By MIKE MOGUIN
GTR Sports Writer
BISHOP KELLEY STARS: Tulsa Bishop Kelley lacrosse players Christian Bachman (14) and John McAndrews (33) demonstrate techniques for an interested observer.
MIKE MOGUIN for GTR Newspapers
When one hears about lacrosse, he or she thinks of athletes nearly in hockey gear, except they have sticks with nets to catch balls while playing on a grass field, rather than sticks to swish around a puck across the ice.
Plus, the sport is popular only on the east and west coasts, right?
Well, that appears to be changing. There are lacrosse youth teams that can be found in Oklahoma.
In Tulsa, the movement started at Bishop Kelley High School, which now has club teams for the levels of boys’ varsity, girls’ varsity and boys’ junior varsity.
The boys’ varsity are about to play their third season, while the other two teams are gearing for their first.
By being a club team, the program is not affiliated with the school, although it does receive support.
Lacrosse club teams are also fielded at Jenks, Union, Owasso, Cascia Hall and Holland Hall. Only Kelley and Jenks have girls’ programs.
Comets’ coach Steve Hendricks was one of the pioneers of bringing the program to the school.
“It’s very similar to hockey. You kind of take a little bit of basketball, a little bit of hockey and the running of soccer and you roll them all together in a ball and you have lacrosse,” Hendricks says. “It is a physical game. They hit each other. You are allowed to check someone with your stick, so there are times guys get hit with a stick.
“But overall, it’s an extremely safe game. Over the years, we’ve had zero catastrophic injuries. Although it’s a physical game, it’s a very safe game,” Hendricks says.
The Bishop Kelley players relish the challenge of this sport.
“It’s a faster pace than most games,” John McAndrews says. “It requires a lot more skill. But the passing and catching are a lot like any other sport.”
“You have to be more physically prepared than most sports because of the combination of hitting and running,” Sean Austin says.
“It takes a lot of conditioning because the play never really stops,” Brendan Rolland says.
“There’s no down time,” Christian Bachman adds.
How did lacrosse come to Kelley?
Hendericks and several other coaches led some club teams in town. Because there were enough Kelley players, they decided to start a club. They met with the administration and everything fell into place.
Hendricks, a native of Phoenix, Arizona, came to Tulsa in 1996 after serving in the Navy, where he played the game. He has coached the game for a decade. He got started in coaching lacrosse when his son decided to start playing after watching the national championship on TV.
Interest is not just in Tulsa, it is spreading throughout the state and beyond. Club teams can be found at TU, OU and , as well as St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee.
“It’s huge in Kansas City,” Hendricks says. “It’s huge in Dallas. It’s huge in Texas as a whole. It’s grown in Arkansas, Missouri, and it has even grown in Kansas. In our own state, when we started years ago, we had basically two teams.”
The teams multiplied by four, and they would travel to play teams in Texas and Kansas City.
“Then in the last couple of years, we’ve really had an explosion here in the Tulsa area. So we have grown from having two teams to having a solid number of teams. We’ll probably add two more teams next year. As these kids filter up from the youth program, we’ll continue to expand teams if coaching will allow it.”
The Comets played their first game in January.
The Kelley girls’ program got started when Hendricks met with school administrators to see what the interest was within the student body.
“We had an outrageous number of girls who signed up,” Hendricks says. “And we were able to locate some coaches for them and get our feet going with the program.”
About 25 girls lace the Lady Comets’ roster.
Quite a number of students come out to the games, Hendricks says. “It’s still new to them, so they don’t really understand a lot of what’s going on. But within the community and the school, we get plenty of support. This wouldn’t be possible without the administration, who have been outstanding in the sport.”