Lacrosse denied again by WIAA, will remain club sport

The WIAA Representative Assembly voted again on Monday to deny the inclusion of boys and girls lacrosse and it was not close, going 35-0 against for boys and 33-2 against for girls.

This was the fifth time lacrosse sanctioning has been voted on by the WIAA in the past fifteen years, with the previous denials coming in 1999, 2002, 2005, 2010 and most recently on Monday.

Mike Colbrese, the executive director of the WIAA, said that funding is the primary concern of the voting parties at this point in time. “The member schools are just not in the area where they can be willing to add sports,” Colbrese told the Bellevue Reporter in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “I am just real confident unfortunately, that schools will not be adding any programs.”

Colbrese cited financial concerns harbored by district and state officials as the chief motivating factor for the denial, saying that many schools in the WIAA are already being forced to decide whether or not to keep the sports they already have. “I could see the potential for schools dropping programs and not adding anything at all,” Colbrese said.

Other potential pitfalls of the addition of lacrosse, according to Colbrese, would be field usage and finding qualified coaches and officials, all of which have been cited in previous votes against adding the sport.

Mercer Island coach Ian O’Hearn has a slightly different take on the situation.

“Unforunately, the Athletic Directors and people that make the decisions just see dollar signs,” O’Hearn said. “They dont see the other potential of adopting the sport.” O’Hearn added that his program at Mercer Island as well as some of the others around the area that are more established, are recognized as official sports at their respective schools, meaning their student-athletes can earn varsity letters and the teams are granted unpaid access to fields for practices and games.

He also added that Mercer Island lacrosse builds an operating budget by way of a booster club, meaning that WIAA inclusion would not necessarily mean added costs for the district or state in their case. O’Hearn cited the situation in California as a possible model for Washington. Lacrosse has become sanctioned by the California Interscholastic Federation with programs remaining self-funded, meaning they receive the benefit of an official state championship, free access to school fields and other such amenities while not pulling funds from other sports or placing an added deficit on school districts and the state.

The governing body for lacrosse in Washington and other states where it is not sanctioned by the state’s governing athletic body is US Lacrosse, an organization that was founded in 1998 and “provides a leadership role in virtually every aspect of the game throughout the United States,” according to their website. The President of the Washington chapter of US Lacrosse, Dave Low, had a similar take as O’Hearn.

“The hurdle for us is, there is a perception among the voters that lacrosse is expensive,” Low said. “It gets back to educating and it is up to the lacrosse community to do a better job of getting the right message to the voters.” Low and others contend that lacrosse is no more expensive for the WIAA or school districts than baseball or softball, where equipment purchase costs and team size are similar.

Low added that the sanctioning of lacrosse would not mean all WIAA member schools would have an obligation to participate, it would merely add legitimacy to those programs that already have a team or have a groundswell of interest in their student body. “We look at it primarily from the student-athlete point of view,” Low said. “There are a lot of benefits to student-athletes participating in school spoonsored sports.” One such benefit would be the ability of teachers and faculty to communicate more efficiently with coaches, especially in cases where a student may be having difficulty in class and need some time away from the game.

At least one area coach was unfazed by the vote and believes the sport functions better separate from the WIAA. “I think we [Bellevue lacrosse] are better off separate [from the WIAA],” Baumann said. “Would you want to be run by the state?”

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