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Does US Lacrosse Really Care About Growth?

12 - Published November 7, 2011 by in Growth, US Lacrosse

US Lacrosse exist to govern and facilitate the growth of lacrosse within the United States.  The organization’s mission statement sums it up nicely:

Through responsive and effective leadership, US Lacrosse strives to provide programs and services to inspire participation while protecting the integrity of the game. We envision a future which offers people everywhere the opportunity to discover, learn, participate in, enjoy, and ultimately embrace the shared passion of the lacrosse experience.

As part of this mission, US Lacrosse has an equipment grant program which awards at least a team’s worth of new gear to lucky recipients each year.  Because one of the organization’s primary purposes is to facilitate growth, this is a great thing.  Every involved in the sport of lacrosse either as a player, parent, coach, or referee realizes how expensive gear is and how helpful these grants are.

To ensure that groups are receiving the appropriate equipment, US Lacrosse breaks down the grant program into four categories.  Applicants are unique to each category to ensure fairness and equity.  The categories are:

1. The girls’ package includes: 24 field player sticks, 24 pairs of protective eyewear, 1 goalie stick and full protective equipment for 1 goalie (including helmet).

2. The boys’ package includes: 24 field player sticks and 1 goalie stick, full protective equipment for 24 field players and 1 goalie (gloves, arm guards, shoulder pads, and helmets).

3. The program package includes: 20 field girls’ player sticks, 20 pairs of protective eyewear, 1 girls’ goalie stick, full protective equipment for 1 girls’ goalie (including helmet), 20 boys’ field player sticks, 1 boys’ goalie stick, full protective equipment for 20 boys’ field players and 1 goalie (gloves, arm guards, shoulder pads, and helmets).

4. The physical education program package includes: 30 physical education soft lacrosse sticks and 30 balls.

Because costs are significantly higher for boys’ lacrosse, one would expect that US Lacrosse would issue more equipment grants to groups two and three.  It appears that this is the case, based on the last few years.  Again, this is a good thing.  They even have related programs like the Fast Break Initiative:

Fast Break, an initiative that started in 2005, is designed to infuse a fledgling lacrosse area with resources to launch the sport from the roots up through educating coaches, officials, players and administrators.

Fast Break targets an area which has a limited amount of lacrosse being played, but displays strong enthusiasm for the sport and a willingness to learn and work with US Lacrosse to grow the game responsibly. A Fast Break area should be ready to embrace US Lacrosse, membership within our organization and the resources which are associated with recognition as a US Lacrosse Chapter.

First Stick Program:

The US Lacrosse First Stick Program was established to supply lacrosse equipment, coaches and officials education, and life-skills training to teams in diverse and non-traditional communities throughout the United States.

With the assistance of generous donor contributions, the First Stick Program will provide a multi-year deployment of comprehensive US Lacrosse team development resources to expand participation beyond traditional boundaries and inspire kids to play hard, dream big, and act responsibly within the sport of lacrosse and the game of life.

Bridge Lacrosse:

BRIDGE affiliated programs, in conjunction with US Lacrosse, work collaboratively to introduce and expand the sport of lacrosse in nontraditional and under served communities to embody diversity of players, coaches, officials and supporters.

And Emerging Groups:

In 2008, the US Lacrosse Board of Directors approved the launch of the program, Emerging Groups, in order to allow US Lacrosse to better serve groups in inner-city or under served communities. This program provides those groups with financial and resource assistance to build and sustain a lacrosse program.

From what I can tell, there is some crossover between BRIDGE and Emerging Groups.  Their mission statements are nearly identical and they target the same demographics.  I respect the goals and support the mission of both.  But with two programs geared specifically towards “nontraditional” (minority) and “under served” (less affluent) communities, why is there not a single program dedicated specifically to areas that do not meet these conditions?

Why are there no programs earmarked specifically for new states or regions?  If growth is the ultimate objective of these programs, then it makes sense that US Lacrosse would do all it could to ensure that new states and regions are receiving necessary equipment grants.  Unlike the established areas (hotbeds), lacrosse equipment is in short supply in these areas.  There are no established programs capable of donating old equipment to local start-up programs.  Local sporting goods stores – especially second hand stores like Pay It Again Sports – typically do not carry lacrosse equipment in these new areas.  Established areas have the luxury of both options.

Ideally, this is where the equipment grant should come in.  The primary purpose of the grant is to ensure that lacrosse equipment is available to groups that need it.  These groups pretty much have no other options to obtain equipment; their players cannot head down to the local Play It Again Sports and there are no established programs capable of donating equipment.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the recipients over the last two years.

2009:

A.L. Brown High School - Kannapolis, N.C.
Audenried High School - Philadelphia, Pa.
Capital High School Boys Lacrosse Club - Charleston, W.Va.
Cardinal Mooney Boys Lacrosse - Poland, Ohio
Charm City Youth Lacrosse League, Inc. - Baltimore, Md.
David Starr Jordan High School - Los Angeles, Calif.
Druid Hills Lacrosse Club - Decatur, Ga.
Flathead Lacrosse Club – Whitefish, Mont.
Forest Hills Northern Husky Lacrosse Club - Ada, Mich.
Friends of High School Lacrosse for Martin County - Stuart, Fla.
Green Tech High Charter School - Albany, N.Y.
JF Webb HS Boys Lacrosse Team - Rougemont, N.C.
Jr. Spartans Lacrosse - Sandy Springs, Ga.
Rustburg Lacrosse Club - Rustburg, Va.*
Spartan Lacrosse - Memphis, Tenn.
St. Raymond High School for Boys - Bronx, N.Y.
Torrance Lacrosse Club - Redondo Beach, Calif.

