Lacrosse moves closer to state tournament goal
Illinois high school lacrosse players have finally scored. Next year around this time, they will be gearing up to make Illinois history as the first state-sanctioned lacrosse championships draw near.
The Illinois High School Association recently approved the terms and conditions that will govern the organization's boys' and girls' high school lacrosse postseasons in 2018. The state finals will take place from May 31 through June 2 at a site to be determined.
Matt Troha, assistant executive director with the IHSA, said in an email interview that the lacrosse state series will generally follow the same sectional/super-sectional format as other high school sports. The boys' semifinals will take place on Thursday; the girls' semis will be held on Friday; and the third-place and championship matches for both will take place on Saturday.
“We intend to hold both the girls' and boys' state finals at one site, as we believe it will provide greater exposure for both sports and help future growth,” Troha said.
It's been something of a struggle to reach this point. Troha said that while a group of coaches and athletic directors had been asking for an IHSA-sanctioned state lacrosse series for years, it wasn't until 2009 that the sport got its shot.
That year, after hearing from lacrosse advocates about the sport’s growth, the IHSA board approved a state series with one catch: It required 65 schools for the boys' tournament and 40 for the girls' tourney.
“We failed to reach those numbers for many years, but our board recognized the continued growth and decided in April 2016 that the state series would begin in the spring of 2018, regardless of state tournament entry numbers,” Troha said.
The fast-paced growth of lacrosse has made benchmarks moot. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, in the 2015-16 academic year 89 schools had boys' lacrosse programs and 63 had girls' programs, an increase from 82 and 58, respectively, from a year earlier. But participation numbers truly jumped in that one-year span, from 615 boy and girl players to 2,727 boys and 1,749 girls.
“As they continued to grow, the board felt confident that there were enough established programs and continued growth to begin a state series,” Troha said. “However, they also thought it was important to give almost two full years of preparation for schools to be able to integrate their programs."
Nationally, Troha said, the number of high school lacrosse participants went from 297,271 to 424,836 during the same time frame.
US Lacrosse said that in 2015, organized team participation nationwide reached 800,000 — a first for the sport. Youth lacrosse — a division for players ages 14 and younger — was at about 450,000 players. Illinois youth participation grew from 4,240 participants in 2009 to 7,159 in 2014, Troha said.
The IHSA said proposals for hosting the site of the lacrosse finals are due May 1, with the site to be selected August 21.
“We want to provide a first-class experience for the participants, coaches, officials and fans," the IHSA website states. "A venue that can accommodate the anticipated crowds, has adequate locker-room facilities for our competing teams, and a suitable turf playing surface will be some of the factors that weigh heavily.”
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