Fastest-growing sport in America—quick, name it! According to many experts, lacrosse, the “isn’t that an east coast blood sport?,” is in the top slot.
Just six years ago Mitch Fenton founded West Los Angeles Lacrosse League with a handful of children. The recent winter session included over 800 players, and the summer season nearly 150. The comprehensive website is up-to-date and reflects the energy and enthusiasm of the founder, who has been involved in organizing lacrosse since the 1970’s.
“Everybody is a quarterback in lacrosse,” he says, during a phone chat. “The game has evolved since beginning with the Iroquois nation, but still is based on the skill of tossing a ball to a teammate, and getting it into a goal. Everyone makes drives and touches the ball. There is a degree of body contact, but it isn’t excessive, and is a great outlet for kids.”
On a recent sunny Saturday morning, Mar Vista Park’s recently refurbished field exploded with the energy and action of America’s oldest sport. Thirteen-year-old boys were playing. The powerful ownership of a big stick transforms a kid into a superhero—paired with giant shoulder pads, helmet, gloves, and mouth guard—the gear had dozens of Iron Men crisscrossing the field.
Lisa Schmidt sat on the stands watching the game. Her son, a student at New West Charter Middle School, had heard about the game through a Mar Vista park flier. Active at Mar Vista park in various sports, he opted out after his first day of tackle football, and decided to try the new game. Immediately smitten with the action, he recruited friends from school to join. Other parents in the stands recounted similar stories, and hailed from schools from Brentwood to the Palisades to Mar Vista.
The rubbery smell of the artificial turf wafted on a breeze in the 80-degree heat. The two teams broke out to work on a few drills, scooping and passing a hard rubber ball with the net at the end of their sticks.The throws were missed more often than caught, but the players good-naturedly scrambled after them.
Coach/parent Jim Lucas recounted the origins of the game. “Lacrosse is a phenomenal fast-paced sport that has its origins with Native Americans, who used the game to settle disputes. The game has retained its aggressive nature, but sees less debilitating injuries than hockey and football.” Lucas added, “I think one of the beauties of the sport is that it doesn’t rely on size or strength. The game is more influenced by a combo of a speed, skill and teamwork.”
There are distinctly different games played for males and females. The male version has more physical contact and requires more protective gear. The league is broken up by age groups, and starts as early as kindergarten.
The stands fill up as the game progresses, and shouts and catcalls to players ring out. “That was a rebound, right?” asks a spectator. “Oh, wait, that’s in basketball.” Other viewers rub their chins and admit they don’t know the answer, and laughter ensues—the game and its parlance are new to many.
Parent Julie Olds says her boys came to the game by way of hockey. Her three boys had played roller hockey at the park for several years, loving it, but she hoped for a sport that might translate to high school play. She was told hockey skills were helpful to lacrosse, and that a team was forming at Mar Vista Park. She joined them up knowing virtually nothing about the game.
“All the kids are doing well,” she says, “ The way the game is played, defenders never cross the midfield line and offense doesn't cross it either - they stay in the half near the goal they are scoring on."
"Unlike basketball and soccer," Olds adds, "where the kids tend to run in a clump wherever the ball goes, in the lacrosse games the kids actually stay in positions and pass to each other."
Whacking each other with the sticks takes some getting used to, Olds admits. "My 10-year-old isn't that thrilled about that part of the game.” She added, “The West LA Lacrosse league is well run and reliable. It will be great to see how the Mar Vista league grows in the coming years.”
Old’s son Quin, who just turned eight last week says, "Lacrosse is a great sport for people who like running and throwing and it is pretty easy to learn."