Lacrosse Takes the Field in Oregon
Soccer Too Soft? Baseball Too Boring?
By Bridget Barton
ready for rough play-contact is allowed, hitting each other with sticks
(in certain areas) is allowed. Get ready for fast play-the ball is small
and hard like a baseball, and players chase up and down field as fast
and far as the ball can be thrown.
this spring you’re tempted to stop and check out a lacrosse game,
there are two reasons you should stand a few yards clear of the sidelines.
Those accustomed to the polite play of soccer stand a chance of getting
blown off their feet when a player slams into the ball carrier running
down the sidelines, knocking him off his feet, out of bounds, and scattering
spectators like bowling pins. Yup, that’s legal—the game is
the fastest growing sport in the country, lacrosse is growing by leaps
and bounds in the Northwest. Nationally, the number of kids signing up
in the spring for Little League and T-ball is declining. And yet as high
school sports specialize and professionalize, parents complain that fewer
kids really get a chance to play team sports, like soccer, baseball, basketball
or football. Lacrosse is filling that springtime void-that team sports
void. Youth and high school lacrosse teams have increased 65 percent in
the last ten years, and here’s why.
The Call to Action
“Picture this,” says Jim Hammon, who heads up the Oregon High
School Lacrosse Association (OHSLA). “This kid is playing baseball
and he’s standing out in
the outfield. And while he’s standing out there waiting for a ball
to come his way, he’s watching the kids on the next field over.
They’re running, pushing each other, and hitting each other with
sticks. What do you think a 15-year-old boy is going to be drawn to?”
And it’s the kids, kids who just want to play, who have built the
sport here in Oregon from the ground up. Kids like Aaron Baker who started
the first Lincoln High School team with help from his parents Larry and
And kids like Pat Jones, a junior defender on Oregon City High School’s
brand new lacrosse team. Pat, a committed athlete, suffered a serious
broken leg playing football. He spent four months bedridden,
nine months in a cast. But four operations later the
full contact intensity of football practice was just too much, say his
parents Dave and Nancy Jones. Pat
began to study and research. He read about lacrosse and developed a passion
about it. “Now,” say his parents, “that’s his
life ambition—to play lacrosse.”
Problem was, Oregon City didn’t have a team. Not a problem for Pat.
Pat wanted to play. After all, says Pat, “You get to hit people
with a stick.”
First Pat asked Mr. Les Sitton to coach the fledgling team. Straight out
of a Mighty Ducks-type screenplay, Sitton is, you guessed it, the bookish
physics and math teacher at the Senior Campus for Oregon City High. And,
you guessed again, he’d never even seen the game played. But thinking
that chances were slim it would all come together, Sitton said yes.
“Bless his heart,”” says Nancy Jones, “he stuck
with it.” Playing on Sitton’s first year team in 2001 was
senior defenseman Brett Meyer, National Student Athlete and Three Rivers
Student Athlete of the Year for football (co-winner with Aaron Davis).
Meyer loves the contact of lacrosse and he’s planning to play at
Willamette if his football coach allows it.
“But,” adds Coach Sitton, “half of my players have never
played an organized high school sport. I’ve got a couple of varsity
football,soccer, basketball and wrestling, but this really is kind of
an even playing field. Those varsity players haven’t ever played
lacrosse either. Those that haven’t played a sport at all don’t
feel so inferior.”
“Lacrosse isn’t terribly expensive to run for a high school
sport,” says Sitton. “But the schools don’t give any
financial support. This year it was almost $5,000 to start up.”
That’’s where Pat Jones and his parents came in. The Jones
family pitched in $2,500 for the first year so that their son could realize
his dream to play lacrosse. “It started out with $500 for lacrosse uniforms,
then another $500, and it kind of grew,” says Nancy Jones.
“We had a great year,” says Sitton. “They’re all
learning. I’m even thinking about getting out to play. At the first
informational meeting we had about 50 guys and we started the team with
35.” Sitton is expecting to be swamped with kids for the 2002 program
and is ready to field a varsity and junior varsity team.
Muscling Into the Competition
Lacrosse, played from the third Monday in February until the championship
game in late spring, may be drawing some players from spring baseball
and track, but Hammon, OHSLA commissioner, says the upstart lacrosse association
has made every effort not to hurt other sports.
Hammon remembers hearing some time back about an Athletic Directors(A.D.s)
conference in Bend where “dean of football” and Roseburg A.D.
Thurman Bell warned others there about the rising enthusiasm forlacrosse.
