Lacrosse growing at high school level in Cincinnati
By: Adam Niemeyer
CINCINNATI (FOX19)—Lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in America, and its booming here in Cincinnati too. According to Summit head coach Pat Collura, lacrosse has seen a growth rate of 15% in this past year.
Why is the sport blossoming here in Cincinnati? Nine players and three coaches from three different programs in the Cincinnati area gave some good reasons.
"It's a game unlike any other and it's a lot of fun to watch and play," said Summit senior Luke Williams.
"It's really fast, physical but it's a lot of finesse and skill," Jeffrey Brown, a senior who plays for Seven Hills said.
Elder head coach Tom Nugent said, "The sport sells itself, really. Whenever you tell a young man that he can have a stick and run around and beat guys with it and not get in trouble for it that excites a young man."
While hard-hitting, physical action brings some players to the field, others focus on the finesse side of the game. It's all possible in a sport like lacrosse which blends so many popular sports into one.
"It's real exciting," said Summit goalie Ben McBride. "[There's] a lot of athleticism on display and it's a blend of the best sports. You got running like you do in soccer, it's got physicality like football, and skills like hockey where you need good stickwork."
"Our game is something completely different from everywhere else. Nowhere else do you get to strap up and use a metal stick," said Seven Hills head coach Andy Routt.
"Baseball is throwing, catching and hitting, and this is soccer with football with basketball with everything. It's a lot more fast paced, it's exciting," said Seven Hills senior Austin Poston.
Routt added, "I think it's a sport unlike anything. Maybe more like basketball, but it's an opportunity to get up and down the field. There's lots of action. It's consistently going. There's no stop and go, long timeouts, things like that."
Known for being an East Coast sport, lacrosse has spread across the country like wildfire. Cincinnati has seen this growth too. But why has one of the oldest sports in America finally taken off in the Queen City?
Summit's Evan Albertson pointed to a few things. "It's a lot faster paced, just going up and down, there's a lot of offense, a lot of goals," he said. "Another thing that really helps it going into the future is ESPN is covering it more and there's more games on TV than there have been in the past."
"You see kids with sticks everywhere that you never would have seen before. It just really helps to get these kids developed starting in first grade," said Summit assistant coach Eddie Maag.
The importance of youth programs and getting players to play at a young age is key to building great high school programs. Summit has a number of youth teams, including one for kids as young as first grade.
Collura, who has been coaching since the early 90s in Cincinnati, said he had to travel to Michigan, Virginia and Pennsylvania to find opponents. Now there are hundreds of young boys and girls in Cincinnati running around learning the basics of lacrosse on a weekly basis.
Brown, who began playing in second grade, said learning the necessary stick skills is key to being a polished high school player. "Just getting the sticks in your hand and learning the basics. Lacrosse is a fun sport and while it's a fun sport, just getting the basics down can be hard, so when you start early, it can become intuitive," he said.
"And I think that really helps. Also, I think you get a real knowledge of the game."
"That's where it starts and ends you could say. That's where programs are won and that's where the games are won," said Nugent, who is in his first season as Elder's head coach. Nugent won a State Title in 2004 as head coach of Sycamore's lacrosse team.
And although some programs like Summit and Seven Hills have players who have been around the game for a while, Elder High School's lacrosse program is relatively new. That presents its own challenges for the West-Side's newest sport.
"I'd never heard of the sport until I was a freshman. Coming up through it you don't know anything about it so it's really tough to get to learn the rules and find the fundamentals, and all the stuff that comes with it," said Elder senior Michael Chouteau.
Chouteau, along with teammates Luke Moore and Tim Gruber, all picked up lacrosse during their freshman year.
"Since lacrosse had only been here a season before we got here, it was kind of like, ‘Oh I'll try that out.' And then you kind of learn the rules and stuff and the toughest thing was the stick skills because that takes some time," said Moore.
Gruber said, "We play teams like Moeller and Mason that have been playing forever, and most, if not all the kids on our team, started freshman year or late eighth grade year, so that's our disadvantage."
For decades kids growing up on the West Side have dreamed of donning shoulder pads and wearing the Elder jersey and playing in historic Elder Stadium, perhaps better known as The Pit. In 2001, USA Today named The Pit as one of the ten best places in America to watch a high school football game. Ten years later lacrosse is king of the spring in the football stadium, something that Gruber appreciates.
"You get to play in The Pit," he said, pointing to the turf that generations of West Siders claim as sacred ground. "There's nothing better than that. I mean, it's one of the coolest stadiums in America, why not?"
On Thursday night Loveland visited Elder for the first-ever home playoff game at The Pit. The Panthers bested the Tigers 5-2 to advance in the OHSLA Playoffs.
Elder boasts itself as the "Home of Champions," something that Nugent claims is key to the lacrosse program. Elder has strong baseball, football and basketball programs. The Elder volleyball squad has captured two of the last three state titles as well.
Elder fans are passionate, but they've yet to embrace lacrosse as strongly as some of the more popular sports.
"All those other programs, that's what they do," Nugent said. "Consistently they win state titles and you walk around and it says, Elder: The Home of Champions.' Support comes with winning and that's what we're trying to do."
Whether it's Elder, Summit or Seven Hills, lacrosse has the same appeal that football, basketball and baseball gives high school students everywhere.
"One guy can be dominant but it can only be so much because there's so many other guys he had to go against," Moore said. "When you get the flow down and it looks so crisp it just looks really cool, and it feels good to be able to work with other guys to be successful."
"It's so fast paced. You get to score, and it's easy to get excited about it," said Albertson.
"It's ten guys giving their all, fighting for each other, and trying to achieve a common goal, and there's not much more to it than that," said Gil Richards, of Seven Hills.
And giving it their all is exactly what lacrosse players and coaches will continue to do into the future here in Cincinnati.
"A lot of the players that started out in Cincinnati when lacrosse was young are coming back in and wanting to give back to the sport that gave them a lot," said Routt, who played for Sycamore when Nugent coached there.
"More schools are being added every year and I think it's just continued to grow in leaps and bounds," said Maag. "It seems that we add a couple more teams every year."
"The future is bright for lacrosse, the better coaching, the better players, the youth programs are huge now so the future is definitely bright for lacrosse in Cincinnati."
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