Lacrosse School? Why Not

By Kyle Rowland on May 16, 2013 at 9:30a
Ohio State has the nation's 3rd-ranked men's lacrosse team

Football remains atop the perch signifying America’s most popular sport. Over the past two decades, the country has displayed an insatiable thirst for the hard-hitting, rough-and-tumble game. Whether it’s spectating, fantasy football, recruiting or the NFL Draft, people can’t get enough. Anything that involves the sport is consumed at an enormous rate.

The NBA has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, baseball remains popular, despite the 1994 strike, and NASCAR has carved out a large market. In America, hockey is lagging behind after multiple work stoppages, though some cities cling to the sport no matter what. Columbus became consumed with the Blue Jackets’ late-season playoff push. But alas, the sport faded once the curtain was drawn on the season.

There’s another sport, however, that’s gaining steam in the country, particularly in Central Ohio. Along with wrestling, it’s considered one of the oldest sports in the world, but few west of the Appalachian Mountains took up any interest in the game during the past century. The sport: lacrosse.

“The growth has been impressive,” Ohio State head coach Nick Myers said. “You look back, I’ve been here 10 years. The number of programs in Central Ohio, Cincinnati and Cleveland has really exploded. Our camps have really taken off, just the amount of young men that want to get involved in the game. There are a lot of people in this area that it’s really impacted.

“It’s a game that’s grown across the United States and Canada, but certainly here in the Midwest. It’s exciting. To host an NCAA Tournament game has been a goal of ours since we arrived. Not only to make the NCAA Tournament, but to bring it to Columbus. That was a groundbreaking moment for this program and certainly Ohio lacrosse.”

The moment Myers is referring to was the Buckeyes’ 16-6 victory over Towson in the NCAA quarterfinals in Ohio Stadium last Sunday. It was the second NCAA Tournament win in program history, and now Ohio State, champions of the ECAC, sits on the cusp of the national semifinals, foreign territory for the Buckeyes.

As the game has grown, more good players have been spread around the country to weaken the grip that Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Princeton and Virginia have had since it became an NCAA sport. Last season, Loyola (Maryland) completed a Cinderella story that ended with a national championship.

It's like football and hockey had a baby.

“What you’re seeing is those top 3-5 aren’t dominating like they were five or six years ago,” Myers said. “Once you get in that 10-30 range, it’s a coin toss. That’s really what’s been impressive. Teams that are ranked in the RPI from 15-40 can beat a top 10 program on any given day. I think there is a great deal of parity in our game, and it’s led to some exciting lacrosse.” 

More than 50,000 people a year are taking up lacrosse and joining organized teams. The number of active participants in the United State is nearing 1 million with more than half of those under the age of 15. That means a college boom is approaching.

Fast-paced sports have become popular in today’s society of instant everything. As attention spans have shortened, the need to do more activities in a smaller timeframe has increased. Lacrosse is a beneficiary of that culture. 

“It’s up and down, it’s got speed, it’s got tempo, it’s got scoring, it’s got physical play,” Myers said. “I think the more and more it gets TV exposure, which you’re seeing that explode, the more eyeballs it gets. That’s a good thing for our game.”

In recent seasons, Michigan, Detroit, Jacksonville and Marquette have added varsity lacrosse teams at the Division I level. The sport is already flourishing in Division III, where 189 schools field teams.

“The more we dug into it, the more we believed that this is just a sport of the future,” Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said. “Lacrosse’s trend lines in every way we could measure were impressive and made us believe that this is a place where we could grow and be a part of something that would over time be very big.”

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith recently reiterated to Eleven Warriors what was first reported last year – that the Big Ten is pursuing the formation of a lacrosse conference.

“There is a discussion,” he said. “There’s talk about bringing in an affiliate member. The bylaw says you have to have six. Because of the nature of that sport and its growth and Maryland’s success, we’ve discussed identifying an affiliate member and possibly creating a Big Ten Lacrosse Conference.”

Some rumors have centered on lacrosse powerhouse Johns Hopkins as being that member. The university doubles as one of the foremost institutions of higher learning in the world, fitting the Big Ten’s model, which puts academics on par with athletics.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association does not currently sanction the sport. Instead, it falls under the umbrella of the Ohio High School Lacrosse Association. There are 101 Ohio high schools with lacrosse teams – 52 in Division I and 49 in Division II – and an additional 27 schools with club teams.

The Ohio Machine, a Major League Lacrosse franchise based in Delaware, draws several thousand fans to its home games at Ohio Wesleyan, further growing the game in Central Ohio and beyond.