Hammon says,” I heard that Bell said, ‘I don’t know
what you guys are hearing about lacrosse, but it’s come here to
my school...it’s come on strong. I suggest you pay attention, because
But Hammon counters, “We make it very clear to the A.D.s that we’re
not interested in ruining any other sports. We hope that soccer and football
coaches tell their kids-instead of playing Nintendo, play lacrosse in
the spring.” Hammon does know of one school where the team had a
negative impact. At Oregon Episcopal School the newly formed lacrosse
team significantly hurt the track program. “But the lacrosse coach
the athletic director,” smiles Hammon.
Then there’s the case of West Linn High School. Coach Mark Flood,
referred to by many as the “father of high school lacrosse in Oregon,”
fielded one of the first two high school lacrosse teams in the state in
1995. Says Hammon, “He didn’t have one kid who had played
any other sport. He got the kids in the chess club, the kids in the band.
Josh Parker (who graduated in 2000 and now plays for OSU) was one of the
best goalies around.
He was in the band. West Linn is still known for drawing kids who don’t
participate in other varsity sports, but Coach Flood’s successful
team (West Linn took the state championship in 2000 and was second to
Lakeridge in 2001) is now starting to draw some top athletes.
On the flip side, schools such as defending lacrosse champion Lakeridge
are known for the number of kids who cross over and play a combination
of varsity sports, mostly football and lacrosse. The fall/spring crossover
keeps kids in top shape and on the field
year-round. “What I hear,” says Hammon, “is that at
Lakeridge lacrosse is popular with the athletic crowd, the ‘in’
just one season of lacrosse in his community of Roseburg, Thurman Bell
expresses nothing but enthusiasm for the game that he says keeps his kids
agile and in better shape, and he doesn’t seem too worried about
the competition with other school sports. The well-known A.D. of football
powerhouse Roseburg, asks, “Where in the world was this sport when
I was a kid?”
The Umpqua Indians Get
Getting started however, wasn’t so easy. Once again it took kids
like Chris Bilder of Roseburg, who had the vision and just last season
coaxed his dad Paul Bilder into making it happen. Paul, a local physician,
along with Greg Stanko, a registered nurse, gave their free time (and
ponied up $800) to coach the Umpqua Indians of Roseburg last year in their
first-ever season. Both men are longtime lacrosse enthusiasts. Stanko
played on the East Coastin high school and in college.
Stanko remembers, “When I got out here to Oregon in 1981 it was
a lacrosse void. One day I was behind a car in traffic and saw it had
a lacrosse bumpersticker. I waited till the stop sign and I jumped out
and ran up and said, “Where can you play?” It was Paul’s
wife and she told me about the club team in Eugene. We kept in touch and
eventually talked about forming a high school team.”
The two, prompted by Chris Bilder, put out flyers at the high school for
a meeting at a local pizza parlor. “Thirty kids came,” says
Stanko. “They’d never seen it played or been to a game. But
we thought we could take a shot.
We had throw-arounds and people would come out and we’d teach basic
“The kids that came out to play for Roseburg,” says Stanko,
“were guys who played soccer, track, hockey, basketball, football,
fencing and some guys who’ve never played organized sports at all.
They got sticks
in their hands, and they got the rules and we scrimmaged.”
“It’s really fast-paced and when you start achieving it’s
a really good feeling…when you’re able to get it, it’s
so beautiful,” says one new tenth-grade player. “I play midfield.
I kinda like the fact that it’s contact. Sometimes I’ll get
pretty bruised but it’s alright. The last guy that laid me out didn’t
know I was a girl. When he saw, he said he was sorry.” Shary Dake,
now sidelined with an injury from too much running (she also plays soccer),
smiles at the recollection.
Yes, they all love it-girls too. Shary Dake is the lone female on the
Roseburg squad, but several other teams in the Northwest list girls on
their rosters and a number of Oregon high schools have fielded girls teams.
Girls play an altered version of the game, with less contact, but using
sticks with more finesse, similar to those originally used by the Native
Americans who designed the game.
Sheryl Walter understands the commitment needed to start the new team
in Roseburg. She remembers the day, early in his first season, that her
son, junior midfielder Colby Walter, broke his leg in a game with Lake
Oswego. “He was going in to score a goal and two boys hit him on
opposite sides at the same time. In the hospital room he said, ‘Did
the goal count?’ It didn’t.
He had to be tough. He still comes to every practice, every game, and
we go to Portland or Eugene for
“We came from Chicago, and my kid was the only one with experience,”
says parent Susan Tipton, a newcomer to Roseburg, but not to lacrosse.
“Tyler (a junior attack/midfielder) came with his lacrosse stick
and his ball wondering where he was going to play.”
“I just like being competitive,” says Tyler Tipton. “We
opened up a lot of eyes-there’s a lot of talk about us being good.”
