In a sport dominated by schools on the East Coast, schools in the Midwest are starting to show that they are forces to be reckoned with. The sport of lacrosse has become so popular in the state of Illinois that the Illinois High School Association has approved a Lacrosse State Series starting in the 2010-2011 school year.
To do that, there needs to be a total of 60 boys and 40 girls teams by February of next year. Both the girls and boys have met those figures already and with the rapid growth of the sport, it is safe to say that the number of schools will only go up.
Lacrosse originated with the Native Americans of the United States and Canada, mainly among the Huron and Iroquois Tribes. In many societies/tribes, the ball sport was often part of religious ritual, played to resolve conflicts, heal the sick, develop strong, virile men and prepare for war. Legend tells of games with more than 100 players from different tribes taking turns to play.
It could be played on a field many miles in length and width; sometimes the game could last for days. Early lacrosse balls were made of deerskin, clay, stone and sometimes wood.
In the United States, lacrosse had primarily been a regional sport centered in and around Colorado, Florida, upstate New York, Texas, and mid-Atlantic states. In recent years, its popularity has started to spread south to Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama and Florida, as well as the Midwest. The sport has gained increasing visibility in the media, with a growth of college, high school, and youth programs throughout the country. According to a 2006 New York Times article, the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship has the highest attendance of any NCAA Championship, outdrawing even the Final Four of men’s basketball.
The sport of boys lacrosse first originated in the state of Illinois in 1988, when the first title game was held between Lake Forest and Evanston High Schools, with Lake Forest winning. It has grown from a mere seven schools to over 60, including schools in the inner city, such as Harlan and Collins Academies.
New Trier High School and Loyola Academy have been the two most successful programs in boys lacrosse, having played in 13 and 17 of the 21 championship games, respectively. Loyola has won the most titles, winning eight of the 17, including five against the rival Trevians, but new Trier has had the ramblers’ number recently, as they have defeated Loyola in the title game in each of the past four years.
“The competitiveness of Illinois high school lacrosse has risen in recent years, said Jamie Considine, an Illinois High School Lacrosse Association administrator said. “We now have lots of players going on to play Division I, II, and III college lacrosse. We have expanded the number of All-Americans from one to six annually to account for the increase in numbers and talent.”
Girls lacrosse, while not as popular yet in Illinois as the boys game, is only entering its 12th year of competition in the state of Illinois. Seven schools first started the Illinois High School Women’s Lacrosse Association in 1998: Loyola, New Trier, Regina Dominican, Lane Tech, Glenbrook South and Lake Forest.
Like their male counterparts, Loyola and New Trier, along with Lake Forest, have been the most successful teams, with Loyola being in every single of the 12 championship games.
“We are all excited because I feel this will give lacrosse more of a seal of approval,” said Loyola girls lacrosse coach John Dwyer. “Because it will now be an IHSA sport, more schools will start programs and that only makes the level of play in Illinois better.”
With the new Championship Series, there will be a new quirk in the seeding that there wasn’t before. The boys game has two divisions, A and B, where the top teams are in the A division and the rest are in the B division.
With the inception of the new playoff series, this will no longer be the case. All schools will play in one class. The girls game, however, does not have multiple classes and is seeded. The Championship Series will do what they do with the rest of their sports: break schools up into regionals and sectionals, based on location. Not all coaches are thrilled about this.
“I have a bad feeling that the Championship games won’t feature the best two teams in the state anymore,” said Dwyer, who has been Loyola’s coach for eight years. “In the past it had been that we would face New Trier or Lake Forest in either the semifinals or finals. With this new system, we will face them in the second or third round. So it might end up that the best team in the state is done after one or two games.”
But as Dwyer later added, it doesn’t matter what the name on the trophy is, it’s all the same. You can never take away the feeling of a championship.