They play a sport that is hugely popular in some parts of the country. It requires both athleticism and skill. Arizona high school lacrosse players, though, are missing an important component.
They don't get the true high school sports experience because they really aren't playing for their high schools.
Sure, when the lacrosse season opens in January, there will be some 26 boys and 14 or so girls teams playing with the names of high schools. But in most cases, the teams have no connection to the schools because lacrosse is merely a club sport.
"There is no relationship with the school," said Jason Silkey, the boys lacrosse coach at Chaparral.
Silkey and other coaches said players are the losers in this situation. While they work as hard as their counterparts in school-sponsored sports such as football and basketball, lacrosse players don't get to enjoy the benefits of playing and practicing at their school, being encouraged by cheerleaders or earning a letter.
"The biggest disparity is school recognition," said Bob Kosower, the athletic director at Phoenix Country Day — one of the few schools that treats lacrosse like any other school sport, even allowing teams to practice on campus. "The rules are different from school to school and district to district. At some schools, you can't announce scores. We had one team that won a championship that wasn't allowed to put a trophy in school."
It isn't hard to figure out why schools distance themselves from a club team — liability. That would be a moot point if enough schools decided to make lacrosse a regular high school sport and got it sanctioned by the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
Harold Slemmer, the executive director of the AIA, said there are several ways sports can get sanctioned.
- If half or more regions are participating in a sport and at least half the teams are participating in each region.
- If half or more of the schools in a conference have the sport.
- If 10 or more schools in a combination of conferences participate.
Slemmer said if enough schools want the AIA to sanction lacrosse, it will be done. Due to Title IX federal gender-equity laws, it will only happen if schools want both boys and girls lacrosse, keeping an even balance of boys and girls sports.
So why hasn't it happened already? Money is part of the reason.
While soccer fields can be used for practices and games, the players need equipment. Each boy needs about $250 in equipment and each girl about $100 (girls don't wear helmets).
With their budgets tight already, school athletic directors aren't ready to add sports.
"We can't afford it now," said Brent Carter, Saguaro's athletic director.
Chaparral girls coach Jessica Livingston thinks the time is ripe for lacrosse to shed its club label.
"I think it's close," Livingston said. "I don't see why it won't happen."
If it does happen, Kosower is sure to play a big role. But he isn't sure when it will be.
"I sat on the lacrosse board and my main purpose was as a liaison between the AIA and lacrosse leagues," Kosower said. "Three years ago, I said I thought it would be in three years. Three years has come by. Right now, I haven't gotten a feel for it being an AIA sport at least in the immediate future."