Not only are more youths playing the sport, they are beginning at much earlier ages. When Ohio State senior Kevin Mack began playing in sixth grade, he was well ahead of the curve. But if the Worthington Kilbourne graduate started his playing career in sixth grade today, he’d be playing catchup.

“I didn’t even know about lacrosse until I was in fifth grade and I watched my older brother play,” Mack said. “Nowadays I have neighbors that are starting in kindergarten, and that’s a normal thing now. It’s kind of like T-Ball, baseball and soccer, those games you play at a young age. Lacrosse is starting to become one of those sports and kids are starting to play it. The sport is booming and it’s fun to watch.”

Joe Meurer, a junior from Towson, Md., the heart of lacrosse country, started playing the sport when he was six-years-old, about the time young boys in Ohio start strapping on shoulder pads and buckling chinstraps. He said the beginners are starting even earlier now, with parents hoping to get a leg up on other families. The end result, or goal, is to develop a superstar who earns a college scholarship. For some, it can be too much, too soon. But it can also aid the future of the sport.

“I think it will become a game of bigger and stronger athletes, but the skillset will also improve because kids are starting at such a young age.”

“I think it will become a game of bigger and stronger athletes, but the skillset will also improve because kids are starting at such a young age,” Meurer said. 

Ten of Ohio State’s 43 players hail from the Buckeye State, with a majority residing from traditional lacrosse strongholds such as Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Canada. Myers is from Maine, known more for hockey than lacrosse. But it gives him perspective on what’s happening in Ohio and it’s opening up new recruiting pipelines.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on finding guys from areas like Baltimore, Long Island and Upstate New York, but also saying, ‘Listen, if you can play, you can play,’” he said. “We’re not stubborn to settle on the third-best player in Baltimore versus going out and finding a kid like Darius (Bowling) from Atlanta or Logan (Schuss) from Vancouver or Jesse (King) from Victoria.

“We pride ourselves on getting out to different areas. Four of our nine seniors are from the great state of Ohio. Twenty percent of our roster is from Ohio. Like all sports at Ohio State, it’s a priority to get all the best players from Ohio. We’ve tried to do that. We want to keep those guys here.”

Since Myers arrived in Columbus a decade ago, the goal has been evolving Buckeye lacrosse into a destination for top-flight players. That includes those in Ohio. Myers wants kids growing up wearing Ohio State clothes, not Syracuse or Hopkins. Both prestigious programs currently have Ohioans on their roster.

“Kids understand the football and basketball tradition we have at Ohio State, but we want young men to grow up in the state that love the game of lacrosse and say Ohio State is my dream,” he said.

“But one of things that makes our roster special is the different pieces. The Baltimore guys bring a different flare than the Long Island guys, Upstate guys, Ohio guys and Canadian guys. That blend is important for our culture and the chemistry out on the lacrosse field.”

When Meurer enrolled at Ohio State, he had one eye pointed on the future. He wanted the Buckeye lacrosse program to ripen into one of the premier teams year in and year out. They might not be there yet, but headway has certainly been made.

On-field results have yielded positive returns in recruiting, a cycle that could signal the beginning of a long running string of success. 

“It’s great not only for the alumni of the program but the future of the Ohio State lacrosse program,” Meurer said. “It was definitely one of my goals to walk out of here knowing that we had accomplished setting up this program as one of the top tiers.”

Another victory would help solidify the Buckeyes’ place among the elite.



Comments Show All Comments

jthiel09's picture

Great article Kyle, and sadly Lacrosse doesn't get enough attention as it should.
Great sport and we've got a great team to be proud of!


Doc's picture

Thanks for the article Kyle.  My 9 yo is playing for the first time this season.  What a fun sport to watch.  I'm still trying to get down the whole catch and throw thing.  He wants to practice in the yard and the old man is having a hard time keeping up.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

southbymidwest's picture

Hey Doc- if you want to catch and throw with your son, you can use a baseball or softball mitt to catch and then throw it back to him. Once he is more comfortable, you can start concentrating on throwing to his left side, right side... did that with my lacrosseketeer. Makes it real easy to spend a half hour after work on a nice summer night. It also helps if you have a dog who will chase the errant balls and bring them back, haha.

Doc's picture

Thanks South, I'll have to start doing that.  No dog, so I'm the ball getter :/

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

DJ Byrnes's picture

Wake me when this sport isn't played by only kids from Dublin and UA.

Californian by birth, Marionaire by the Grace of President Warren G. Harding.