and 2010:

Flour Bluff Lacrosse Club- Corpus Christi, TX
CISI Larry Hawkins- Chicago, IL
Fairmont Middle Lacrosse- Faimont, WV
KIPP McDonogh 15 School- New Orleans, LA
Boothbay Region YMCA- Boothbay Harbor, ME
Ionia High School Lacrosse- Ionia, MI
Vance Charter School- Henderson, NC
Bellevue Lacrosse- Bellevue, NE
Neptune City Board of Rec. – Neptune, NJ
Highland Hornets- Albuquerque, NM
George Washington High School- Philadelphia, PA
Spartanburg High School- Spartanburg, SC
Spring Valley High School Athletics- Columbia, SC
Soddy Daisy High School Club Lacrosse- Hixon, TN
North Olympic Peninsula Lacrosse Club- Port Angeles, WA
Ozaukee Youth Lacrosse- Cedarburg, WI
Skyline High School Lacrosse Club- Oakland, CA
St. Petersburg HS Green Devils Lacrosse- Gulfport, FL
Woodvalley Lacrosse- Conklin, NY
Lake Lacrosse Club- Hartville, OH
LBJ/LASA Boys LAX Booster Club- Austin, TX
Wausau Wolfpack Pups Youth Lacrosse- Wausau, WI
Brooklyn Prospect Charter School- Brooklyn, NY+
Cristo Rey Jesuit High School-Baltimore, MD+
Bloomfield Raiders Lacrosse- Bloomfield, CT+

* Fast Break Grants – program was awarded an equipment grant in conjunction with the Fast Break program.
+ First Stick Grants- program was awarded an equipment grant in conjunction with the inaugural US Lacrosse First Stick Program.

Note the cities in bold.  For the most part, these cities are considered hotbeds or at least very established areas.  Upstate New York, New York City,  Philadelphia, and Connecticut have long standing, well-established lacrosse histories.  Chicago is the hub of the 81 team Illinois High School Lacrosse Association: nearly every team in in the metro or the immediate suburbs. * Baltimore is one of the top two hotbeds in the nation!

Obviously the individual situations of each program merited enough consideration to warrant an equipment grant (though only three were under the special programs).  But what about the other options available in these areas?  Surely US Lacrosse could actively encourage the more established programs to provide some assistance.  They could easily persuade the local NCAA Division 1 lacrosse programs present in every one of these places (except Chicago) to actively contribute.  With so much established lacrosse, it stands to reason that these areas should be self-sustaining and capable of growth without the US Lacrosse equipment grant.

As noted above, only one of the Baltimore programs that received an equipment grant qualified under the First Sticks program.  Unfortunately the website did not include notation for equipment distributed under the BRIDGE and Emerging Groups subcategories.  Regardless, other avenues exist to get equipment into the hands of laxers in these areas on a local level without direct assistance from US Lacrosse.

Removing these nine eight programs from the equipment grant opens the doors for programs outside of the established areas.  Could these grants have been awarded to somebody in Alaska, Wyoming, North Dakota, Iowa, or Mississippi?  Surely there were applicants from nearly every state over the last two years.  This is clearly evidenced by the grants issued to places like Memphis, Bellevue and Lincoln, NE, Albuquerque, NM, New Orleans, etc.  As long as applications are coming in from these places, shouldn’t they be favored over applications from firmly established areas?

Because the program is supposed to be about growth, what criteria could realistically be applied that would favor a program in lax affluent Baltimore over Jackson, MS?  How can awarding free equipment to a program in a hotbed be more conducive towards growth than giving that same equipment to a new area?  Is this process based solely on income statistics derived from the US Census?

If the ultimate goal of the equipment grant program is to foster continued growth, then it certainly seems counterproductive to consider cities like Baltimore at this point.  By choosing to award equipment to established areas instead of new areas, US Lacrosse may be taking an active role alienating potential players.  At the very least, they are removing opportunities from players and groups that have no other reasonable assistance while further enriching those in established areas.  Instead of bringing gear to 20 kids in South Dakota, who have no access to discounted or donated gear, US Lacrosse is favoring kids in cities where excess gear is easily picked up at bargain basement prices.  That approach will never help the game grow on a national level.

Luckily there are dedicated people around the country to foster growth independent of US Lacrosse.  These  people move to new areas and donate their personal gear to fledgling lacrosse organizations.  They contact their friends and families to  have them ship old gear to their new home.  They make relationships with suppliers to get discounted and discontinued gear.  They make do with what they have, even if it means not always staying in compliance with US Lacrosse’s guidelines (ie using hockey helmets and pads).  They create their own equipment companies to bring high quality, affordable gear to new areas.

Started specifically to foster growth

It is through these individuals that lacrosse achieves real growth in the US.  These individuals put themselves on the line for the sport.  They get in the trenches and run free camps, start programs, voluntarily coach teams, etc.  They do what they can to make lacrosse thrive.  And they typically do it without the assistance of the national body to whom they pay annual dues…

So I ask again, Does US Lacrosse really care about growth?

*Chicago was removed due to the absence of established NCAA varsity lacrosse programs and the newer history of the sport in the state of Illinois.

 

Update April 19, 2012: The 2011 list of recipients is much more in line with the stated objective of the grant program.  The diversity and geographic spread is amazing.  Well done, US Lacrosse.  Well done.