By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 1/17/09
BALTIMORE – It was fitting that Cal Ripken Jr. delivered the keynote speech Friday night at the annual US Lacrosse National Convention here at the downtown Convention Center.
Ripken, the hometown baseball icon and youth sports pioneer, sheepishly admitted he never played lacrosse in his life to the thousands of lax enthusiasts in the Grand Ballroom. But he did speak about his “8 Elements of Perseverance That Make the Difference,” which helped him set the all-time record for consecutive games played (2,632) and serve as the basis of his new book, Get in the Game.
Many of these elements are the very reason for the vast growth of lacrosse, which statistics show is the nation’s fastest growing sport at nearly every level.
Before Ripken spoke so eloquently, US Lacrosse President and CEO Steve Stenerson noted some of the more impressive developments that have occurred since the birth of US Lacrosse 10 years ago.
Since 2001, lacrosse participation overall has risen 11 percent a year in the U.S, and now more than 480,000 play the sport (as of 2007 numbers). In 2001 the number was 253,000. The levels of participation, according to the 2007 statistics, break down as such: youth (241,581), high school (201,250), college (28,282), post-collegiate club (9,214) and pro (300).
At the youth level, the ranks have risen 500 percent in the 10 years of US Lacrosse, according to Public Relations Manager Colleen Sperry Aungst.
So, while Cal’s youngest son, Ryan, may be playing baseball rather than lacrosse, many other youths in Baltimore, Philadelphia and all the way toSouthern California are apparently grabbing a stick and cradling to their heart’s content.
There were two more chapters of US Lacrosse added in 2008 – in West Virginia and in Roanoke,Va. – bringing the overall number to 62. Sperry Aungst also reported that US Lacrosse membership rose 20 percent and is now at nearly 300,000.
Ripken’s elements included (1) The Right Approach; (2) A Strong Will to Succeed; (3) Passion, and (4) Love of Competition; (5) Consistency; (6) Conviction; (7) Physical and Mental Strength; and (8) Life Management. Many of these can explain the expansion of lacrosse in the U.S.
Perhaps the fastest growing area of lacrosse is on the West Coast and other areas west of Mississippi, Sperry Aungst said.
“The sport is getting huge in California, Colorado and Washington and everybody out there is just soaking up the sport,” Sperry Aungst said. “The volunteers we have out on the West Coast are phenomenal.
“Our chapters out there in Greater Los Angeles and San Diego are doing so much to build the sport. It’s blowing up; with the pro teams out there and mainstream media. They want to be a part of it.
“The opportunities are out there. Now there are youth teams and the coaches are educated. They have officials. The infrastructure is out there and more people are aware of our programs.”
Michele DeJuliis, a 14-year member of the U.S. Women’s National Team, has seen remarkable growth in the sport since playing for Penn State in the mid-1990s. DeJuliis, an assistant coach at Princeton, founded the Philly-based Ultimate Goal Lacrosse Club eight years ago and has seen the rise in participation in Philadelphia and to the West.
“I mainly do clinics in Philadelphia and New Jersey, but I also travel across the country to California,Colorado and Texas,” DeJuliis said. “I feel like a lot of East Coast players are moving out to the west and starting clinics to get the game to grow.
“I was just in Las Vegas at the end of October and held a clinic for kids. It was very low-key. I met a kid who come to my camp the past three years that lives in Vegas and I told her I was coming out and would love to do a clinic.
“There were 30 girls that came out. They just wanted to learn and have an opportunity to play. Any time you can give clinics, they’ll be there. There are a lot of untapped areas out west; I have no doubt that in the next couple of years there will be so much more growth.”
DeJuliis said it’s not difficult to sell lacrosse to young girls.
“I think the growth is tremendous,” she said. “When I started my club in Philadelphia in 2001, I had 30 kids. Now, I have 250 to 300 kids. It (lacrosse) is a great sport to watch, you can’t deny that.
“Kids are going to more clinics and being developed so much more quickly. The need for more programs and more clinics and more camps is there.”
Sperry Aungst said much of the growth in US Lacrosse membership is hekping to build the sport.
“A lot of lacrosse players are realizing the importance of being a member of US Lacrosse,” she said. “And we provide was to grow the sport in so many ways, through equipment grants, through coaches’ education and officials’ education. It’s really unique.
“Everybody is kind of looking out for each other. Everybody wants to see it get big, and everybody gets excited when they see it on 90210 and excited when they see it on mainstream TV and movies and more news articles.”