kingrey. “Middle school club and select teams are being formed to help ‘feed’ our high school programs, but they are expensive to run and take a lot of parent involvement.”

“As a coach, our responsibility is to prepare our student-athletes for life’s challenges through the sport of lacrosse.” – Dan Marut

Despite its challenges, Central Oregon lacrosse teams have proven themselves as worthy competition to more established programs throughout the state.  Summit High School made it to the State semi finals in 2016 and Bend Senior High competed in the State quarter finals in 2015. Ridgeview, the area’s newest team, is a growing program well on its way. The coaches, players and parents’ hard work will continue as they hope to get the sport they love as an OSAA-sanctioned sport.