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Chicago Daily Herald
MacKenzie Hare was intrigued by lacrosse after watching her twin brother, Connor, playing the sport. She wanted to give it a try but found there were no teams for girls in Bartlett.
"It looked really fun," said MacKenzie, 13, who now travels to Lombard to play on the under-15 state team for the True Lacrosse club.
MacKenzie hopes that by the time she's in high school there will be a program closer to home for girls.
Some coaches in Elgin Area School District U-46 say it's time to create those lacrosse programs.
The district has boys' lacrosse club teams at South Elgin and Bartlett high schools. The independent boards running the clubs are asking the district to take over the programs and provide partial funding and expand them to include girls.
"Lacrosse is the fastest-growing sport in America," said William Romans, Bartlett High varsity boys coach.
The Illinois High School Association will conduct its first lacrosse boys and girls state championship series in the spring of 2018 - at least 65 boys' teams and 40 girls' teams must participate in the series. School boards must OK lacrosse as
a varsity sport for their schools to participate in the state series.
At U-46, lacrosse is self-funded, costing roughly $30,000 per program, said Matt Baker, a former coach for the Bartlett High boys team.
"South Elgin and Bartlett are well-respected in the IHSLA (Illinois High School Lacrosse Association) and made it to the quarterfinals and semifinals last year," Baker said. "Over 25 players that have played in these programs have gone on to play at NCAA Division II and III (levels). It's definitely the next step for a maturing program to take on a girls program."
Students pay more than $500 in fees per season to play. Teams rent fields from local park districts for practice.
Baker acknowledged funding is the biggest roadblock to U-46 running the lacrosse programs, but he said there could be creative funding options.
"You could have a premium fee to offset the initial capital expenses that might be incurred," Baker said.
That could include the cost of purchasing helmets, sticks, goggles and mouth guards.
"It's going to become the 'haves' and 'have-nots,' and that's what I don't want to see just because some districts are willing to pay for it."
Officials say they are researching whether it's feasible for U-46 to fund lacrosse.
Leaders at Indian Prairie Unit District 204 recently decided to switch the independent clubs serving Neuqua Valley, Metea and Waubonsie Valley high schools to district-sponsored programs next year in time to participate in the state championship series. Parents of players will pay for the entire program, including the cost of equipment, uniforms, coaches, referees, athletic trainers and transportation.
IHSA bylaws do not dictate how high school teams should be funded.
"It remains up to the district or high school to decide if they will allow a booster club or parent-supported organization, etc., to fund their lacrosse program or any other athletic program for that matter," said Matt Troha, IHSA assistant executive director and administrator for lacrosse. "They can put together any format they want. It can be parent-funded or pay-to-play."
School districts would be responsible for paying coaches, Troha said.
Schaumburg High School head girls' lacrosse coach Jake Hughes is hopeful lacrosse becoming an IHSA sport will put pressure on U-46 and Northwest Suburban High School District 214 to start girls' programs.
Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 funds girls' lacrosse programs at Conant, Fremd, Hoffman Estates, Palatine and Schaumburg high schools. There also are co-op girls' teams at St. Charles East and North, and independent teams at Huntley and Hampshire high schools.
"This is a big gap in the geography of where teams are and where we have to go play," Hughes said. "Our conference right now is just five schools in District 211 and Barrington High School. There should be 10 more teams just in this area."
Lacrosse's popularity is growing among girls regionally, and nationwide, said Michelle Sebastian, co-founder of Wheaton-based Illinois Girls Lacrosse Association, which offers leagues, camps, and clinics for girls in kindergarten through ninth grades in several suburban communities, as well as training for coaches.
The Illinois High School Womens Lacrosse Association's DuPage Upstate Eight Conference includes Metea Valley, Naperville Central and North, Neuqua Valley, and St. Charles and Wheaton United co-ops. The Central Suburban Conference includes Maine South and Vernon Hills. The North Suburban Conference comprises teams from Lake Forest, Lake Zurich, Libertyville, Mundelein, Stevenson and Warren. The West Suburban Conference includes Downers Grove co-op, Glenbard West, and Hinsdale Central.
Sebastian, a Hinsdale Central graduate and former lacrosse player for Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, helped start the girls lacrosse program at Hinsdale Central in 2000. She said at the time most girls went into lacrosse because they didn't make the soccer team.
Today, Hinsdale Central is the only team outside Lake County lacrosse powerhouse teams - Loyola Academy, New Trier and Lake Forest - that has won a state championship in girls lacrosse, Sebastian said.
Opportunities for women to compete in lacrosse at the collegiate level also are growing as many suburban colleges and Illinois universities offer programs - including Elmhurst, North Central in Naperville, Lake Forest, Benedictine University in Lisle, Concordia University in River Forest, University of Chicago, and Northwestern University in Evanston.
As more high schools adopt lacrosse programs, the need for referees and coaches also will increase, Sebastian said.
"It's a really exciting time to be from around here," Sebastian said. "The competition will further increase parity."
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