High Schools adding Lacrosse to the spring line-up

This spring, students at Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial will have the opportunity to hit the field with a brand new sport – lacrosse.

“Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in the country,” said Jeff Penney, director of lacrosse operations and boys high school coach. “More and more colleges are offering lacrosse, which is helping drive youth participation. Students who play lacrosse find that it’s a fast-paced, fun sport that has similarities to basketball, hockey, and football.”

Lacrosse is not currently an IHSAA-sanctioned sport, which means all Indiana teams play as a club sport. There are currently about 50 boys’ teams and 40 girls’ teams in the state.

The minimum participation for a club is 20 members. Penney isn’t yet sure if Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial will be one combined club, or if each school will field enough players for their own team. He’s hoping the sport will appeal to many students, and that each school is able to support their own team. For this year, all high school grades (9-12) will be on the same team and will play against neighboring districts’ varsity and junior varsity teams. Clubs in their first year of competition are not eligible to compete in playoffs.

“One of the best aspects about lacrosse is that it’s a very social game,” said Penney. “When lacrosse players are out in the community, people want to ask them questions and learn more. There’s a tight knit comradery among lacrosse players.”

Boys’ lacrosse and girls’ lacrosse are very different, according to Penney. “For boys, contact is allowed, so there’s more protective equipment and physical engagement with other players. For girls, contact is prohibited, so it’s really more about finesse and skills. I’ve often said that the quality of girls’ lacrosse is much higher than the boys’. Girls develop better lacrosse skills because of the lack of contact. Their sticks are also different – there’s no pocket, like there is with boys’ – the way they maneuver, catch, and throw is completely different.”

Last year was the first year for lacrosse in the elementary and middle schools, and Penney was excited to see the interest, especially among girls. “Twelve of our elementary schools were able to offer lacrosse to our students, and we had a phenomenal group of middle schools girls. It’s my hope that they’ll stay interested in the sport and continue to grow at the high school level.”

For Penney, his interest in lacrosse began during his youth in Connecticut. “The community where I grew up – lacrosse was the biggest sport. My school’s team was the state champions for 13 years. I saw what a cool game it was and I had to get involved.” Penney has been playing lacrosse for 45 years and has coached for 15 years.

“The biggest advice I’d have for any student interested in trying lacrosse, is just to come out and try,” said Penney. “There’s no secret formula or special skills needed for lacrosse, you just have to be willing to work hard. When I coached at St. Joe High School, I had a student who wasn’t the fastest or most athletic, but he applied himself, worked his tail off, received money to attend a Division III school, went on to coach lacrosse in Ireland and England, and is now coaching at a Division III school.”

Penney is currently working on scheduling call-out meetings for high school students during September and October. He’s hoping to schedule a parent meeting in November. Practice for the sport will begin in February, games will start in March and go through Mid-May. Anyone interested in participating can contact Jeff at jpenney@elkhart.k12.in.us.

girls lacross