Sports Column: Something So Old, Something So New
By Ken McKenzie
Stevens Point area youth will be getting the chance of trying a ‘new’ sport soon.
The ‘fastest game on two feet’, lacrosse, has been called both explosive and graceful. While it hasn’t become popular locally yet, the sport has origins dating back as far as the 12th century when Native American Iroquois played the game in the eastern half of North America and around the western Great Lakes.
With the vision of a few individuals, and a room full of interested youngsters and their parents, we can expect to see more lacrosse played nearby soon. This newfound interest and energy will be an initial step in taking the sport locally beyond the club sport status it has at UWSP.
Lacrosse is a sport that engages elements enjoyed by hockey, soccer and basketball and played with a simple base of equipment including a stick, helmet, shoulder and elbow pads and gloves. At higher levels of skill and experience team players execute picks and screens, run plays and motion offense in ways that will give this writer a new appreciation next time I see a college game offered up on television.
Although we won’t expect that sort of execution on day one by our youth, it’s exciting to have a sport with more scoring. The object of the game is to score by shooting the ball into an opponents’ goal, using the lacrosse stick to catch, carry and pass the ball to do so successfully. As compared to low scoring hockey or soccer games, it’s reported that games might instead average tally totals like 15-12 or 12-10.
Just a half dozen years or so ago, it was implemented in a similar way in Wausau and has slowly developed to the level of offered at the high school level at D.C. Everest and both Wausau East and Wausau West. The plan here is to grow the interest and experience with the sport at the third to sixth grade levels; allowing the sport to expand and grow as those who give it a try continue to grow older with the sport. Reportedly, the Wausau experience with the sport has a 94% retention rate among those who have played it.
Whether it be actual history, folklore or legend, there’s little doubt the game of lacrosse factored into the physical fitness training for developing young warriors in the ‘game of life’ training centuries ago. Our discovering youth will be happy to learn the playing fields have shrunken from the open spaces that might span10 miles between villages and a river valley with no boundaries and team sizes that may well have numbered into the thousands giving chase to the control of wooden or deerskin balls used back then.
Today the various age and gender guidelines within the sport may alter field sizes and equipment slightly with physical contact limits in the female game; but generally speaking in field lacrosse, goals are spaced about 80 yards apart. The game is then played with teams made up of ten players each: three attackers, three midfielders, three defenders and a goalie.
Local Plover store, MC Sports, has added lacrosse equipment offerings and was represented at the formative meeting; along with Goal-Line equipment rep; giving the youngsters the chance to try on helmets and size themselves for gloves and shoulder pad ensembles.
With practice and games among themselves, the locals eventually will be up to taking part in area lacrosse ‘jamborees’; giving teams a chance to play multiple games with limited travel by hosting games at a site where four or five teams gather and then play a round robin format before going home.
Growth nationally has seen the sport exploding over recent years, where reportedly participant numbers of 120,000 in 2001 have now pushed over 400,000 and an expected participation of 750,000 in just a few short years due to the 10% annual growth in the numbers of active players. Growth at high school levels, especially as a girls’ sport has averaged some 36%.
Here’s some nuts and bolts: parents might expect $150 in protective equipment plus another $35-50 for a stick for those who get serious about it. While they are learning or first being exposed to it, there may even be some rental helmets, sticks and pads that can limit costs of playing the sport. Hockey helmets are not allowed by shoulder pads might be utilized.
Locally, Jim Mendyke has been promoting the growth of this sport in the Stevens Point area. Arrangements are being developed for inside practice sessions in April with outside play to follow at the football field outside the K.B. Willett arena.