In their first season the Roseburg team went 5-5. According to Stanko,
the kids say it was really fun, more fun than football.
Lax Roots in Oregon
From 1995 when West Linn first hit the lacrosse field to play a handful
of games against the only other organized team, Glencoe High School, the
league has grown to 19 teams. The most new teams per year was two until
2001, when eight teams were added, including teams in Hermiston, Oregon
City and Roseburg. This year, Hammon says that eight more new teams are
on board, including additions in Beaverton, Tigard, Aloha, Salem and several
in the Eugene area.
The roots of it go back to the day that Hammon saw a tiny ad in the paper
that said, “If you want to play lacrosse, call Mark Flood.”
Hammon, born and raised in Michigan, had played ice hockey all his life.
But on a whim he moved to Oregon in 1990. “The Canadians play lacrosse
all summer to keep their hockey skills intact,” says Hammon. So
he called the number in the ad and it led to six seasons of men’s
club lacrosse in Portland.
Eventually team members started to marry and raise families, leading to
thoughts of the future and the young lacrosse players who would someday
fill their cleats. When Mark Flood (West Linn) and Bill Rexford (Glencoe)
first began high school teams, Hammon and other Portland club team members
’96 two more teams were added and everyone knew more league structure
was needed. Six guys raised their hands at our first organizational meeting,
and I was kind
of put in charge of running it,” says Hammon. “We crowned
our first league champion in 1997-Lakeridge beat Oregon Episcopal School.”
Growing Pains; Growing
Growing the league today is a whole new game. Hammon’s goal for
Oregon lacrosse is to be sanctioned by the Oregon Scholastic Activities
Association (OSAA). In other words, to become a regular high school sport.
To achieve that level the sport must have teams in 50 percent of the high
schools in the level they are sanctioned. In 2001, lacrosse had teams
in 19 of the 78 4-A high schools in Oregon. For 2002 the number stands
at 27, but they’ll need to grow to 39 or 40 before applying for
In order to be ready, says Hammon, “we’re following OSAA guidelines.
We ask our student athletes to complete the same requirements as any varsity
sport-academics, attendance, etc. Every team in our league has suspended
players for attendance or grades.
“And we honor an Academic All-American,” says Hammon. In 2001
that honor went to Matt Collier of Lakeridge High School.
“If you look at water polo, it’s kind of capped at 32 (high
school teams), or skiing is sort of the same,” says Hammon. “Realistically
wecould cap out and just never get to 40. Would that disappoint me? No,because
we’re a part of U.S. Lacrosse. (U.S. Lacrosse is an umbrellaorganization
for amateur lacrosse players across the country that provides official
rules, regulations, and assistance on coaching, officiating, etc.) And
when you get down to brass tacks what OSAA gives you is a structure-they
put on playoffs, set up requirements for officials, etc.
“But because of our national recognition from U.S. Lacrosse, we’re
here to stay. We have national rulebooks and guidelines. We awarded three
All-Americans in 2001-J. Alex Meinhard-West Linn, Kevin Bass- Southridge
High School, and Ben Sadler-Oregon Episcopal School, and one Academic
All-American-Matt Collier-Lakeridge. And we sent one representative to
play in the 2001 Senior All-Star game-David Huet.”
Both Bass and Meinhard epitomize the appeal of high school lacrosse. Neither
student had played another sport in high school; Bass played no sport
until his junior year, 2000, when Southridge formed its team, yet both
went on to become Oregon’s All-Americans in 2001. Hammon guesses
that only about 25 percent of players are on other varsity sports teams.
Time to Play
Lacrosse is fast, hard-hitting, athletic AND lacrosse offers lots of kids
the chance to
play-to play and enjoy a varsity team sport
in high school when other sports demand year-round, total focus.
It comes down to this, says Hammon: “Kids love the game. They like
the unique combination of skills. Basketball players know the picks; soccer
players know the movement and the plays, football players know the contact.”
But mostly they all get to play. “The fact that you can carry 25
kids on your roster; you
can have 75-100 kids in your program (Freshman, JVI, JVII, and Varsity)—what
an opportunity.” The speed of the game also requires frequent substitution
of entire squads. Ten kids take the field but many more sub in-lots of
kids get in the game for lots of minutes. Says one Oregon City lacrosse
player, “You get out there and run till you drop, and then you go
out, and then the next guy goes in.”
The College Connection
Even more, lots of graduates go on to play lacrosse at the college level,
both on club teams and on NCAA teams, the two types of college lacrosse.
