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updated: 12/18/2013 6:58 PM

More disappointment for lacrosse backers

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  • The IHSA announced Monday it will not start a boys and girls lacrosse state series this spring.

       The IHSA announced Monday it will not start a boys and girls lacrosse state series this spring.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  •   
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 

Let's recap. On Monday the Illinois High School Association Board of Directors announced it will not support a state series for lacrosse this spring.

In August the IHSA approved a state series contingent upon at least 65 boys teams and 40 girls teams signing a participatory agreement by Dec. 15. While 43 of 55 girls teams made that commitment, 55 of the more than 90 boys teams set to play in 2014 signed up. That didn't cut it.

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"Our board really wants to get everybody behind this before they make that move," said IHSA assistant executive director Matt Troha. He also pointed out that in neither case did the number of teams exceed a usual parameter to graduate from "emerging sport" status to sanctioning, that being 10 percent of IHSA membership.

For example in girls bowling -- right up there with lacrosse in terms of more than a 180 percent national increase in school support from 2001-13, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations -- 83 teams participated in 1989, the earliest year on IHSA records for that sport.

Again it's back to the drawing board and to the respective associations and state championships run by the Illinois High School Lacrosse Association for boys teams and the Illinois High School Women's Lacrosse Association for girls.

On Oct. 13, 2011, the IHSA board approved a recommendation to offer a state series, which also lacked the required 65 boys teams and 40 girls teams. The sanctioning issue goes back more than a decade; according to a passage on the IHSWLA website, the IHSA in 2002 approved a proposal for lacrosse to be sanctioned "when enough schools are participating."

"As far as it becoming a full-time sport we'll just kind of have to wait and see what we can do," said St. Charles East athletic director Mike Sommerfeld. "Obviously, there's lots of kids in our community that play."

He noted, "I think (the lacrosse folks) were kind of hopeful that it was going to go, but lately the signs were kind of pointing that it wasn't going to go, so I'm sure there's some disappointment at that."

There is.

"It's a detriment, and to the girls it's almost like an insult," said Frank Voltarel, president of the Wheaton United girls co-op team between Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South, whose 18 varsity girls played in the seven-team DuPage Upstate Eight Conference of the IHSWLA last spring.

"We've got between 50-60 girls that have been and will be playing the sport, and they're dragging their feet on this," Voltarel said.

The issues haven't changed and, at least regarding finances, are probably more acute than in 2002. The main thrust comes down to high schools and school districts taking over the operation of a program that, for Wheaton United, cost more than $30,000 to run, Voltarel said, and more than $90,000 for the WW South boys program.

"Financial restraints" were the one factor noted by IHSA executive director Marty Hickman in Monday's announcement.

The Wheaton United girls pay $650 to be part of the club. Those families would love to have that folded in to high school coffers and instead pay only a participation fee. When Voltarel approached District 200 to seek help on sanctioning, he said, "they were unwilling to do that. They claim funding, they claim field space, they claim their parents want the B (-level) sports (at middle schools) before they add a new one."

Lacrosse backers might feel excluded, but given the lack of flush coffers and an abundance of sports vying for limited facilities in what is the busiest season of the academic year, the reluctance of schools to check that IHSA participation box is not surprising.

Naperville Central athletic director Andy Lutzenkirchen, who provides lacrosse the use of the stadium turf for games and practices "as much as I can," sounds like he's put much thought into the matter, to the point of factoring the cost of reconditioning boys helmets.

"It's another spring sport we're bringing on, and our facilities are to the max already," he said, nixing the concept of moving lacrosse to the fall where it could possibly affect numbers in those sports.

"They're all Naperville Central athletes and we still want to have them under our wing as much as we can, but we have to be careful and we don't want to jeopardize the programs we have."

In 2008 when Benet's boys won the B-Class Lacrosse Cup, the club paid Benedictine University to play on the college football field and practice on the open field right across Maple Street from the high school.

That was the recollection of former Redwings coach Paul Stolzer, the founder and director of New Wave Lacrosse, a club program for "higher-end high school players," he said.

Stolzer does not endorse IHSA sanctioning of the sport. Furthermore, he believes in terms of coaching, facilities, scheduling, finances and all that adding another sport entails, "if (athletic directors) never heard the word lacrosse again they'd be happy."

High school clubs are led by men and women experienced in the sport but outside of the school. Were lacrosse to come under IHSA jurisdiction, those coaching jobs likely would be offered to high school teachers. Wheaton United coach Kendall Vail encourages sanctioning even while she admits it might mean the end of her position, while Stolzer said it would "dilute the coaching pool."

He also believes that the current system of how high school players get recruited by college programs, mainly through large regional or national showcases and combines, would go away.

And in what is a Catch-22, while high schools taking on an expensive sport would possibly absorb much of the cost to the individual player, Stolzer thinks under sanctioning schools might drop programs all together.

"If it's done right it does create an even playing field, so the Romeovilles and West Chicagos and Bolingbrooks, whose families don't have as much money, can participate," Stolzer said.

That's a belief seconded by Illinois High School Lacrosse Association President Rich Martin.

"Had the IHSA sponsored the state series, many schools would have been unable to participate due to funding issues at their school. These issues would have been triggered by the IHSA sponsoring the state series," he said.

As it stands Stolzer doesn't see it done right, though he credited the IHSA for offering the platform -- which put the onus on individual high schools.

"Right now the sport of lacrosse is the fastest-growing sport in the country, and it's growing the fastest in the Midwestern part of the country," he said. "It's growing and it's got momentum, and it's a really, really good thing. And right now I think IHSA sanctioning is going to stifle that, for now."

In the future it'll probably happen.

"I think eventually we'll have it," Naperville Central's Lutzenkirchen said.

The IHSA's Troha thinks the board may revisit the lacrosse situation before the calendar year ends. That could include temporarily tabling the concept of school participation, or offering another chance.

What the IHSA doesn't want is a surplus of teams joining the party one year, then a falloff the next.

"(Board members) just feel like it's a little bit on shaky ground right now," Troha said. "They want it to be solid."

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