William's picture

Well you can wake up now. Just because kids from affluent backgrounds participate in the sport, doesn't mean it isn't fun to watch, or a fast, physical game. Kids from affluent backgrounds participate in multiple sports, such as hockey, football, soccer, golf and more. Just because you're being a jealous prick about someone else's socioeconomic standing doesn't mean you can't enjoy a sport, because guess what? Rich people play sports, just like their 'proletariat' partners. 

teddyballgame's picture

Fair point, but I'm just not that interested in sports that are predominantly played by inferior athletic talent.  Just out of curiosity, how often do you watch something like the WNBA?

NC_Buckeye's picture

Re: inferior athletes. I hope you're not a fan of MLB.
See Jose Ceda, Pablo Sandoval, Jeff Fulchino, Felipe Paulino, Tommy Hunter, Jonathan Broxton, Bartolo Colon, & Prince Fielder.

Buckeyes125's picture

Wow inferior talent my butt. What sport are you watching? Is Sam Hubbard inferior talent?

kdizzleduzit's picture

To be fair, Hubbard just chose to play football over lacrosse

okiebuck's picture

James Brown arguably THE best running back in NFL history was a great lacrosse player both in high school on Long Island and at Syracuse. And for years before it became almost a year round sport; HS football players on the East Coast have long played lacrosse in the spring. 

"Fate has cards that it don't want to show"

DefendOhio's picture

I've always felt the same way. Bros!

Vabuck213's picture

Give it a couple of years. It seems like every school here in VA has a program starting in the first grade. Public, private, wealthy areas, poor areas. Doesn't matter. The sport really overlaps well with football as a spring sport which is why I think it will spread in Ohio. Other than OL and maybe DTs there is a position in lacrosse that a football player can play. Plus it's a good way to stay in shape and be able to hit people in the spring. 

Basso Profondo's picture

You do realize that it is played in Hilliard as well?

CALPOPPY's picture

Yeah, I played for Hilliard back in the day. There were only about 40 teams statewide then, but Hilliard has had one for awhile.

I'm a hurtin' buckaroo.

cplunk's picture

I live in Northern Virginia, and I can tell you that here in the MD/DC/VA region lacrosse is huge. Field time is impossible to get in this region- there is rarely an empty field anywhere between football, soccer, and lacrosse. I'd say I see more lacrosse practices and tournaments than I do soccer, and I play soccer. 
My impression is of a sport that is growing by leaps and bounds on the East Coast. Lacrosse was always around, but ten years ago it was nothing like this. In my opinion, the B1G would be wise to get in now. Lacrosse will obviously never be football or basketball, but I do think it has a lot of potential to eclipse the non-FB/BB sports in popularity. 
Anything that brings eyes to the BTN, especially in the newly-acquired East Coast area, is a good call.

DLB1276's picture

I guess we have American Pie to blame for this.

toledobuckeyefanjim's picture

Hockey isn't dead yet, anywhere in the United States. You make it sound like the sport is on its last legs.

okiebuck's picture

Nice article Kyle; keep it rolling Buckeye LAX!!

"Fate has cards that it don't want to show"

Vabuck213's picture

As an OSU fan growing up in VA I played football and lacrosse much like a ton of athletes in Virginia and have been hoping for OSU to get a good lacrosse team for a long long time. This season has been so fun for me to follow and I hope the team can make it to the semis and beyond. Also the Big Ten league would be huge for OSU lax. Being able to play against Maryland and potentially Hopkins in league play would be huge for recruiting the Maryland and Northern VA hotbeds. It would bring more validity to the program. 
Looking forward to the future of the lacrosse program and the game on Sat. 
Go Bucks!

slippy's picture

I'd just like to comment on the first blockquote and to explain to anyone not so familiar - honestly the closest sport to Lacrosse is basketball.  The way offensive sets are run - whether it's spacing, cuts, pick and rolls, off ball movement, etc - are very similar.  Just add one extra player and allow you to go behind the basket. 
Team defense is almost exactly the same, whether it's man or zone all the same concepts apply in how the team defends the ball and how they help (backside rotations, double teams, traps, etc).  Even individual defense is similar in how you set up, position, and move.  It's just easier since you can push and check the guy with the ball.  Aaron Craft would be an incredible lacrosse player (defensively, at least).

rampageripster's picture

My lax coaches growing up always said it has the strategy of basketball, the endurance of soccer, and the physicality of hockey.  Seemed like the best way to describe it to me.

