Will lacrosse become a high school sport?

Interest in lacrosse has been surging in Washington. The latest example is the success of the Stealth, Everett’s new professional indoor team.

At the high school level, lacrosse participation continues to grow. Is the timing right for the fast-paced sport to join the ranks of so-called mainstream sports such as football, wrestling, basketball and baseball?

That question will be answered today when the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s Representative Assembly meets in Renton. Consisting of school athletic directors from throughout the state, the Representative Assembly votes every spring on a list of proposed amendments that can affect the state’s prep athletic landscape.

Among proposals the assembly will consider today is whether boys and girls lacrosse should be sanctioned. In other words, should lacrosse be added to the list of officially recognized, WIAA-governed sports? Amendments need at least 60-percent support to pass.

Last year similar lacrosse proposals failed decisively. Craig Hess hopes it will be different this time.

In his fourth year as coach of the Snohomish Lacrosse Club’s girls high school team, Hess has seen Washington gain ground on the East Coast, where lacrosse has long been hugely popular. In this state, more than 2,700 high school students (representing 83 boys teams and 55 girls teams) play lacrosse and participation has increased by a double-digit percentage in six of the past eight years, according to Mike McQuaid, communications coordinator for the Washington State Chapter of US Lacrosse.

There are local clubs — including two that have been around at least seven years — in Snohomish (established for boys in 2002), Mukilteo (2003), Lynnwood (2005), Stanwood (2005) and Silver Lake (2010), McQuaid said.

Hess, who played lacrosse for St. Anthony’s High School in New York and went on to win collegiate national titles before moving to Washington, said the WIAA should add lacrosse for two main reasons: First, it would give more kids the opportunity to play the game. Second, young student-athletes can receive scholarships to play in college and, as a result, get a free or reduced-cost college education.

Lacrosse is apparently already thriving as a club sport — and in some cases as a school-funded activity, as with the Lakeside School in Seattle — but a WIAA endorsement would raise awareness and attract more kids, Hess and McQuaid said.

Some of the commonly discussed barriers for adding lacrosse are cost, facility space and the availability of qualified officials. Most lacrosse players already own their own gear (stick, helmet and pads) so equipment expenses are not a big issue, Hess said. Start-up equipment costs are around $200 for a boy and $150 for a girl, according to McQuaid.

But there are still significant costs for travel and field rental, as well as paying coaches and officials.

Hess said he hopes the Representative Assembly decides that the benefits of sanctioning lacrosse outweigh the costs.

“I don’t know if it will pass,” he said, “but I hope it’s gaining momentum.”

In Washington, lacrosse is especially popular in metropolitan areas such as Seattle and Bellevue. The list of schools that sponsored the amendment proposals includes the Lakeside School, Mercer Island, Issaquah and Seattle Prep.

An interesting wrinkle for today’s vote is even if the Representative Assembly passes one or both of the lacrosse proposals, WIAA member schools will not be required to offer the sport; They simply will have the option to do so.

After failing by a wide margin in 2009, do the lacrosse amendments have a chance today? Representative Assembly member Robert Polk said no. Polk, the Everett School District athletic director, said the big issues still working against lacrosse are a lack of facility space (for games and practices) and start-up costs.

In a continually tough economic time when athletic directors are considering cuts to existing sports, adding a new sport “is a great challenge. … It doesn’t add up,” Polk said.

Polk said he will vote no on both lacrosse proposals. Asked to gauge how other athletic directors feel, he said “there’s very little support.”

“Most everyone,” Polk said, “feels the same as they did last year when it was proposed.”

Mike Cane: mcane@heraldnet.com. Check out the prep sports blog Double Team at www.heraldnet.com/doubleteam.

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