Before we get started, I’ve got to tell you that this is the third rewrite of this article. I’ll tell you why at the end, but my apologies if this comes off a little disjointed. On to the topic at hand…
Take a look at this picture:
It’s from 2013, the last time Mercer Island visited Bellevue, in their annual regular season matchup. Not the playoffs, their regular season game. It was a nice Saturday night, there were about 2000 fans in the stands, over 400 of them students and The Lacrosse Network broadcast the game nationally. Back then, some grammatically challenged hack wrote about it here. In fact you can still watch the broadcast online here. (Wait, seriously? You would click on that? A two year old game? Staaahhhhp. Put down the mouse. Go outside. Watch the sunset, breathe some air, go talk to a real person face to face. Get back online tomorrow.)
Bellevue won the game 9-8, but who cares? It was a great night for Washington lacrosse. Five different teams sat in the stands watching. Kids rocking “Mukilteo lacrosse” shirts and sticks were roaming around. I saw families down from Bellingham to watch the game. Real live high school girls had painted their faces in support. For a lacrosse game. People came from all over Western Washington because on this Saturday night, this was the best lacrosse being played in the state. On the field, we watched 19 players who would go on to play lacrosse in college. NINEFREAKINGTEEN. That night, we all thought that lacrosse had arrived in Washington State. Could WIAA sanctioning be far behind? How great is the future going to be? Ha. Little did we know.
Fast forward to 2015. Recently, the school district administrators from Bellevue and Mercer Island took the first steps to ensure that games like this NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN. They unilaterally canceled this year’s Saturday night 8pm start time and rescheduled the game for 11am on a Saturday morning. Citing “concerns” they were unwilling to elaborate on, they moved the game to an intentionally unappealing time slot. And they did this without talking to the teams’ boards of directors, players or coaching staffs about the game time change or any of the concerns. When asked to detail these concerns they refused. When asked to work with the teams’ Boards, they declined. When asked if they had ever attended a Bellevue/Mercer Island lacrosse game, they admitted they had not. When Bellevue Lacrosse offered to fund police or security at the game, they said no.
Player availability turned out to be a problem for an 11am start time, as many players coach or referee youth games on weekends, a fact that was new to the administrators, who I guess, just like to cling to the stereotypes they have of high school lacrosse players. Anyway, after several revisions, the game is now scheduled for Monday, May 4th at 4:30 pm. Meaning most of you (ok, both of you) who read this article will be unable to leave work, pick up your kids and come watch a top talent lacrosse game.
Can you imagine them doing this to any other high school sport? Would they have the stones to move the Bellevue/Skyline football game to 4:30 on a Monday, even though the crowds at that game are noticeably more raucous than this one? The Bellevue/Mercer Island basketball games are pretty rowdy, but I don’t see any 11am start times proposed for them. Soccer and baseball games have suffered from student drinking and streakers in recent seasons, but there’s no heavy-handedness from the administrations. There’s no way they’d dare.
The NCAA just released this report. (Click on it now, there’ll be another sunset tomorrow.) It says that 11.9% of high school boys lacrosse players go on to play in the NCAA. The highest of any sport. On the women’s side, they are second only to ice hockey (who knew?) And those figures don’t even include any of the club lacrosse teams, as they are sanctioned by a different governing body (MCLA) not the NCAA.
You would think that school administrators would love to support anything that increases the number of their students going to college. And increases the odds of success while at college. As the NCAA has found, “Student-athletes graduate college at higher rates than their peers in the student body, and those rates have risen each year.”*
Has there ever been a football game played in this state that featured 19 future NCAA players? Baseball? Basketball? Of course not, not even the state championship games. You would think some clever desk jockey at the district offices would stand up and shout “IT WAS ME! I WAS THE ONE WHO THOUGHT KIDS SHOULD PLAY LACROSSE. TELL EVERYONE IT WAS ME!” But no, they want lacrosse to go away, and the first step towards making that happen is turning big games into little games by moving them to Monday afternoons.
I could go on, but you get my drift.
So this ship has sailed, the gametime is set for this year, so what can we do? And look, we all like good lacrosse, but who really cares about Bellevue and Mercer Island? Aren’t these just first world problems? It’s a good question, but I think there’s importance here for every team in the state. All of us have to manage our relationship(s) with our associated high schools. Most of us have to pay the district for field time and work with the administrators for things like busses, early releases for games, Spring Break trips, ASB finances, and on and on. All it takes is one grumpy district person, a psycho parent upset over playing time or a principal just having a bad day, and they can make running a lacrosse team very difficult for a volunteer staff.
As I mentioned this is the third version of this article I’ve written. The first one was a rant against WIAA sanctioning for lacrosse, under the theory that you don’t want to give school districts any greater involvement in the sport because they’ll just screw it up. I scrapped that because there’s too much net good that will come from WIAA sanctioning. Version two of the article was a screed about we need to get WIAA sanctioning as soon as possible, because these school district wonks wouldn’t have the stones to do this to a WIAA sanctioned sport. But the fact is we’re nowhere close to being a sanctioned sport; I don’t know if I’ll see a sanctioned lacrosse game in my lifetime.
So the question, then, is what can we do about this? The good news is there is an answer. The bad news is we’re not going to like it. I think the answer is to make sure that we all behave properly. See? I hate that answer. But, we need to quash the poor behavior and promote the good. We need to do our best to change the perception of high school lacrosse programs. If you see fans or parents misbehaving at games, say something. If your son or daughter is being annoying by playing wall ball by the concession stand, tell them to stop. If you’ve got a weed problem on your team, deal with it and make sure everyone knows it. Fight the stereotype. Eliminate all the problems that school admins might have to handle.
On the flipside, make sure your district desk commanders are cc’d every time your team has a community service event. When a player decides that he wants to attend college and play lacrosse, make sure your administrators know that lacrosse was a factor in that decision. How about sending them a weekly/monthly team update or reminding them about your upcoming fundraisers? How about your board president inviting your school’s principal to sit with them and watch a game. I’m sure you can all come up with a bunch of good ideas.
All I’m saying is, actively manage your club’s relationship with your school and school district. If we can turn lacrosse into a parade of successes, you know some district idiot will want to jump in front of it and pretend it was their idea. Actively encourage that. Find someone in power and make them a champion for lacrosse. I think it’s the only way we move forward, and closer to making lacrosse a WIAA sanctioned sport. And that’s the next step in taking Washington lacrosse to the next level.
See, I told you we’d hate the answer.