Lacrosse is Growing, Will Wisconsin Catch Up?

Max Gulan

A photo of Marquette’s men’s lacrosse team in action

Lacrosse is a sport that is booming across the nation. A fast-paced sport similar to other common American sports such as soccer, basketball, and hockey, people across the country have found the sport to be incredibly exciting to both play and watch. According to Statista, a statistics and data-based website, from 2001 to 2016, the number of lacrosse players in the United States has tripled from about 254,000 to over 800,000. In Wisconsin, the sport is increasing rapidly as well. With teams popping up from the Milwaukee and Madison area all the way north to Hudson, many are wondering why lacrosse has not become officially recognized by the WIAA.

With this, the WIAA should move to officially recognize the sport given the sport’s growing popularity, the widespread support for lacrosse to be officially recognized, as well as doing so would allow for more funding to be given to teams at the high school level.

Lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in Wisconsin

In a Green Bay Press-Gazette article published in 2017, the author discusses the growing popularity of lacrosse in Wisconsin, saying, “In 2004, there were about 500 boys playing in the state. Now there are more than 2,500. If you add up boys and girls, youth and high school, there are 6,500 Wisconsin kids participating in the sport.” This quote shows the undeniable growth that lacrosse has gained in Wisconsin, especially given the fact that Wisconsin accounts for only 1.7% of the nation’s population but provides over 3% of the nation’s high school lacrosse players.

Similarly, another Green Bay news source, NBC 26, covering the topic interviewed Michael Hinkfuss, a coach at Notre Dame Academy. “”So it really starts at the youth level, and then it’s going to make its way up here,” Hinkfuss continued. “Youth has really taken off in the past few years, but we just need to keep growing the game. That’s what it comes down to.” Given that the sport has been growing at the youth level rapidly, it is no doubt that in a very short time these players will begin to enter the high-school level. With this, high school teams will continue to grow as well as new ones will be created.

A photo of a lacrosse stick

There is widespread support for lacrosse to become officially recognized

In an article written by the Milwaukee Journal discussing the creation of a committee that will examine the parameters of a possible unified season, Stephanie Hauser, the executive director of the WIAA, had this to say on the support of lacrosse statewide. “What I heard [during the meeting] from our board was that there is a legitimate number of schools that want us to pursue the addition to the sport of lacrosse.” With such support for the sport, it begs the question as to why lacrosse has not already been recognized as such by the WIAA yet. If the WIAA were to approve the sport as officially recognized then teams would be able to receive funding from their respective schools, no doubt leading to more teams in the state.

In the same article, the author writes, “According to the survey results shared during the board meeting, 41 of the 185 schools that responded have a boys team and four others plan to add the sport in the next few years. Thirty-one schools said they offer girls lacrosse and seven more that plan to add the sport in the next few years.” Although roughly 40 teams may not sound like many, if lacrosse were to become officially recognized, schools would be able to add more teams and the sport would be able to grow even further. Furthermore, for the 2021 season there were only 46 high school boys volleyball teams in the state, a sport that has been recognized by the WIAA since 1991.

Officially recognizing lacrosse as a sport would increase funding for high school teams

According to the Green Bay Press article mentioned prior, “If a club sport doesn’t get help from a school, the team must raise all the money for equipment, travel and coaches. If there isn’t a venue provided or the school doesn’t have one, that’s another cost.” This is the case at SPASH as the team does not receive money from the school and therefore has to use other ways to offset the costs. This is done through fees that are required for each player as well as a beef jerky fundraiser that takes place during the season. 

Also, in an interview with Simon Bienvenue, a SPASH lacrosse player, when asked if he thinks lacrosse should be considered a sport by the WIAA, he said that the WIAA should do so given that “it would allow for more effective funding from the school districts and it would standardize and balance the playing field for all the schools.”

Finally, in the previously mentioned article from NBC 26, coach Hinkfuss reiterated that “We don’t get any funding from the school or the state, but a lot of the structure of it is … through the players.” This quote again shows the importance of school funding that would be granted through the WIAA’s approval of lacrosse as an official sport.

One could argue that lacrosse does not deserve WIAA recognition to become a sport. That there is less work that goes into the sport than other sports that are officially recognized. Also, given that lacrosse only started at SPASH 5 years ago, one could argue that lacrosse is not ready to be officially recognized given the sport’s still early history. However, not only do players practice 5 days a week after school during the season, they also follow the same athletic code that other players in different sports have to follow. This means that players are held to the same standard as other athletes in sports that are recognized, football or hockey for example. Also, lacrosse has been developing state wide for decades, so it has been long enough. Going further, lacrosse is recognized in 14 other states across the country, all the way from California to New York.

In conclusion, while it may not seem incredibly important, many people enjoy lacrosse very much. It also provides a community of players who gather around one another and make each other not only better lacrosse players, but better people. If lacrosse were to become officially recognized, it would lead to an even further growth of the sport and could even open the door for the possibility of other growing sports in Wisconsin to become officially recognized.

A photo of a lacrosse helmet