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The Doings (Clarendon Hills, Illinois)

Vernon Hills athletic director Brian McDonald is a big proponent of adding boys and girls lacrosse to the IHSA's roster.

But he can't do it alone.

While more than enough girls lacrosse teams want to play in the IHSA playoffs and become a fully-sanctioned sport under the state organization, there are too many dissenters among the boys teams. And the IHSA stipulates that both boys and girls lacrosse have to join together.

McDonald said he's frustrated by the schools that have teams but aren't willing to be recognized by the state's association. In response, McDonald no longer schedules games against schools that refuse to join the IHSA.

"It seems like we are stuck in this hole, and we can't get out of it," McDonald said. "I don't know what the reasons are, maybe financial, but I respect the right of those schools to have them.

"But for us, I feel like they are inhibiting the growth of the sport."

Lacrosse is the fastest growing prep sport in the country, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. As of 2012, 22 states either fully sanction lacrosse or recognize it as a sport.

Lacrosse's growth has been equally robust locally. Once a sport solely played by schools on the North Shore, lacrosse is now a high school sport in every region of the Chicagoland area. Young, a Chicago Public School, even fields both a boys and a girls lacrosse team.

"Lacrosse is healthier than it's ever been," said Loyola girls lacrosse coach John Dwyer, who is in his 13th season with the Ramblers.

Dwyer said demand for Loyola's summer camps recently forced him to offer sessions for incoming first-graders. Last summer, he had the biggest staff in his more than a decade operating the camps.

Lacrosse has been classified as an emerging sport by the IHSA since the 2010-11 school year, meaning it follows all the rules and policies in place for fully-sanctioned IHSA sports like football and softball - with one big exception. The IHSA doesn't organize the lacrosse state tournaments.

The Illinois High School Lacrosse Association runs the boys lacrosse state tournament and the Illinois High School Women's Lacrosse Association puts on the girls state tournament.

New Trier boys lacrosse coach Tom Herrala is confident the IHSA will some day organize his sport's state series, but it won't be until at least 2015.

It was reported at the IHSA's December 2013 board meeting that 55 of the state's 102 boys lacrosse teams wanted to participate in an IHSA-organized state series. Since boys lacrosse came 10 teams shy of reaching the 65-team benchmark established by the IHSA, the state organization declined to make girls lacrosse a fully-fledged sport as well. It didn't matter that more than enough girls lacrosse teams wanted to participate in a state tournament run by the IHSA.

Of the state's 58 girls lacrosse teams, 43 programs - three more than the IHSA-stipulated minimum - wanted the IHSA to run their state series and to become an IHSA sport. This is the first year that the girls surpassed the 40-vote minimum.

Matt Troha, an assistant executive director at the IHSA, said the organization would not release the names of the schools that signed the petition for the state series.

"We are not blaming the IHSA for this because they have put it out there for us," said Glenbrook South athletic director Steve Rockrohr, who served on the IHSA lacrosse advisory committee for the 2010-11 school year. "There are some ADs who won't sign that form. I get it. Budgets are tight, and there are a lot of other sports for kids to play. But we carve out that money each year for lacrosse. Some schools are just choosing not to do that."

Glenbrook South treats lacrosse like any other IHSA-sponsored sport offered at the school. Money is budgeted for coaches, officials, travel and use of facilities.

But while the sport is growing, there are still suburban schools that have no interest in adding the sport.

In District 219, which includes Niles North and Niles West, the sport has yet to catch on, even at a club level.

Niles North athletic director Karl Costello conceded though that full IHSA status could position the sport for approval at Niles North.

"Yes, if more schools were involved and it was an IHSA sport, I think it would help," Costello said. "Right now, there is no vibe or buzz."

Should that change, Niles North is prepared. School officials requested that lacrosse lines be included on the synthetic turf field that was installed at the Vikings' football stadium in 2007.

Loyola senior Mark Dowdle has played lacrosse, basketball and football for the Ramblers and he doesn't see much of a distinction between the IHSA's emerging and fully-sanctioned sports.

"I don't think there are any real differences," Dowdle said. But lacrosse becoming a full IHSA sport "could help awareness, possibly raise the overall level of competition, and get more people on board, in general."

Dwyer and Herrala - coaches of two of the most successful programs in state history - said fully joining the IHSA would have its drawbacks. Both lamented losing control of the state tournament.

Currently, teams in the boys and girls lacrosse state playoffs are seeded from best to worst in an effort to achieve the best possible championship game. Under IHSA purview, the state playoffs would be organized according to geography, which could potentially pit powerhouse programs like Loyola and New Trier against one another the in regional or sectional rounds.

But Dwyer and Herrala said they are willing to risk that for the good of the game.

"That's the double-edged sword," Herrala said. "But if that's what it takes to continue to grow the sport, we can deal with it."

 
April 24, 2014

 

 
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