Cause I couldn't go for three

beserkr29's picture

What a great article! Lacrosse was my first love growing up. I started playing in fifth grade and couldn't help but live and breathe for the season. As a sport, it's a lot like football is in the south and Midwest (full disclosure: I hail from central upstate New York). Kids flock to younger leagues, both to get exercise and because it's fun. My parents wouldn't let me play football (despite my strong desire to), so this was the next best thing. More to the point, the first college lacrosse game I ever went to was OSU vs Hobart in the early 2000's. Was playing a mini-tournament with some local schools and a team from Canada, then we stayed to watch the game. OSU got down by about 7 goals midway through the 3rd, so the coaches decided to head home. We got off the bus an hour later only to be told OSU had roared back to win in OT. I still wish I'd been able to see the rest of that game. Point being, the advent of B1G lacrosse warms the cockles of my dreary heart and I can't wait to see what the future holds. Hopefully more Buckeye titles in yet another sport!

Earle's picture

I have always been a fan of sports where they give the players weapons.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

rampageripster's picture

Thanks for spreading some Lax love!  Growing up in Maryland, I played lacrosse from youth all the way through High School.  Considered playing in college but was not good enough (as a keeper) to play D1 and wanted to go to Ohio St.  I know ref here in Louisiana and it is really cool to watch the sport grow in an area that really has had so little exposure before.  Of course the quality is not the same as I remember, but it is getting there.
I've been pumped bragging to my co-workers at games about how the Buckeye program is growing and succeeding.  A win Saturday would change the face of Buckeye lacrosse forever.  A trip to the Final Four and the exposure could be a watershed moment for the program. Plus, the dawn of the B1G conference in both men's and women's sports will be truly awesome.  It is certainly a great time to be a Buckeye!

Cause I couldn't go for three

argyle182021's picture

There wasn't organized lacrosse when I was growing up and I had always wished I had a chance to play. I had a friend from Long Island in college who was from a very successful high school and most of his already well to do classmates got full scholarships to Syracuse, Hopkins, Duke, Georgetown, etc.  It also seems like the powerhouses of lacrosse are also excellent academic schools - definitely an additional benefit of earning a full ride to play at these schools. I don't have kids yet, and even though I live and breathe OSU football, I don't think I'll let my future kids play football. Lacrosse will likely be an acceptable alternative. 

nw_ohio_Buckeye's picture

Not to quibble with details but it is very difficult to get a full ride anywhere in Div. 1 Lacrosse. Not because the players aren't great or the schools don't have the money but because of the Non-Revenue Generating status of the sport currently. Each Div. 1 Lacrosse program gets 12.6 scholarships per year. A typical roster is 42 players. Scholarships get divided between players much like in baseball. It is one of the reasons that lacrosse stayed in the high income prep school environment for so long. Families that could afford to send their kids to expensive universities to play lacrosse did. Others could not. My youngest son just finished his senior season in NW Ohio and is not good enough to play D1 and wanted to go to OSU for Bio-Medical Engineering. He could have probably gotten $4K a year to play lower divisions in college but his school choice outweighed lacrosse. It's a great sport and I wish my kids had taken it up earlier. It will probably erode baseball even more because a lot of kids can play and the game moves. Hard to keep 8 & 9 year olds (or much younger) to focus on baseball. Sometimes there is no action for long periods of time and attention spans wane. In lacrosse the action is always moving. Go Bucks! 

"The minute I think I'm getting mellow, I'm retiring. Who ever heard of a mellow winner?" ~ Woody Hayes 

AAStagg's picture

Doesn't tOSU hold the national attendance record for lacrosse, thanks to JT doing 'double-header' Lacrosse/Football Spring games in front of huge Horseshoe crowds?
Also, we old-timers remember that Jim Brown was an All-American lacrosse player at Syracuse before his fabled career with the Browns.  If tOSU can recruit even one athlete as good as Jim Brown because it has a great lacrosse program, the lacrosse budget shouldn't be much of an issue.

Keep calm.  It's only a game.

rampageripster's picture

for a non-tournament game

Cause I couldn't go for three

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Glad to hear the Buckeye Lacrosse team is doing so well!  I'm definetly pulling for them to keep on winning!!  Great job guys!!
Go Bucks!

gwalther's picture

If being a lacrosse school means a larger Greek life/presence on Ohio State's campus, I'm out. 
Otherwise, good luck.

Class of 2008

southbymidwest's picture

Come on. Not all greeks are douches, not all lacrosse players are bros, and not all football players are meatheads, if you want to get into stereotypes. Oh, and BTW, I didn't downvote you.

gwalther's picture

I didn't make any assumptions about "all" of the people in any of those groups you mentioned. "Come on" and re-read what I wrote.

Class of 2008