If you are at all familiar with lacrosse you have likely heard that it is the fastest growing sport in the country.

According to a report from the National Federation of State High School Associations, the number of high school participants in lacrosse grew from 45,050 to 126,695 from 1997 to 2007 and those numbers have only climbed since then.

In a separate report by the NFHS released on Oct. 30, 2014, the number of participants had grown to 188,689 in 2014, and if recent trends in central Maine are any indication, the lacrosse freight train is nowhere near slowing down.

“It’s the fastest growing sport that we currently offer,” Mike Burnham, assistant director of the Maine Principals’ Association, said. “The southern part of the state has sponsored lacrosse for a number of years, and now we’re starting to see more central Maine teams and more clubs up north.”

This spring five new teams — Winslow boys and girls, Erskine boys and girls and Lawrence boys — will join the MPA after competing at the club level for the past few seasons.

“I feel like it’s exploded in the past few years,” Erskine senior Madison Michaud said.

“We’re developing as other teams are too so it’s kind of nice that we’re learning as other teams are too,” added teammate and fellow senior Kelby Leary.

Lacrosse is clearly catching on in the area, but why now?

Tom Sheridan is going into his 21st year coaching boys lacrosse at Messalonskee and is also in his second stint as Thomas College head men’s lacrosse coach after a hiatus to serve in the same position at the University of Maine-Farmington.

According to Sheridan, the nature of the game itself has a lot to do with the sport’s growth.

“It’s a sport that a lot of kids are drawn to. It sells itself,” Sheridan said. “It gives a lot of opportunity for kids to play.

“…I just think once kids see it and they try it, a lot kids fall in love with it really fast.”

For many of those jumping into the varsity lacrosse scene this year, it is the speed of the game that appeals to them most. Substitutions — for the most part — are done on the fly and the field can shift almost in an instant.

“I just love how fast-paced it is,” Lawrence senior Phil Gadway said. “You’re always constantly moving and I like that.”

“A lot of us used to play baseball but once lacrosse came in we made the change because we were tired of standing around, waiting for something to happen,” echoed Winslow junior Jimmy Fowler. “There’s more teamwork, it’s more physically challenging.”

While interest has been there for lacrosse, getting to the point of varsity play did not happen overnight. As with anything, lacrosse costs money and each of the schools have taken different paths to get to this point.

At Erskine, athletic director Doran Stout said the school made an initial investment — the exact amount he would not disclose — to help pay for “sticks and pads and those sorts of things.” Since then a number of students have bought their own equipment, but the initial help from the school was hardly lost on the players.

“I can’t thank Mr. Stout enough for what he’s done for us,” Erskine senior Trevor Browne said. “We wouldn’t be where we are without the gear and the support he’s given us.”

Winslow and Lawrence have also received funds in helping start their programs, yet they have had to put together fundraising efforts as well. The boys teams have more work to do just because of the differences in equipment between the boys and girls games.

While sticks are similarly priced, helmets and pads are significantly more expensive than the goggles worn in the girls game.

“We don’t do pay to participate but they are doing some major fundings so some kids might chip in some money to help with it,” Lawrence AD Bill McManus said. “We’re taking care of the fields, and some officials, and busing and stuff like that.”

Each of the schools have accumulated equipment over their past few years at the club level, yet they have also picked up valuable skills. The players know they are headed toward a step up in competition, but many of them said they feel better prepared for it after playing other clubs and junior varsity teams in the years leading up to this season.

“It’s a big learning curve for everybody but we’re doing the best we can to get through it,” Lawrence junior Connor Martin said. “It’s going to be a fun season.”

“We’re scrimmaging a lot of teams to make us better,” Winslow’s Mackenzie Winslow said. “We knew this year that it would be pretty difficult playing against these teams that have been in the league for quite a while, but I think everybody is stepping up and we’ll be ready to play.”

Don’t expect it to be too long before other schools are ready to play as well.

Lawrence already has a girls club, while on Tuesday the Bulldogs’ boys team scrimmaged a co-op comprised of Maine Central Institute and Nokomis students.

MCI/Nokomis is in its first season as a club, yet could potentially see the future in their opponents Tuesday.

“We’re going to go through the two years of the club process and we’ll either continue as a cooperative team or if the two high schools are able to field individual teams that would be terrific as well,” MCI/Nokomis coach Chris Hopkins said. “…It’s been the fastest growing youth sport in the country the last couple years and certainly every indication has been that it is becoming very popular within the state of Maine.

“Despite the challenges that we’ve had with the weather this year, it really is very exciting to see so many boys and girls that are interested in playing the sport.”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley


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