by Jim Boyle
While lacrosse players kicked, nudged, batted and threw hard rubber balls into nets over the summer on local fields, District 728 high school activities directors were busy scoring a big point for the future of the sport.
They brokered a partnership with local lacrosse boosters that will keep the fastest-growing sport in the area on the grow.
The Elk River Area School Board approved full district sponsorship of lacrosse at its July 28 regular meeting. Previously, the Elk River-Zimmerman and Rogers boys and girls lacrosse programs had been funded through local boosters, parents and athletes.
“This solidifies our partnership with the schools,” said Tracy Knudson, the president of the Elk River-Zimmerman girls high school booster club. “It will help bring our program to the next level.”
The district’s team of athletic directors – Jaime Hilyar at Zimmerman High School, Dan Ohlgren at Rogers High School and Mike Cunningham at Elk River High School – had deemed the addition of lacrosse to its host of programming a top priority while working through a comprehensive activities study.
Cunningham reported the lacrosse program’s yearly cost to be about $62,000. However, revenues from a combination of activity fees and gate receipts will bring the anticipated yearly net cost to the district down to about $24,000.
“We have seen great growth,” he noted, “so much so that Rogers started their own boys team two years ago, and Elk River still has increased numbers.”
Boosters are especially excited about the doors this will open for players whose families couldn’t afford to play in the past.
“Without the district’s support, the majority of the financial support has been left to the booster clubs and families, with fewer opportunities for assistance, which often turns players away.”
The district will offer reduced fees or waive fees for players who are on a free or reduced school lunch program. The district couldn’t do that when it was a self-funded program. Families will also be able to count lacrosse toward the family maximum cost, which stands at $775 right now..
District sponsorship also means boosters will be able to supplement the lacrosse program as needed rather than bearing the entire funding burden.
“Now the boosters will be paying for the extras, not the basics or necessities,” Cunningham said.
Knudson said the community and businesses deserve a big thank you because they have provided support and been great about offering fundraising opportunities.
“I definitely see the sport continuing to grow and thrive with the current and alumni players actively playing a key part,” she said. “We have several of our existing players coaching and mentoring our youth program, which helps generate and sustain the sport.”
Invented hundreds of years ago in North America by indigenous people, the sport was well-established by the mid-1600s. Long popular on the east coast, lacrosse is now one of the country’s fastest growing sports, according to a US Lacrosse participation survey. The organization found a record total of 746,859 players competed on organized lacrosse teams in 2013. The growth rate from last year (722,205) was 3.4 percent and youth participation topped 400,000 for the first time ever.”
In addition to being the fastest growth sport in high school, the NCAA had 60 new varsity programs added in 2013, including eight new NCAA Division I programs.
Major League Lacrosse, a league that includes the Minnesota Swarm, enjoys increasing popularity and ticket sales.
Youth programs, summer programs and school-sponsored programs have blossomed from coast to coast, according to a District 728 press release.
A spring sport, the Elk River-Zimmerman and Rogers lacrosse programs will be district-funded for the upcoming season. The girls program has already made an appearance at state in 2013 and graduates have gone on to play at the college level. Lacrosse is also recognized by the Minnesota State High School League, which sponsors a competitive state tournament.