Going hand-in-hand with increased interest in lacrosse around the state of Iowa is the continually growing interest in lacrosse in Des Moines. This is especially true for boys lacrosse where we have seen the number of middle schoolers jump from 40 last summer to more than 80 this summer. In fact, we recently decided to open up a few more spots to meet additional demand while still not exceeding our resources.
In a perfect world, every kid laxing in Des Moines this summer will continue playing through high school. But this will probably not happen. Still, if history is any indicator then a good number of the current participants will look to continue playing at the high school level. Looking at this year’s Valley roster, seven boys transitioned from the youth program to the JV team (two also saw varsity minutes); that is not including the two eighth grade JV players that also participated last summer.
Hypothetically, there are roughly 20 incoming freshmen on the field this summer. If the rate is comparable to last year, that means there should be at least 14 incoming freshmen ready to play lacrosse. This number may indicate that we are on track for a second high school team built primarily from our youth program.
Ideally, 40 players per team allows for both varsity and JV squads. Have both levels forces players to earn their varsity spot by putting in their best effort on a consistent basis. At the same time, it ensures that JV players will see significant minutes on the field to aid their development.
Four upperclassmen joined the team this season, which is a fairly typical occurrence. Only six players graduated this year. At least 30 players are expected to return. Discounting current youth participants, Valley may have enough late additions and walk-ons to exceed 40 players; the youth program ensures that this will be so. Nine will graduate in 2013, leaving the team with a solid base.
One of the by-laws of the Nebraska High School Lacrosse League is a requirement for teams to play at the JV level in their first year. Valley’s first year included a number of upperclassmen which made the team more of a proto-varsity squad than a true JV team. More players graduated that season than the last two seasons combined.
At this point, a second Des Moines team would be true JV team. Its ranks would mostly come from the youth program. In addition to half of the incoming freshmen currently participating in the youth program, a second club should also be able to pick up upperclassmen interested in walking on. There are a few that are interested in playing lacrosse, but will not play for Valley (high school rivalries are odd). It is also possible that a few seasoned Valley players could opt to join the new team…
Of course the best case scenario only boosts the new team to a dozen or so guys. At least until another league bylaw is considered: Eighth grade players are allowed to play in the league, especially at the JV level. Again, using last season as a model, this brings the youth participant level up to at least 14 for the new team. Hypothetically, this means a pool of 20 first year players on a new high school JV team in Des Moines. The players are there, at least on paper.
But a team is more than a couple dozen players. Coaches are in short supply in Des Moines. Valley ran a staff of five coaches this spring – three on varsity and two on JV. One varsity assistant has already moved. Another plans to do so after the youth program wraps up in August. A third coach is also contemplating a move. This creates a major hurdle on the road to fielding an additional team in the city. Since there are exactly zero dollars available for coaches (myself included), very few individuals can make the commitment needed to run or assist a team.
Of course there are ways to overcome this hurdle. A few Valley dads have expressed interest in getting more involved with the team. Though they lack experience, they are open to learning on the job (just like I did). Parents are seeking involvement through the youth lacrosse program. We have begun to explore the feasibility of a US Lacrosse coaching clinic in Des Moines. There are also a couple of gentlemen residing in the metro that have expressed an interest in coaching, should they find permanent employment, at least one of whom teaches high school.
Only one certified lacrosse official resides in Des Moines at this time. In order to accommodate weeknight games between two metro squads, that number needs to increase. Like coaches, we are actively pursuing opportunities to do just that. It will take time and patience, but the resources are there.
Once the players have been identified and a coach has been found, a second team will need practice and game facilities. Because of the expenses involved, this issue is huge. Valley has been fortunate in receiving support from the West Des Moines school district. Hopefully the second team would receive similar support from another district, but nothing is guaranteed. From speaking with representatives from other suburban districts, quite a few are less than supportive of a club sport – especially one that will draw athletes (football players) from track programs (run by football coaches).
Like everything else, we are looking at various options. Des Moines Parks and Recreation has previously expressed interest in lacrosse. With a plethora of fields at their disposal, they remain an alternative solution to the school support issue. Unfortunately their most ideal fields may not be located near the largest player pools…
Outside of my efforts, another group is working on bringing lacrosse to the city’s north side. I mentioned it a while ago. The area in question is near North High School, which is one of the least financially endowed areas of the city. Introducing any new sport to the area may be tricky, but the group involved has the experience and resources to make it happen.
The gentleman leading the charge grew up in Harlem with a deep and undying love for lacrosse. After helping with other youth program developments at the nearby John R Grubb YMCA, he has set his sights on adding lacrosse to the local offerings. He belongs a fraternity dedicated to providing children in lower-income areas access to sports. He is also affiliated with the Uganda lacrosse program.
Thanks to his extensive history with lacrosse and his connections to the Ugandan team, he has made many connections with retailers and suppliers. With the assistance of his fraternity and his various connections, he believes that a team (and youth program) could be started in under two years. Based on the conversations that we have had, he even has plans to train local coaches.
With at least two efforts underway to start a second (and possibly third) team in Des Moines, how close are we?
In my estimation, second team could start playing as early as Spring 2013. This team would rise from the CILA youth lacrosse program if continuation numbers are as high (or higher) as projected. In theory, Valley would be the only program sponsoring a fall ball team in Lincoln, NE this October and the split would come as preseason practices begin. This also assumes that we are able to fill the coaching gaps by that time.
More realistically, a second team seems likely the following season. A new team could launch from scratch in the fall of 2013 at the Lincoln tournament. However, this may create a problem with a number of players forced to choose between continuing with Valley or leaving for the new team.
The efforts on the north side will probably need another year as well. Once the sport is introduced and coaches are trained, the team should be ready. At this point I would guess that the team is nearly two years away. Then again, their efforts could bear fruit more quickly…
What about the girls?
Unfortunately it seems that a second girls program is even further away. Even though we are actively working on building and expanding the girls division of our youth program, their numbers are nowhere near as high as the boys. Coaches are also in short supply at the moment, but we are working on that as well.