Sunday, March 02, 2008

Facing off for the first time

"Patterson Mill High School lacrosse players participate in a shooting drill during their first practice on March 1. The team will join the rich history of lacrosse in Harford County and put their skills and passion to the test against nine area high schools."

The thing about being a journalism student, rather than primarily a photojournalism student, is that I have to write a lot. I just started a semester long project for my New Media class on the rise of popularity in lacrosse. Here is a story I did on Saturday.
Sunny, chilly and windy. A typical March day thousands of high school athletes across the state of Maryland look forward to, the first day of a new lacrosse season.

Each year on March 1, players from around the region strap on pads, lace a lacrosse stick and slap on a helmet as they gear up for another successful season of the fastest growing sport in the United States.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for nine months,” Jason Bellamy, the new head coach of Patterson Mill High School’s junior varsity lacrosse team, said.

This year, Patterson Mill High School will put their skills and passion to the test for the first time against nine schools in Harford County.

“My expectation is a three-year-plan to win a 1A State Championship and I think we can do it because the kids are dedicated and committed,” Bellamy, who lost a state championship his senior year at North Harford in 1994, said.

Since the school has only transitioned in ninth and 10th graders, there is no varsity lacrosse program.

The Huskies will face many challenges being a new team, but they are among nearly 169,000 students playing the fastest growing sport.

The National Federation of State High School Association states since 2001 the number of people playing lacrosse has grown by nearly 68 percent.

The study, published on US Lacrosse’s Web site, shows lacrosse has the fastest growth rate of any high school sport in the past decade. The increase has resulted in many states other than Maryland officially recognizing lacrosse programs since 2000.

Tom Egan of Bel Air, who was watching his 15-year-old son Quinn practice amid 22 other lacrosse players at Patterson Mill, grew up playing lacrosse when the sport was only played in private schools and has witnessed the game develop significantly.

“Look back at any two good teams, players came from two areas, Baltimore or Long Island. Period. But look at teams such as [Johns] Hopkins now, they have players from all over, like Arizona,” Egan said.

The game is emerging not just in the Maryland region, but also beyond. Egan said he believes it's because of the game play.

“As the kids are exposed to it, it’s so much quicker and faster then say baseball, and kids grow in love with it.”

The game is often referred to as the fastest game on two feet and is the official motto of the sport. Aside from hearing praise by peers, students playing the game are finding they love the game for the rapid tempo.

“It’s a lot quicker game, a lot faster than baseball. Many parents start their kid off at baseball because they don’t want their kid in contact sport,” Matt Hubbell, a 15-year-old sophomore lacrosse player, said. “But then [the kids] get bored of [baseball].”

Statistics show there is a lot more competition, many more kids playing the sport and several more people are coaching it. Patterson Mill will have three students playing the game for the very first time.

Dylan Burke, a sophomore football player, had never watched a lacrosse game and had never played before, yet decided to try it out this season.

“I used to be a big soccer player, and I played hockey, but I started talking to my friends and I could hit people like football,” Burke said.

Many of the players also mentioned being persuaded to try it by friends. In addition, more than half of the team hope to play at a college level one day, even if they will never play professionally.

“I love the fact that it’s still a fraternity of people who play it because they have a passion for the game, not because they want to be a professional and make millions of dollars,” Bellamy said.
More images here.


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