One of the fastest-growing youth sports in the country is making a strong surge among high school students in the Center Grove area.
The sport is lacrosse, and the high school club team — Center Grove Trojan Lacrosse — has more than 70 players. More than 80 other kids participate on the club’s youth teams.
Center Grove Trojan Lacrosse is in its eighth year of operation.
Coaches, players and parents agree that the biggest factor in the sport’s rapid rise locally is the opportunity it affords young people to belong to a team and excel quickly at a time when other sports are a bit crowded and hyper-competitive.
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“Unlike other high school sports, where they feel like they have to be in the top five percent (of players) or else get cut, there is a real chance here for everybody to be part of something,” said Nancy Gudeman, whose daughter, Colleen, played at the club and is now playing at Notre Dame and whose son, John, is now on one of the youth teams.
“Getting cut is a rough experience for teenagers,” she said.
Gudeman has been involved at the club as a volunteer administrator for a few years and said the club works hard to promote togetherness and a strong social network, which also has helped it grow quickly. She added the sport has some unique qualities that help boost interest at the youth level.
Originating with the Iroquois Native American tribe, lacrosse is played on a field similar to football or soccer. Players carry a ball in a “crosse,” which is a stick with a webbed pouch on the end. The object is to put the ball into a goal, similar in size to that used in ice hockey.
Other features include the ability for players to go behind the goal (as in ice hockey) and a limited number of players that may go into the forward half of the field.
Girls lacrosse has some major distinctions from the boys side, most notably the relative lack of physical contact (boys are allowed to check with both their sticks and bodies; girls are not) and a larger playing field. Girls games feature 12 players per side, while the boys have only 10.
Center Grove boys coach John Callender said he believes the physical qualifies of the sport, including virtual nonstop running, body contact (for boys) and regular involvement of most players on the field, are a big part of the attraction for today’s youngsters.
“Kids get more excited to run around and not just stand there,” Callender said. “I think of baseball, where one kid is batting and a bunch of other kids are standing or sitting and waiting. With lacrosse, it’s all 20 kids playing at the same time.
“Plus, if you tell a young kid to go out and hit somebody with a stick, they see it as fun.”
In total, there are 61 high school boys club teams and 23 girls teams in Indiana. Although not an IHSAA-sanctioned sport, more than 1,000 players participate. The club teams also compete for a state championship.
Center Grove has enjoyed modest competitive success thus far but already has nine players competing at the college level.
Callender is excited about the growth of the sport on the southside and around the state.
“Center Grove has been a focal point on the southside,” he said. “Now Roncalli has a team. Perry Meridian just started one. Southport has one, and they are playing in Columbus and Bloomington.
“We want to teach the game and also the sportsmanship and other life lessons that can carry over to high school, and even adult life.”
Steve Cobb is the associate head coach of the Center Grove girls team. He sees a lot of the players sign up after having heard about the sport through friends. While the youth teams are growing, more than 50 percent of the 40 players on the girls high school team began playing as freshmen.
“Kids see it and wonder what is going on,” Cobb said. “It’s a sport a lot of people around here weren’t familiar with, but that’s starting to change, person by person.”
Once they are on board, Cobb said players can enjoy lacrosse most of the year, with spring being the official competitive season.
Cobb’s daughter, Arlie, is a senior on the team. She said other team members helped teach her the game and that players work almost as hard at recruiting new players as they do to compete in practices and games.
“My cousin had played, and I wanted to try something new,” Arlie Cobb said. “She said you might want to try, so I was interested. I just started playing in the eighth grade and then tried out for the high school team. I started learning fundamentals like passing, shooting and catching, and I really had no idea how it worked field-wise until I started playing.
“I worked up from baby steps, but I love it now.”
ABOUT THE CENTER GROVE TROJAN LACROSSE
Who can play lacrosse?
Any boy or girl between third and 12th grade.*
Third- and fourth-grades boys: With gloves and helmet, noncontact with stick checking.
Fifth- and sixth-grade boys: With full equipment, noncontact with stick checking.
Seventh and eighth grade: Limited contact.
High school: Full contact.
*Girls will need goggles and a stick for all ages.
Do you have to be enrolled at Center Grove schools to play lacrosse?
Yes, for high school, for spring season only. Students from neighboring communities are allowed to promote the growth of lacrosse.
When is lacrosse played?
Lacrosse is a spring sport, but summer leagues, fall ball, and winter leagues, camps and clinics are offered.
SOURCE: Center Grove Trojan Lacrosse