Lacrosse: Gen Z’s most popular sport

Peter Ghaly, R2 Sports Editor

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WHS junior Finn Collins steps onto the lacrosse practice field on a Thursday afternoon, dressed in pads, a helmet and shorts and carrying a short metal stick. Collins has been playing this increasingly popular sport since fifth grade. “I played sports like baseball and soccer and hockey before lacrosse, but once I started playing, it became my favorite sport because of how intense it can get,” he said.
Collins is one of many who have embraced our generation’s fastest-growing sport, which recorded more than 825,000 participants in 2016, marking the 12th consecutive year in which total participants increased by at least 20,000 per year, according to US Lacrosse.
For decades, sports such as soccer, football, basketball and baseball have been the primary choices for youth athletes. Today, lacrosse, which began as a tribal game played by Native Americans, is primed to join these sports as one of the most popular in the country.
So what is it that makes lacrosse so appealing?
“It’s definitely growing in popularity because it’s a fast, exciting contact sport that also requires skill,” said Collins. “It’s really unique but also takes concepts from other popular sports like hockey and soccer.”
Senior Sam Pugliese finds that lacrosse is paced differently from other sports, making it attractive to kids. “I think a lot of kids are interested in the sport because of how fast-paced it is and how much is going on on the field,” he said. “It’s not like baseball where the focus is only on the pitcher and hitter, and it’s not like football where the plays are only a few seconds long and then they stop.”
Girls Varsity Assistant Coach Marcie Williams sees lacrosse as an exciting alternative for athletes seeking a high-intensity sport. “Some sports such as football and soccer are getting negative publicity because of head injuries,” she said. “Lacrosse provides an alternative for those who want to become better athletes but be safer. With that being said, it’s also a great opportunity to be physical and to work on your endurance. It’s a great sport for those who like a fast-paced game.”
Boys Varsity Head Coach Patrick Tuohy said that in addition to being a great alternative to other sports, lacrosse also can fit in well with students who play fall and winter sports. “I think that it is fun for young kids to run around and be physical in lacrosse,” he said. “It’s a great complement to other sports like football, hockey and basketball.”
Sophomore Molly Mineo said lacrosse offers many chances to strengthen her skills all year long. “Many other sports are just for a school team, but lacrosse is huge on playing in the summer when you don’t have school, or club teams in the spring if you don’t play for the school,” Mineo said.
While lacrosse is flourishing amongst the youth, it’s still in its infancy on the pro level.
Said Tuohy: “Right now college lacrosse is the real professional lacrosse. There’s just not enough money for players in the professional league to dedicate their full time and energy to it. I think that social media will have a good impact in keeping players interested in their favorite college players as they go into the professional ranks. So I do think that there is hope moving forward that the professional league can continue to grow.”
Between 2001 and 2016, lacrosse participation grew by more than 325 percent, according to US Lacrosse. Natalie Bond, a senior varsity captain at WHS, said she sees the sport growing even more. “As lacrosse reaches other countries, the global interest in the sport will grow and maybe one day lacrosse will be as popular as pro sports such as basketball and football,” Bond said.
Tuohy is impressed with the growth of the game and is excited for the future of lacrosse. “The sport has grown in sheer numbers,” he said. “You can tell by the number of high school programs that are in the country now and the number of youth players across the country. It is a great time for the sport.”