Lacrosse is a boom sport at Washington area high schools

High school lacrosse teams like West Springfield (in white) and Loudoun Valley have reaped the benefits of the sport's growth in the Washington area.
High school lacrosse teams like West Springfield (in white) and Loudoun Valley have reaped the benefits of the sport's growth in the Washington area. (Richard A. Lipski For The Washington Post)
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By Preston Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 8, 2010

Westfield outfielder Ryan Sweet could hear the spirited din from the lacrosse field behind him, guys yelling, running, colliding. Sounded like fun. Meantime, he idled in center field, glove on hand, watching his pitcher retire batter after batter with nary a ball hit his way.

"It felt like I was just standing there," Sweet said, "killing grass."

It was time for a change. So just before the baseball season began last month, Sweet, a senior and returning starter for a team that went 21-2 last year, traded in his cap and glove for a lacrosse stick and helmet.

"I'm having a blast," said Sweet, a defender. "Lacrosse is everything I had hoped for."

Sweet is far from alone in his attraction to a sport called the fastest game on two feet. For years now, lacrosse has been considered the hot sport in the Washington area, and it is showing no signs of cooling off.

Loudoun County's youth league participation has about tripled in the past seven years, said Mark Loving, president of Western Loudoun Lacrosse, one of four youth lacrosse clubs in the county. The Charles County school system in Maryland added lacrosse last year. Montgomery County added junior varsity lacrosse in 2008. Wilson this spring became the first District public school to field a team. Virginia began crowning state boys' and girls' champions in 2006.

More high school teams are having to make cuts. Langley had 100 hopefuls try out and crammed 69 boys onto its varsity and junior varsity squads. The area is producing more top-tier college players, with Loudoun becoming more influential; two seniors there are bound for two-time defending NCAA champion Syracuse.

Cabell Maddux, founder and owner of MadLax, a youth lacrosse enterprise that runs camps and sells gear, said that in 1999, his organization fielded the only all-star travel boys' lacrosse team in the Washington area. Now he counts more than a dozen.

"The boom is on," said Langley Coach Earl Brewer, who helped found McLean Youth Lacrosse in 1982 and who has two young sons involved in lacrosse. "It's the sport kids want to play."

"With all the thousands and thousands and thousands of kids I've coached through camp," Maddux said, "I'd definitely say that less than 5 percent of the kids quit the sport after trying it."

'Something more'

So what is the appeal of this centuries-old Native American game, the oldest sport in North America? For starters, it combines elements of more familiar sports, yet at the same time provides a fresh framework. It can be played proficiently by students who don't have to be the biggest, fastest or strongest in their class.

Lacrosse blends the contact of football, the speed of soccer and hockey, and many of the same principles as basketball and is played with a solid rubber ball whose velocity at times exceeds highway speed limits. The 10-on-10 games feature almost nonstop movement.

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