By GLENN HIBDON
GTR Sports Writer
A NEW SPORT: Members of Indian Nations Youth Sports (INYS) lacrosse teams pose for a photo with their sports gear. Lacrosse has seen large growth across the U.S. in the past 10 years, and local teams are growing.
Editor’s note: This is the second article about the growth of lacrosse in Greater Tulsa. Last month’s article featured the Bishop Kelley program.
Lacrosse is the new soccer in Tulsa. Fifty years ago, soccer began a rise in popularity in Oklahoma and across the United States. Jeff English and Tracy Isbell are hoping it’s now lacrosse’s turn.
“It’s developing a large presence at the youth level,’’ says English, lacrosse conference commissioner for Indian Nations Youth Sports (). “We have 13 different programs and 840 male players. There are high school teams now, and for the first time this spring we have a girl’s program.’’
English oversees boy’s teams ranging in ages from kindergarten through eighth grade. There are also teams in Tulsa who play indoor summer league box lacrosse at Soccer City in Broken Arrow. Men’s teams were started last fall in divisions of under 40 and over 40.
Isbell, director of girl’s lacrosse for , says that females will join the boys when youth play begins on March 26 at Neinhuis Park in Broken Arrow.
“Five years from now we will probably have a women’s league,’’ says Isbell. “There will be women who played in the youth leagues and in high school going to college and then coming back around. Eventually, I know we will have women’s lacrosse.’’
Tulsa’s discovery of the sport began more than 10 years ago when Dusty Booth arrived in town. Booth grew up in Wichita playing in high school and on a club team. After coming to Oklahoma, Booth coached a high school team and then was instrumental in forming the Tulsa Youth Lacrosse Association and the Bulldogs, a squad comprised of players without a team.
“Dusty Booth is the man who made it go,’’ English says.
Today, there are high school club teams at Owasso, Jenks, Union, Cascia Hall and Bishop Kelley schools. They all play in the Heartland Conference, consisting of 16 teams in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas. English says Muskogee, Sapulpa, Bartlesville and other Green Country schools have expressed interest in organizing teams.
“We’ve had 17 percent growth over last year and 150 percent growth in Owasso,’’ says English, who played lacrosse at Southwestern University in Texas and now has an eighth grade son playing.
Lacrosse features the use of sticks with netting on the end so a ball can be passed back and forth between players. Just like in hockey, the aim is to fire the ball into a net for a point. The sport originated from stick ball, played by Native Americans. Unknown to most, lacrosse is the national sport of Canada.
“We have a large Indian population here, and stick ball is similar to lacrosse,’’ says English, explaining why he thinks the sport has gained such a foothold in Tulsa.
“It’s one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. over the last 10 years. It’s a small sport, but it’s gaining momentum and has had double digit growth every year.’’
Unlike English, Isbell says she was “sucked in’’ to lacrosse when her son starting playing in the sixth grade. She never played or coached, but she sees many physical and health benefits from the sport.
“You don’t have to have size or a big body build. Anybody can play,’’ she says. “It’s a fun sport, and it’s enjoyable to watch for spectators and fans.’’
English says that lacrosse is less physical than football and players need stick skills in catching and throwing. While speed is an asset, it’s not always essential.
“It’s a great cross-fit sport. It complements agility, foot work, athleticism and hand-eye coordination,’’ English says.
“It’s a great off season sport for football,’’ says Isbell. “You’re using different muscles, and both sports are played in different seasons.’’
There are those who see lacrosse as an elite prep school sport played back east and others who believe the cost of equipment is prohibitive. English says that his group has a working arrangement with Dick’s Sporting Goods for discounts.
“Lacrosse is big on the east and west coasts and in the Denver area, but we’re starting to see some of our kids playing college lacrosse in () Division ,’’ says English. “It’s an alternative spring sport. In football, you have stoppages after every down, and lacrosse is more nonstop like basketball.
“All youth sports are based on volunteers; the best reason to get involved is that not a lot of parents know much about lacrosse. There is a lot less coaching from the stands. The biggest part is teaching kids how to catch and throw, and the offense and defense is similar to basketball.’’
If interested spectators want a look at the sport, English and Isbell recommend the Oklahoma event on June 11-12 at Mohawk Park. Over 60 teams and 1,200 players will come from all across the United States to participate in the tournament.
English’s group is currently in discussions with Tulsa’s Parks and Recreation Department about having a lacrosse complex being built.
“I do this for my son’s interest, and I think it’s a great sport for kids who may not want to play traditional sports but still want to have fun being a part of a team,’’ English says.
“I don’t have a daughter, and there are only so many slots available for girls to play soccer or softball at schools like Jenks,’’ Isbell says. “With lacrosse, they have an opportunity to play a sport for a big school. I want to see the joy on their faces when they see they are going to play a big sport for their school in a big stadium.’’
The lacrosse season runs from March 26 until May 21. Inquiries can be directed to www.inyouthlacrosse.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.