Lacrosse has been around since even before the 16th century when Europeans settlers found Native Americans playing it, but it just recently became popular in the United States. This extremely fast-growing sport deserves a second look, as it has the potential to be a great investment for athletic facility owners and tournament planners.
When the Europeans first made contact with Native Americans in the late 1490s/early 1500s, lacrosse was one of the first native stickball games that they saw being played. The oldest surviving stick in U.S. possession dates from the early 19th century, and it wasn’t until later that historians got their hands on some ancient rules of the “Cherokee Ball-Play.” While Native Americans also played other stickball games such as field hockey and shinny, lacrosse stood out because of its use of its netted “scoop” part of the stick.
Observed as an almost exclusively male sport, lacrosse was played mostly in the eastern half of North America, and three variations of the sport seemed to form due to differences in stick handling and equipment used : Great Lakes, Southeastern (which involved two sticks per player) and Iroquoian. Non-natives started taking up the game around the mid 19th century when some Canadians in Montreal took interest and started an amateur club league, and eventually traveled to Europe to play exhibition games. Because of the cost of traveling overseas, it wasn’t until the 1980s, when the Iroquois Nationals were formed, that Native Americans were able to compete professionally in their own game abroad.
Lacrosse serves more than recreational purposes for Native Americans. Rooted deeply in tradition, the game is also a spiritual experience that involves ceremony and whose end result is believed to be determined by supernatural forces. Banned for being involved with an increase in violence and betting around 1900, the game came back and is still played by the Iroquois and Southeastern tribes in their traditional forms.
Today, lacrosse is one of the world’s fastest growing sports with more than half a million players. In the U.S., by the 2014-2015 season there will be nearly 516 NCAA lacrosse teams, which is a 63% increase in one decade. These teams are no longer concentrated in the Northeast as they had been historically. From 2005-2014, the West experienced a 120% increase in the number of NCAA teams, while the Southeast experienced a 263% increase and the Midwest a 381% increase.
Besides being the fastest-growing NCAA sport, lacrosse is also the nation’s fastest-growing high school sport. From 2008-2013 there was a 34% increase in the number of boys’ programs and a 36% increase in the number of girls’ programs.
At first glimpse, lacrosse doesn’t have too much in common with another fast-growing sport, soccer. But, there is one important similarity that high schools have been taking advantage of.
The regulation field size for lacrosse is 60 yards wide by 110 yards long, and the regulation size for a soccer field is 60 yards wide by 100 yards long. Since lacrosse only requires an additional 10 yards and the majority of high schools that have soccer teams had them only before they had lacrosse teams, the field is used for both sports. In high school, football fields are typically used for all three sports since their dimensions are 53 and 1/3 yards wide by 120 yards long, and it wouldn’t be cost-effective to create new fields.
As the number of NCAA teams continues to rise, so does the number of colleges making their soccer complexes into facilities that can also host lacrosse games. Vanderbilt University and Georgetown University both undertook renovations in the early 2000s to make their soccer fields into multi-sport fields that could also host lacrosse games. Michigan Stadium, home to the Wolverines football team at the University of Michigan, hosted its first men’s lacrosse game in March 2012 and first women’s lacrosse game in March of this year.
Many community recreation facilities are also utilizing this concept. Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, New York was built even before the new millennium as a multi-sports stadium that is meant to house soccer, lacrosse and football games, with a nine-lane track encircling it that can also host track and field events. In a Newsday article, Duke University lacrosse coach John Danowski told reporters that Mitchel’s lacrosse field is the “best public venue around.”
For facility owners, lacrosse is an extremely inexpensive sport to host. With much smaller dimensions, lacrosse goals are very different than soccer goals and are actually much cheaper. Regulation lacrosse goals can cost anywhere from $300-$600, while most regulation soccer goals cost from $600 to often over $1,000. The main additional cost to hosting lacrosse as well as soccer on a multi-sport field is the wear and tear of increased usage. Many facility owners and operators have found that offering their fields to youth leagues along with high school and/or college leagues decreases the wear and tear since younger players tend to play less aggressively. Therefore, spreading out the usage among a variety of levels of play decreases the chance that hosting lacrosse along with soccer will increase maintenance costs.
Lacrosse is the country’s hottest sport right now, and the trend in increasing numbers of high school and NCAA teams doesn’t look like it will be changing anytime soon. Now is the ideal time for sports complexes that currently house soccer and/or football fields to consider expanding or painting new lines on existing space so it can be used for lacrosse games.
By: Niki Kottmann