Central New York has long been known as a hotbed for lacrosse, and at the high school level Section III is one of the most successful and respected. But while 37 Syracuse-area schools do have varsity teams, only seven Utica/Rome-area schools can claim the same.
Some head coaches believe the dearth of high school lacrosse programs here is an awareness issue, that kids in lacrosse-less districts simply don't know enough about the game to become interested or don't have the means to become involved.
"You've got to know about it" says Proctor head coach Tony Adamo, who played for Whitesboro in the early 1990s. "I didn't learn about it until ninth grade. My social studies teacher happened to tell me to try out for the team, and that's when I found out about it."
However, awareness is not the only issue. Seventeen of the 35 high schools in this area have fewer than 250 students. Of those small schools, only Hamilton has managed to field a varsity program. But with ever-decreasing enrollments and budgets, Emerald Knights athletic director Bill Dowsland says districts are being forced to look at cutting programs instead of adding them.
"When you graduate 43 kids and you offer golf, baseball, lacrosse, tennis, there's only so many kids to choose from. And lacrosse is a big-roster sport, so that's where it becomes difficult."
Is the lack of lacrosse really a problem, though? Sure, it's just a sport, but with college lacrosse growing, too, it can also provide higher-education opportunities.
"I almost didn't go to college" recalls Adamo. "I took a call from a coach who needed a lacrosse player. I was going to take a year off, so it opened the door for me."
While the prospects for growth are not great right now, there is reason for hope. Of the 11 varsity boys and girls teams at the seven local schools, six just turned varsity within the past five years. And according to New Hartford head coach Dan Pope, who is also involved with the Tri-City Lacrosse indoor and summer leagues, interest at the youth level is booming.
"They had a 7th-8th (grade program), then they added a 5th-6th, then we added a 3rd-4th, and this year we're going to add a K-2 division, too, which we've never had before."
And as long as the number of players keep increasing, the number of teams hopefully will, as well.