Feature Article - October 2009
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At the Forefront of Fun

Up-and-Coming Sports to Expand Your Offerings

By Jessica Royer Ocken


What is it? Lacrosse is a bit of a mixture of hockey and soccer, said Matt Noah, founder and president of Fargo Lacrosse, a youth club in North Dakota. "It has the hand-eye coordination requirements and physicality of hockey, then there's the fact [that players wear] soccer cleats and the field is about the same size as a soccer field," he added. "There's lots of running." Those doing the running are on 10-person teams, and they use lacrosse sticks, which have a sort of basket at the end, to pass and shoot the ball down the field toward the opposing team's goal.

Who will love it? "Interest in lacrosse has never been stronger, and it doesn't look like it's going to slow down anytime soon," reports the SGMA. According to their calculations, "lacrosse has grown by nearly 80,000 participants per year since 2000." But if lacrosse is not yet a hot pursuit in your area, you're not alone. "Two-thirds of all lacrosse players come from just one-third of the country," the SGMA report explains. Many of these enthusiasts are currently concentrated on the Eastern Seaboard, which leaves room for lots of growth throughout the Midwest. Lacrosse players are also mostly under age 25 at this point, which means the sport has a bright future. This could be a good time to get the pint-sized soccer and hockey enthusiasts in your area started sharpening their passing, shooting and ball-handling skills.

Essentials for getting started? To get things going, you'll need a field similar in size to a soccer field. "Or smaller," Noah noted. Although lacrosse is played 10 on 10, "if only 15 sign up, you can do seven on seven or six on six, so you can use a smaller field," he explained.

As far as equipment, "we started out with two goals, a bag of lacrosse balls, and 18 lacrosse sticks," said Craig Bjur, recreation specialist with the Fargo Park District, which offers a recreational lacrosse program. "We suggested to participants to use upper-body hockey equipment until they were ready to make the financial investment in lacrosse equipment. This worked extremely well with our area being such a hockey community."

Story of success: Lacrosse piqued the interest of kids in the Fargo area about three years ago. The Fargo Park District began offering an outdoor spring lacrosse league and indoor fall league, which serves kids aged 8 to 15, plus adults aged 17 to 25. Around that same time, Matt Noah and his sons moved to Fargo from Minnesota, where the boys had played lacrosse. Noah gathered about a dozen kids and began Fargo Lacrosse, a club which provides a more competitive complement to the park district's offerings.

Noah estimates that 60 to 80 kids have come through the club so far, ranging in age from third grade to ninth grade, and although they've largely been male, there have been a few girl participants, who just dive right into the mix with the boys.

Rather than compete with one another, the park district and club work together to present a full array of options to interested youth. They mention each other on their Web sites and refer kids back and forth. "Our league is set up so we practice once a week and play games once a week," Bjur said. "The Fargo Park District program is non-competitive, meaning we do not keep standings or have league tournaments. Our focus is instructional and recreational, and our goal is to [let kids] try the sport and give them the best experience possible."

Fargo Lacrosse players practice twice a week: indoors on a converted ice rink in the winter and outdoors on school district fields when the weather allows. They do a bit of traveling to play, but true league competition is still difficult because of the dearth of other lacrosse teams in the area. However, "what's essential is that kids get lots of interaction with the ball—passing and shooting to improve their skills," Noah said.

He noted that affiliating with US Lacrosse has been helpful for the club, as it provides a way to have insurance, and he also applied for and received an equipment grant from the organization. "We have 25 sets of gear kids can use for the season and then return. Kids who want to be more serious can then buy their own equipment," he explained. "Stick, ball, helmet and pads."

Bjur agrees that keeping the initial investment to a minimum makes it easier to entice kids—and their parents—into trying a new sport. "We worked with a few local sports retailers to have used lacrosse equipment on hand during our programs, which was much appreciated by our lacrosse parents," he said.

Both the park district and club also report that they draw on local college teams for coaching help. "We were fortunate to have the North Dakota State University Club Lacrosse team in town," Bjur said. "Their coaching staff and players jumped at the opportunity to bring lacrosse to our youth in Fargo. We agreed to start small and build each year, and that has worked very well for us. Our numbers continue to grow, and we are confident this program will continue to be a success for years to come."

Resources? You'll find Fargo Lacrosse on the Internet at www.fargolacrosse.org. Their site includes information about the club, as well as links to the Fargo Park District and an assortment of lacrosse information. US Lacrosse can be found on the Web at www.uslacrosse.org. For lacrosse rules and basic information, visit www.laxrules.com. Learn more about the professional lacrosse teams in the United States at www.majorleaguelacrosse.com.