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Stick it

The ancient game of lacrosse finally catches on in Oklahoma, especially with youth.

Greg Horton March 27th, 2013

Six years ago, Scott Charles’ son came home from school and informed his father that he wanted to try a “new sport.”

Photo: Shannon Cornman

That was lacrosse. While relatively new to Oklahoma, it is perhaps the most ancient sport in the Western Hemisphere.

Charles, a former high school baseball coach, knew very little about lacrosse, a game dominated on the collegiate level by East Coast schools.

Around the same time, however, Edmond’s Parks and Recreation Department was starting a lacrosse club. Charles and other parents jumped at the chance to get their kids involved.

Four years later, the city turned responsibility over to the parents, who now form the nucleus of Edmond Lacrosse Club, which offers games for about 450 kids ranging from 5-yearolds to high school seniors.

Lacrosse’s rise in Oklahoma is part of a larger national trend. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of youth playing it in the U.S. increased from 250,000 to 684,000, making it the country’s fastest-growing sport.

Oklahoma Baptist University just began its first season of competition with a women’s team, and two Tulsa area high schools recently have embraced it as well.

The sport is played on a field similar in size to football or soccer. The goal is to get a tennis ball-sized ball into the opponents’ net. Ten players per team are on the field at any time: three attackmen, three midfielders, three defenders and one goalie. Only goalies can touch the ball with their hands.

Lacrosse uses attack strategies and player placement similar to soccer, with stick skills similar to hockey. Offense strategies often resemble motion offenses in basketball.

Alex Edwards, director of the Edmond club’s girls’ program, said OBU’s team already has made a difference for the sport locally.

“Two of our girls were recruited by Katy Moore, OBU’s coach,” she said. “That is huge for lacrosse in the state.”

In recent years, Charles said, organizers of lacrosse tournaments have taken notice of Oklahoma’s growing program.

“We’re often seeded very high now,” he said, “because they recognize that some of our teams are genuinely elite.”

Last year, 801 Lacrosse Club Inc. broke off from Edmond Lacrosse Club to develop high-quality traveling teams. Coaches from Fort Sill, who had played the game at West Point, got involved.

Dave Heaton, 801 Lacrosse director and coach, said the goal is to increase awareness in Oklahoma and get more kids playing. Next month, he will meet with the Oklahoma City YMCA to develop youth leagues for children as young as 6.

“This is a fast-paced, fun game with far fewer injuries than traditional sports,” Heaton said. “Also, because of the nature of the sport, different levels of athleticism can be on the field at the same time, making a spot for everyone.”

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