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Deadline Approaches for District to Add Lacrosse

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Chicago Daily Herald

 

To make lacrosse an officially sponsored sport for the high schools in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 would cost an estimated $208,000 to start and another $128,000 every year after that.

School board members say they "understand the passion" they've been hearing from lacrosse players and parents, who are hoping the sport can gain district sponsorship in time for the first Illinois High School Association state championships in May 2018.

But they're concerned about the possible strain on facilities, scheduling challenges and costs of adding another sport when school funding is so uncertain.

What they've committed to so far is continued conversation to make an informed decision about whether the activity deemed an "emerging sport" will be sponsored by the schools. Without such sponsorship, the clubs can't join the

state championship series and might not be able to play other school-sponsored teams.

"When the time for a decision comes up," school board President Lori Price said last week, "we're not going to make a decision lightly."

As lacrosse has gained popularity in the suburbs, four clubs affiliated with the District 204 high schools have formed - a girls' and a boys' club at Neuqua Valley and girls' and boys' co-op clubs with students from Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley.

Players say they take pride in the sport, and it provides friendship, fun and fitness. They say they want to create a legacy of officially playing for their schools.

"There's a huge difference when you have the school number and name on your back and you have the support of the school pushing you forward," senior lacrosse player Tony Khouri said.

Parents say the sport has encouraged academic growth and even turned into scholarship opportunities for some, but that could be in jeopardy without school support.

"If we don't sanction this sport and it remains a club team, eventually the club team would fold," parent Heather Coles said, "because we would not be giving our children the same opportunities as their peers in the area."

But administrators say adding lacrosse to the roster of spring sports would take more equipment, field maintenance, athletic trainers, locker room space and practice times, causing scheduling difficulties for other activities that use the fields or tracks.

Because lacrosse clubs are funded and organized by parents, they practice at locations other than their schools, including a middle school, the district's alternative high school, park district fields and a private gym. If they were to become school-sponsored, teams likely would compete for practice space and times with girls' soccer squads and track teams at both the high school and middle school level, athletic directors said. "If we were to add lacrosse in the 204 schools, that would reduce significantly the number of days our middle schools would have to compete, more or less killing our middle school track programs," said Laura McCarthy, assistant athletic director at Neuqua.

School board member Michael Raczak said it seems "pretty harsh" to conclude adding lacrosse would eliminate middle school track.

But the potential conflict illustrates the need to involve middle school athletic directors in the conversation, said Louis Lee, assistant superintendent for high schools.

If District 204 decides to make lacrosse official, it must notify the IHSA by Feb. 1, 2018. But planning must begin long before then, Lee said. So administrators presented several funding models that could pay for the program.

The district could shoulder the entire cost, with lacrosse players paying a $200 athletic fee that's standard across all school-sponsored sports, or officials could place lacrosse costs squarely on parents. In between those extremes, the district could pay the majority of the costs, but charge parents for equipment, or officials could phase in the cost over time, charging parents less each year until the district takes full financial responsibility.

"Unless you fully fund the sport, some students might miss out," Lee said of cases where parents are unable to pay.

Money is a concern, Price said, because she doesn't want to add lacrosse and then have to take it away or cut other sports if the state freezes property taxes or pulls back school funding.

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March 13, 2017
 
 
 

 

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