The fastest game on two feet is gaining momentum in Wichita

Story by Julie Schillings

Rah, rah...refs!
Rah, rah...opponents!

This is the rally cry of lacrosse players heard throughout Wichita as the youth lacrosse program expands from 40 players in 2009 to well over 200 athletes in 2012.

The explosive growth can be explained by increased media coverage at the NCAA level as well as a strong word-of-mouth recruiting by the players. Traditionally viewed as an East Coast sport, youth lacrosse has experienced 500 growth rates in cities west of the Mississippi over the past decade.

Mid-fielder on the Wichita Renegades High School boys team Reid Linot describes lacrosse as having the physicality of football with the action of soccer, add a little bit of hockey and that is what lacrosse is all about. "I like the creativity it takes to score in lacrosse." Linot describes how athletes dive sideways or shoot from behind the back to make a goal. Spin left, shoot right, score.

Men's lacrosse is played with 10 athletes on the field wearing helmets, shoulder pads, elbow pads and gloves. Stick checking and body contact is allowed, but aggressive players will find themselves in the penalty box. Successful lacrosse players bring speed, strength, agility and endurance to the field. "Cradling" is one of the first skills mastered. It is the technique of keeping the lacrosse ball in the pocket of the stick while running up field. Players rock their stick in a cradling motion creating enough centrifugal force to keep the ball in the pocket. Lacrosse is a sport that encourages athletes to express their individuality with personalized stick, head and string designs. Tie-dyed heads or neon pockets are not an uncommon sight.

Wichita youth lacrosse is organized as a co-ed sport by the city of Wichita. They offer loaner equipment at a reasonable fee which helps to encourage beginning players in grades two through 12. Games are played at Stryker Field in northeast Wichita with the season running through May. The Wichita YMCA is offering youth lacrosse programs as well.

The Renegades High School boys team added a Junior Varsity squad this season due to its participation nearly doubling. As a part of the Heartland Lacrosse League, the Renegades play teams from Nebraska, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas City. As the sport continues to grow in Wichita, team organizers predict that multiple high school teams will eventually form in the area. There are strong pockets of youth players in the Andover and Derby areas, and coaches look forward to those kids playing at the high school level in the next few years.

Twenty girls from different Wichita area schools (public, private, parochial and rural) comprise the Wichita Wicked High School girls lacrosse team. The girls travel to Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri to play on weekends. David Sherman, who coaches the two-year-old Wicked team, welcomes the opportunity to run clinics and demonstrate lacrosse to groups or individuals wanting to learn about the sport. "Women's lacrosse is much more of a finesse game," explains Sherman. "It is strictly no-contact so the focus is on running, cutting and passing." The Wicked team's season will continue through May when they will host a tournament on their home field.

The history of lacrosse spans the centuries. Native Americans are credited with inventing the game of Tewaaration in the 1600's. It was played to resolve conflicts, heal the sick and practice strategies of war. Matches between tribes were played over several days, even weeks, and often spanned distances of up to fifteen miles. Early French settlers adapted the sport to a smaller field and began calling it lacrosse, meaning "crooked stick."

Lacrosse has come along way since the early days. Organizers now claim "it is the fastest game on two feet." Hundreds of Wichita youth have developed a passion for the game, and predict that its popularity will continue to grow.

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