Oregon colleges such as Oregon State (where All-American Meinhard now
plays), Univ. of Oregon, PSU, Lewis & Clark and Willamette offer club
programs. Some of these also offer women’s programs. Players can
usually just sign up and
enjoy four years of college team sports
with an ever-increasing level of competition thrown in to keep it interesting.
NCAA teams, like Syracuse, Princeton, Maryland and Stanford are a different
matter. Getting attention from the big East Coast recruiters is difficult
for any West Coast high school team according to Hammon. The East Coast
high schools and colleges take their lacrosse very seriously and the competition
for top-rated players is fierce. “But a San Diego player was picked
up by Syracuse,” Hammon says. “Five years ago that would have
been unheard of.”
And because of the clout of nationally known coaches like Mark Flood of
West Linn High School, “people are beginning to take notice.”
“Flood brought three-time national champion Gary Gait of Syracuse
to a training camp for players from around the state,” says Hammon.
“He can call and get people here. Scholarships coming out of the
East Coast were unheard of before, but things are changing,” he
One lacrosse parent says that her son is changing his college application
process to include schools that offer club or NCAA lacrosse. Tired of
being overlooked for overly competitive varsity sports, her solid three-sport
athlete son found a berth within one season on the state champion West
Linn team. Now he’s hooked, she says, and sees lacrosse in his future
through college and beyond. If scholarship money can be part of that plan,
great. If not, he’ll still play.
“We’ve had some kids move up,” says Hammon, “but
that’s another challenge—
to get our kids exposure to those NCAA powerhouse coaches.”
Simple Job Yields Big
For now Hammon still sees his job as pretty simple. “When your son
shells out that
first $300 for his stick, gloves and pads, it’s my job to give them
four years of high school lacrosse.”
He gets lots of help from volunteers who have already built Oregon lacrosse
into a program that offers organized team play almost year-round. Pick-up
games can be found on fields after school and on weekends. An indoor winter
league in Beaverton draws kids from around the region, where they mix
it up so that kids play on teams with players who, come spring season,
will be their arch-rivals. Summer and winter leagues are open to a wide
range of ages.
Asked if he minds not getting paid for what has turned out to be nearly
another full time job, Hammon says, “I am getting paid today. Kids,
parents will walk up and thank me.
Last year (2000) my wife came to the state championship game and she looked
the crowd of 1,000 West Linn kids and parents cheering-she said it was
like a high school football game. To see that level of enthusiasm, the
flow of energy, to see those kids-I love this game.
“This league is truly based on community. There’s incredible
commitment that parents, coaches and players put in. This game’s
infectious-they can’t get enough of it. I just kind of corral it
And that, by the way, is the second reason to stand clear of the sidelines
should you stop to watch a bit of this surging new sport—because
it’s very, very contagious.
So how do you explain why lacrosse is the hottest new sport in Oregon?
Says Hammon, “When it comes right down to it-our kids want to do
it. We just give them a structure. They are testosterone-driven boys with
titanium sticks in their hands.”
SIDEBAR: The Lacrosse
Don’t let the flowery French or the feminine gender of the name
“Lacrosse” fool you—this is no sissy sport. Invented
by Native Americans as an alternative to outright tribal warfare, this
contact field game, played today with sticks and minimal padding, can
leave a slew of bruises and injuries.
The US Lacrosse website gives this account of the sport’s history:
“The evolution of the Native American game into modern lacrosse
began in 1636 when Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit missionary, documented a
Huron contest in what is now southeast Ontario, Canada. At that time,
some type of lacrosse was played by at least 48 Native American tribes
scattered throughout what is now southern Canada and all parts of the
United States. French pioneers began playing the game avidly in the 1800s.
“Legend tells of as many as 1,000 players per side, from the same
or different tribes, who took turns engaging in a violent contest. Contestants
played on a field from one to 15 miles in length, and games sometimes
lasted for days. Some tribes used a single pole, tree or rock for a goal,
while other tribes had two goalposts through which the ball had to bass.
Balls were made out of wood, deerskin, baked clay or stone.”
By the end of the 19th century, lacrosse was a popular game in East Coast
cities, drawing crowds as big as 40,000, making it a popular sport, but
not as popular as baseball, the national pastime.
Today, lacrosse is played in middle schools, high schools, colleges and
clubs across the country by both men and women, with players numbering
well over 200,000.
Lacrosse is probably the fastest growing team sport in the country. US
Lacrosse reports, “In the last decade, the number of high school
and youth teams has increased by 65 percent and the number of college
and club teams has risen by 62 percent.”
The game is played with ten players per team on a field roughly 330 ft.
x 180 ft. The lacrosse stick, or “cross,” is considered an
extension of the player’s arm.
Websites to visit for