NEW TAMPA – For many, competition in youth athletics begins with trying to find a spot on a team roster for any of the so called major sports – baseball, football or soccer.
For many families in the youth sports hot bed of the New Tampa area, that might mean joining programs in other communities, such as Temple Terrace, or considering an emerging sport. One old sport that is exploding in popularity is lacrosse.
But lacrosse is nothing new for the New Tampa Lacrosse Club (NTLC), which has fielded teams for boys and girls for almost 20 years. NTLC teams compete against other clubs from throughout the region, from Clearwater to Lakeland.
For those unfamiliar with the sport, lacrosse teams field 10 players at a time – nine ball handlers and a goalie – so there are plenty of positions to fill.
And like other youth sports, the goal is more than on-the-field action.
“Lacrosse is a great sport for building teamwork and meeting new friends,” said Chris Moyer, who is part of the club’s leadership team. “It’s great to get in on the sport now because so many kids are playing football and baseball.”
To say lacrosse is an emerging sport speaks more to growing public awareness about it rather than its place in sports history both local and national.
NTLC goes back to 1995 when the New Tampa Lacrosse Association (NTLA) was formed. The sport itself has roots back more than 400 years, when it was the great Native American pastime when the colonists landed on North American shores.
Lacrosse was especially popular with indigenous communities in Canada, with games involving hundreds of players over playing fields sometimes extending for miles.
Lacrosse’s Canadian roots are also evident in playing characteristics and terminology it shares with hockey, such as scoring a goal by using a stick to strike a ball past a goalie and into a net as well as checking and facing off.
Within the United States, lacrosse has been primarily an activity in New England and mid-Atlantic regions, where many Division I universities have teams and offer scholarships.
Players who want to attend college in the Tampa Bay area are starting to find similar opportunities available at the University of Tampa and Florida Southern College, both of which have NCAA Division II teams. The University of South Florida has a club-level team. The University of Florida women’s team plays at the NCAA Division I level.
Lacrosse scholarship opportunities may become more viable for high school students as schools at that level develop programs. Wharton and Freedom high schools are among those with teams. Lacrosse is a Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) sanctioned sport in 2014.
“A lot of colleges have scholarship programs and since it’s not as popular as football and baseball so there’s a lot of opportunity,” said Moyer.
Lacrosse is usually a winter/spring sport so the 2014 season is just around the corner. Clubs are holding clinics to recruit and train new players.
Hayley Scalabrin, 10, enjoys playing defense on the girls team and having lacrosse as one of her activities.
“In the beginning I didn’t know anybody but my coach let me join in and I made some new friends,” she said.
Her father, Mark Scalabrin, has three other children in the program and gives what might be the highest praise when it comes to organized youth sports.
“They don’t complain about the practices or the games,” he said. “We’re going to stick with it.”
Fees to participate vary by clubs but the outfitting of a player costs from $200 to $300. The biggest expense can be the purchase of a high-quality helmet.
Like other youth sports, fundraising is a major source of paying for club operations such as field rental and travel.
Besides sponsorships from businesses, NTLC hosts events such as the Beef and Beer night on Jan. 25 at Peabody’s, 15333 Amberly Drive in Tampa. Tickets are $40 and include beer, wine, sandwiches and pizza from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Organizers are looking for businesses to donate silent auction items.