By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 1/7/09
It was expected that the announcement would not happen for a few years.
But in March, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) announced it would hold state championships for boys’ and girls lacrosse in 2009.
The PIAA was about to take over jurisdiction of boys’ lacrosse for the first time in 2009, but originally said it would not hold state tournaments because there were not enough teams throughout the state to justify them.
But this all changed.
Brad Cashman, PIAA executive director, said that the Board of Directors voted 22-8 in favor of beginning the tourneys two years earlier than had originally been anticipated.
“We decided that down the road we’d have state playoffs,” Cashman said of the original plan. “We felt that would give us a couple years to get our feet on the ground and establish ourselves, particularly for (boys’ lacrosse) referees.
“But the board wanted to get started sooner than later.”
The boys’ and girls’ state championship games in 2009 will be held Saturday, June 6, at Hersheypark Stadium. There will be only one classification for both boys and girls – for now.
The PIAA has always had jurisdiction of girls’ lacrosse, but had not held a state tournament because there were not enough teams spread throughout the district. For years, the District 1 champion has been considered by most to be the unofficial “state champion.”
On the boys’ side, three regional associations, the Eastern, Central and Western PA Scholastic Lacrosse Associations have governed the sport. In this setup, all teams were elibible for the Keystone Cup, meaning that the sport offered a true state champion – something that has been very popular in the Eastern part of the state where winning the Eastern Pennsylvania Scholastic Lacrosse Association title has been as big an accomplishment as one could achieve.
When the PIAA took over, it meant that the powerful Inter-Ac League – which includes the likes of Malvern Prep (2006 Keystone champ), Haverford School (2000 and 2005 Keystone champ) and Episcopal Academy (won titles in 1991, ‘95 and ‘96) – would not be eligible for the state tournament.
The state tourney comes at a time when the Catholic League is entering the PIAA. This is significant for lacrosse because of the success of programs such asLa Salle (ranked No. 1 in the country by Lacrosse Magazine in 2008) on the boys’ side and Archbishop Carroll (eight straight league titles and much success in non-league games vs. top-rated teams in the state) on the girls’ side.
Tom Slate, coach of Downingtown East, the 2007 Keystone Cup champion, believes a state tournament is good for all involved.
“It’s good to know that,” he said. “I think at the last coaches meeting we were all wondering what was going to happen – didn’t know if now or five years. It’s good to know after this year we’ll have a state championship.
“You have to have something to play for.”
The district berths for the boys’ and girls’ tourneys were announced in the summer. Each field will have 16 teams and District 1 will send seven teams to states for boys and girls. District 12, which is comprised of the Catholic League, will send one team to states. Each district will determine how many teams compete for those slots.
The PIAA based the amount of qualifiers for the tournament on the number of teams in each district. There are slightly over 150 teams registered in the state for both boys and girls and nearly half of the teams are in District 1. Cashman also said there would be one classification until the number of boys’ or girls’ teams reached approximately 200.
“None of us knew how this would work with so many things happening,” said La Salle coach Bill Leahy, who has guided his Explorers to 14 of the past 16 Catholic League crowns and state titles in 2004 and 2008. “The Catholic League entering the PIAA is one whole transition. Then you have lacrosse joining.
“It just takes time to see how the puzzle fits together. That (the state tournament) was a big announcement.”
Cashman said the PIAA had to work quickly to prepare for taking jurisdiction of the boys’ teams and holding a state tourney in the same year. The biggest concern has been certifying referees and having them properly trained in PIAA rules and regulations.
“We started to register the referees after first of the year and people have been taking their (certification) tests,” Cashman said. “They will be certified as PIAA officials as of July 1.”
Cashman said he was well aware of the amazing growth of lacrosse throughout the state and the country. U.S. Lacrosse reported that participation in scholastic lacrosse has doubled in just the last seven years.
“The sport is growing and growing and more and more teams and are building lacrosse programs,” Cashman said. “Everything we see is that lacrosse and bowling are the two emerging sports in Pennsylvania at the high school level.”
The biggest gripe among Philadelphia area fans was the fact District 12 was awarded just one playoff berth for the state tourney. To make the tourney, boys’ teams will have to defeat La Salle and girls’ team will have to top Carroll – each of which already have seven Division I signees.
Many in the Philly area feel that lacrosse, being much more established in this region, is clearly stronger inPhiladelphia and therefore the area should be rewarded with more playoff berths.
Mark Byers, the PIAA Assistant Executive Director, said the state tourney fields are determined solely by the number of teams in each district.
“We do not seed brackets in any sport,” Byers said, noting that the number of district berths could change every two years if the expansion of lacrosse continues. “We believe this is the fairest way to accommodate the state-wide tournament.”
It also should be noted that the Public League – where lacrosse is now growing in the middle school age – could add teams to the District 12 mix. And this year, there will be boys’ JV high school lacrosse for the first time, at FitzSimons High.
Byers also said that the PIAA will send teams that finished second in District 1 to the western brackets for the boys’ and girls’ tourneys.
“The champions and runner-up teams will be placed in opposite brackets and that will be done across the board,” he said. “This is done to prolong the time before champions and runner-up teams have to play each other.”