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America's First Sport, Lacrosse Just May Stick

Patch's fitness columnist Dr. Andrea Metzker talks about one of America's fastest growing team sports.

Lacrosse, which is said to combine basketball, soccer and hockey, is one of the fastest growing team sports in the United States. According to lacrosse.org, youth participation in the sport has grown more than 138% since 2001 to nearly 300,000. No sport has grown faster at the high school level over the last 10 years and there are now an estimated 228,000 high school players. Lacrosse is also the fastest-growing sport over the last six years at the NCAA level with 557 college teams in 2009.

A game that involves speed, agility, grace, endurance, finesse and teamwork, it's quickly spreading across Belmont Shore, Seal Beach, Los Alamitos and surrounding areas. We now have our own youth league called Beach Cities Lacrosse http://longbeachlax.d4sportsclub.com/ serving Los Alamitos, Seal Beach and Long Beach girls and boys from grades 3-8.

It's considered America’s first sport since lacrosse originated here with North American Indians and then was adapted by the Canadians. The sport of lacrosse is played with a stick, the crosse, which has a mesh at the end of it that the ball is carried in.

The object is to score by shooting the ball into an opponent's goal, using the lacrosse stick to catch, carry and pass the ball. Defensively, the objective is to keep the opposing team from scoring and to take away the ball by stick checking and body contact or positioning.

There are four major types of lacrosse: men’s field lacrosse, women's lacrosse, box lacrosse (also known as indoor lacrosse) and intercrosse. Men’s and women’s lacrosse rules vary; most essentially body checks are not used in women’s lacrosse so they are not required to wear all of the protective gear that the boys and men wear.

Although the popularity of lacrosse in the United States has been regional in the past with the East Coast being the center of activity, there has been enormous growth in the sport over the past few decades and Southern California is a big growth area. Many Southern California high schools have CIF teams, and Los Alamitos High School's girl's lacrosse team has been the national champ for three years running.

I spoke to Karen Spraque who is on the board of directors for the high school Beach Tribe club and the volunteer corporate secretary for the club. Her son is a junior at Wilson and plays for the team. In seventh grade, he learned a little bit from his cousin, who was already playing on a club in Northern California. Then he joined Beach Cities Lacrosse and has loved the sport ever since. Spraque says that phenomenon occurs a lot with people falling in love with the sport. There is a lot of camaraderie among the children who play as well as their families.

Many in the community have volunteered once they got word of the club team forming here. The club is a non-profit club similar to the AYSO set up for soccer, but the coaches and referees are professionals, many of whom play for Cal State Long Beach, which has well-established club teams for both men and women.

Patch: What would someone need to know if they were a beginner coming out for lacrosse?

Karen Spraque: Everyone is welcome to come out and play. We really mean that and it is very important to us that any fundraising we do goes back into club. Our greatest expense is buying equipment and we have been able to provide loaner equipment for all first-year players or any player in need of help. The equipment is similar to football for the boys with helmets, shoulder pads, arm pads, mouth guards and the stick. Girls wear protective goggles but do not require the other protective equipment (except for the goalie).
It is a very well-organized and well-controlled sport. Each year rules are revisited at the headquarters in Baltimore and often they are changed so it is important to keep on top of rules and rule changes.

P: What are good skills to have for lacrosse? What age can children start playing?


KS: It has been called the “fastest game on two feet” and some coaches say they could take any athlete and teach him/her to play lacrosse, but what it really takes is enthusiasm. One of the most exciting things is that so many of our kids first picked up a stick in middle school and have really held their own within the sport. We have a wide range of athleticism and every team will have a brand new player and a very experienced player.  The most popular age we have had is the boys’ fifth and sixth grade where we were able to have two teams. Other age groups were close to having two teams last year. The girls tend to have more interest in the seventh and eighth grade division. We don’t have a girls club for the high school yet but would love to have one.

P: Do you expect it to become a high school sport in Long Beach?

KS: We recognize that the growth of the youth program will allow the growth of high school program. We are hoping that children will start at younger ages in the future (currently third grade is the youngest for the club). We have only been around for six years and have seen a lot of growth. We are ready to support high schools and it is part of our mission statement and a priority to provide that support. It will happen eventually in Long Beach.

P: It says on the website that it is a step back from the “win-at-all-costs-mania” present in many youth sports.

KS: It is important to the organization that the nature of the sport is preserved. I am not going to say there are not teams that are more competitive than others, but if you come out to play you will play and there is a big attempt to make it as equal as possible.
P: Is there anything else people should know about these clubs or lacrosse?

KS: It has become a year-round opportunity with the main season for club being in winter but the season for high school is spring. We started a spring season and summer camp that were well-attended. We will have free clinics (which will be listed on Beach Cities website http://longbeachlax.d4sportsclub.com/) coming up before the winter season which officially starts in November so children can come and check out the sport. Remember, the equipment is provided initially so we welcome everyone to come out and throw the ball around.

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