Lacrosse may be coming to a high school close to you
December 2, 2008North Carolina
Column by Rick Scoppe
Jacksonville Daily News
Gary Herbold never thought he'd see this day. Since arriving in Jacksonville from Baltimore, Herbold hoped and dreamed and worked toward this day. But he never thought the state's high schools might add lacrosse to their varsity lineup.
But that day has arrived.
The NCHSAA Board of Directors is expected to consider whether to make lacrosse "a championship sport" during its regular winter meetings, according to associate executive director Rick Strunk. If approved during the board's two-day session that began Tuesday, Strunk said lacrosse could be added "probably starting'' in the spring of 2009.
"I didn't think this day would happen," said Herbold, who is president of the Onslow Youth Lacrosse Association (OYLA). "I grew up in Baltimore, where lacrosse is a hot bed. I came down here and for years I talked about wanting to start a program but never thought it would ever come around."
Not that Herbold, who played lacrosse at the U.S. Naval Academy, ever gave up on his dream. He was an original member of the OYLA board of directors, which included Michelle Leonard. It was Leonard's 2005 application to US Lacrosse for an equipment grant that got the lacrosse ball rolling in the county.
The OYLA held three clinics in late 2005 and early 2006 to educate and to judge the interest in lacrosse, which is believed to originate with American Indians, who played it as part of their training for war.
That first year the association had four teams and 93 players. In 2007 the numbers jumped to six teams and 120 players while this past year the number of teams expanded to eight while the number of players declined slightly to 110.
"It was tough," Herbold said Monday. "For our U18 boys team, we played several games with 10 or 11 players, and you have 10 players on the field. So it was a struggle."
The OYLA is part of the East Carolina Youth Lacrosse League, which includes teams in Greenville, Havelock, Carteret County and New Bern. There are also several club teams in Wilmington.
Also, Northside is adding a club team, which will begin play in the spring and be coached by Brian McIntosh and football coach Bob Eason. McIntosh played lacrosse at the U.S. Air Force Academy and has also coached the sport at the middle school and high school level.
"At our initial meeting we had about 35 kids show up," McIntosh said. "Ten of those probably have played before."
Two other area schools - Jacksonville and White Oak - expect to add lacrosse as well in the near future.
"It's definitely coming," Jacksonville Athletic Director Ron Holtsford said, "I just don't know when."
White Oak AD Greg Grantham agreed. He said five or six players from White Oak play for the OYLA's Onslow Tribe and have asked for several years about adding the sport at the high school.
"There's no doubt in my mind that sometime soon it's coming," he said. "It's just a matter of time."
Herbold, who runs his own custom woodworking business in Jacksonville, estimated there are more than 40 high schools across the state that already have club teams along with a number of Division I, II and III schools, including North Carolina and Duke.
"It's a great opportunity. The sport is growing," Herbold said. "What do I like about lacrosse? It's high scoring. It's got body contact and constant movement. Once a child or adult starts playing or watching a game, they get hooked."
If that sounded like a public relations sound bite, it was. But Herbold also made two other points he thought worth considering while also acknowledging the sport isn't cheap. He estimated it costs about $300 to outfit a player - and to field a high school team you would need about 21 players.
But Herbold certainly believes the benefits outweigh the costs. And parents and football coaches might agree.
With lacrosse a growing NCAA sport because of Title IX, Herbold said about 130 girls from the Baltimore area signed scholarships in lacrosse last month. That, he said, compared to about 60 boys - and 10 players each in football and basketball.
"The scholarship opportunities playing women's lacrosse are tremendous," he said.
Then there's the impact it could have on football, Herbold said. A lot of coaches and athletic directors want their football players to run track in the spring, but Herbold said they ought to take a close look at lacrosse.
After all, Jim Brown, one of the NFL's all-time greatest running backs, was an All-American in lacrosse as well as football at Syracuse.
"Lacrosse, it's a different agility set than football," Herbold said. "If you've got a linebacker or defensive end, their field sense will improve that much more by playing lacrosse. I was a football player in high school also. They compliment one another.
"If we ever get to the point that it is a high school sport here, I don't want to see lacrosse players that are playing just lacrosse. They need to play football. They need to play basketball in the wintertime. We need well-rounded athletes, not just specialists."