In 2013, Coach Nydia Velando and Wise started a club lacrosse team after students organized to bring the sport to their Prince George’s County school. This spring, they won’t be alone. (Jonathan Newton/TWP)

The first high school-based lacrosse team in Prince George’s County was formed in 1996 by one Eleanor Roosevelt student who wanted to play the sport and a father willing to coach his son. Twenty years later, with club teams sprouting up throughout the county over the past decade, lacrosse will officially be funded as a varsity sport in Prince George’s schools this spring, county officials confirmed last week.

Prince George’s County Athletic Director Earl Hawkins said the impetus for adding the sport now was to boost the county’s athletics participation levels in the spring, when approximately 1,000 fewer students play an interscholastic sport than in the fall and winter. Over time, once teams are established, county officials believe it will add to the college scholarship opportunities for Prince George’s student-athletes.

Seven schools will field varsity boys’ lacrosse teams and eight will field a girls’ team this spring. Eleanor Roosevelt, Wise, Bowie, Oxon Hill and Northwestern will feature both girls’ and boys’ lacrosse. DuVal, C.H. Flowers and Friendly will only play girls’ lacrosse to start. Gwynn Park and Douglass will exclusively field a boys’ team for now.

Hawkins said the plan is for county schools to begin participating in the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association postseason tournament in 2017. He hopes every county school will have formed at least a club team by the end of this spring.

The decision to recognize lacrosse as a varsity sport comes after years of grassroots lobbying by several county politicians who double as lacrosse enthusiasts. D.C. Public Schools is now the only Washington-area school system that does not offer lacrosse as a varsity sport at the high school level. Several District high schools have club teams that play in the Washington Interscholastic Lacrosse League.

“There’s a lot of kids in the county who are playing and it became harder and harder to explain why Prince George’s County didn’t have the fastest-growing high school sport in America as a varsity sport,” said former Maryland delegate Justin Ross, who is also the commissioner of the Prince George’s Pride Lacrosse Club.

In recent years, Ross helped spearhead efforts to get Prince George’s schools grants for lacrosse equipment from U.S. Lacrosse and the Maryland Department of Education. This past spring, the PG Pride Lacrosse Club held the first Prince George’s Classic, an end-of-season tournament featuring the county’s girls’ and boys’ club lacrosse teams.

Now, however, those same players won’t have to foot the bill, or fundraise, to participate on their school team anymore.

“It’s a good day for the kids, and whether it’s a long time coming or not, it’s great news,” Eleanor Roosevelt boys’ lacrosse Coach Don Fink said.