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Lacrosse misses benchmark to gain sponsorship as ‘official’ high school sport

·4 min read

The anticipated move of boys’ and girls’ lacrosse under the Kentucky High School Athletic Association umbrella has been put on hold.

The KHSAA’s Board of Control learned Wednesday that the number of schools set to field boys’ and girls’ lacrosse teams next spring remains below the 50-team threshold required by KHSAA bylaws for it to consider sponsoring state championships for them.

Boys’ lacrosse schools number 39 teams and the girls have 40, according to data gathered by the KHSAA. Those numbers remained unchanged from the board’s last meeting when it tabled a decision on the sport in hopes that more schools would come on board.

KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett presented the lacrosse participation report to the board at its work session Wednesday morning. Based on KHSAA’s rules, his recommendation was to forgo KHSAA sponsorship this school year.

As long as 30 schools maintain the sport, the KHSAA will continue to monitor it, Tackett said. The board will revisit the decision at its May 2022 meeting.

“We’ll look at it again next spring,” Tackett said. “And if the numbers are there, work on it for the future.”

On Tuesday, the KHSAA held its full annual meeting which included athletics directors from across the state. That meeting offered some perspective on the challenges faced by member schools.

“I think the message that was probably as abundantly clear yesterday as anything is the plates of our administrators on the athletic side in particular, are full, right now,” Tackett said. “And to throw (lacrosse) on there without the policy support of 50 schools probably wouldn’t be very smart.”

Tackett later added that not meeting the 50-school minimum “means less than 20 percent of our members want this. … So, unfortunately, it just does not have the numbers right now.”

High school lacrosse has become more popular over the last several years, but most teams in Kentucky are run as club programs outside their school’s athletics department budgets.

Becoming a KHSAA sponsored sport would mean many expenses, such as head coaches’ salaries, could be picked up by more schools and alleviate some financial barriers to the sport and potentially grow it further, supporters say. Regardless of the KHSAA’s decision, lacrosse will play on.

“It would be nice just for growing the sport, that’s where really the help is,” said Henry Clay boys’ lacrosse coach William “Sport” Richmond, who led the Blue Devils to a state championship in its league last season. ”It doesn’t change a lot for our season. Just to help grow the sport and for it to become stronger and more competitive with some of the other states in the nation, that would be nice.”

This year, Fayette County’s public schools threw their full support behind lacrosse and have put their boys’ and girls’ coaches on the payroll.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there appeared to be enough interest in lacrosse for KHSAA sponsorship and the organization began making preparations to include it among its activities. The KHSAA.org website added lacrosse to its scoreboard listings this summer.

Among KHSAA sports, only girls’ field hockey has fewer than 50 teams, a Title IX exception made for that sport to encourage more female participation in athletics. It has been mentioned in past KHSAA meetings that such an exception could also be made for girls’ lacrosse but that option was not discussed Wednesday.

Last spring, Kentucky’s high school lacrosse teams were split into two separate entities for both boys and girls with each declaring state champions. Fayette County and Lexington area schools compete in the Commonwealth Lacrosse League. Louisville-area schools and some others play in the Kentucky Scholastic Lacrosse League.

The boys’ CLL included 23 teams — all nine Lexington schools are a part — and features teams from as far away as Bowling Green. The KSLL had more than a dozen teams. On the girls’ side, there were 17 active Commonwealth league teams from Lexington and areas across the state and 17 KSLL girls’ teams from around Louisville plus Notre Dame from northern Kentucky.

Competitively, remaining outside KHSAA sponsorship will mean that there will likely remain separate state championships recognized by each of the sport’s leagues and there’s a benefit to that, as well, Richmond said. With the dominance of Trinity and St. Xavier in the sport on the boys’ side, that means more teams will have a chance for a “state title” in the short term.

“We still play those guys in the regular season during the regular season and they’re a measuring stick,” Richmond said. “But when it gets sanctioned and we have to fight those guys for (a state title), it’s going to be tough.”

Wrestling realignment

In other action, the board of control approved realigning its wrestling regions this year according to a recommendation from the sport’s coaches association. The new alignment will be posted soon online at KHSAA.org. Due to COVID-19 protocols, wrestling’s postseason will have a separate semi-state round ahead of a smaller state tournament finals round again this year.

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