Why Lacrosse is one of the Fastest Growing Sports in the Lowcountry
South sits down with Christian Harris, owner of Lowcountry Lacrosse Savannah, to discuss the rise of lacrosse in the lowcountry, its history, and how we play it a little differently down south.
SOUTH: At the recent State of the City address, Mayor DeLoach talked about promoting after school sports as a way to help reduce crime in the city. Is this something you've noticed in your work, or something that you're looking to become a part of?
Christian Harris: I'm actually really glad you asked this question. Myself and one of my coaches for the youth rec league, Billy Groves, went to the first meeting that Copie Burnett of the Savannah Dawgs put on when he invited us and a few other local youth sports organizations to speak with city and county council members: Pat Farrell, Julian Miller, Helen Stone, and a few others. We had representation from travel volleyball, track and field, baseball, football and lacrosse at that first meeting.
Our ultimate goals were (1) to convince the city that we needed to drastically improve the field spaces that exist now for our youth, (2) that with the population growth, more fields will be needed to accommodate (not only our youth, but the opportunity to host tournaments that will draw thousands of visitors and revenue to the area) and (3) that the investment in the city's facilities will help to slow the spread of crime throughout the city by providing a safe environment where kids can play competitive sports and stay out of trouble.
For one thing, lacrosse in the Coastal Empire has had a massive growth spurt: from the spring season of 2015 to the spring season of 2016 (which is the regular lacrosse season) we had 50% growth in participation for boys and 35% for girls; that growth was partially due to a field change - we always used the Landing's fields for lacrosse and when we moved it to a central location at Daffin Park, we boomed. Therefore, we believe that with more facilities there will be more youth sports' participants; the old adage, "if you build it, they will come" comes to mind and the philosophy is certainly true with lacrosse.
Second, we travel to lacrosse tournaments all over the southeast. We've sent teams to Atlanta, Charleston, Columbia, Charlotte, and as far as Baltimore. These tournaments can draw close to a hundred teams from all over the country; with 20 players on a typical roster, that would be 2,000 players and their families coming to a city for a weekend to patronize hotels, restaurants, tourist centers, etc. It seems to me that Savannah has a lot of untapped potential in the youth sport tourism industry; however, there are those from the Chamber who understand the potential and the need, but are hesitant to go in depth about Savannah's deteriorating fields and it's rampant crime.
Last, I have an education background. I taught in Title I schools in Denver for three years before switching careers and getting in the lacrosse industry with both feet (I was always a coach); I understand the need for after school programs and especially for athletics. I have known students, that had it not been for their eligibility being jeopardized, would not have pushed themselves in the classroom to compete on the field or on the court to earn their graduation credits. Furthermore, after school programs will keep kids out of trouble no matter what, but we can't put all of our effort in one basket, as I understand the previous superintendent did; neglecting the student-athletes for those in the arts.
SOUTH: In your opinion, what are the biggest reasons for the growth of lacrosse in our area?
Christian Harris: Lacrosse has been and is the fastest growing sport at the high school and youth levels for nearly twenty years in a row; give or take a year or two that rugby outpaced. It is a fast, action packed sport that contains aspects of hockey, soccer, basketball and football all rolled into one. Major League Lacrosse player and Hall of Famer Kyle Harrison says, "Lacrosse has taken off because it combines the hitting of football, the speed of basketball, and requires the endurance of soccer." It is a finesse sport that allows contact, not the collision contact that football has; it is the fastest sport on two feet, outrunning the soccer players; it is back and forth like hockey and high scoring like basketball. It is, in my humble opinion, impossible to be bored! Not only for the players, but for the fans too. Savannah is prime to embrace lacrosse and I think our growth is only just beginning.
SOUTH: Why do you think that lacrosse has stood the test of time, and has it adapted at all over the years? Do you think that Northerns play the game any different than Southerners?
Christian Harris: Lacrosse is a sacred game; the Native Americans call it "the Creator's Game" and believe it is a gift for us to play, and a gift for the creator to watch us play. There is a ton of history and respect that goes into lacrosse, which I think makes it extra special. I have a tiny bit of Chickasaw blood in me, and I take great pride in the fact that the Chickasaw of Tennessee also played a version of lacrosse, called Toli; Tewaaraton and Baggataway are other names used by the northern Iroquois and Chippewa, respectively.
The game up north is different only because of how long is has been around. Lacrosse in general has been around for a thousand years (it truly is North America's oldest sport); the French-Canadians first saw it played in the late 1600s and called it la crosse because it looked like the Natives were using a bishops' crosse. Up until the 1970s, lacrosse sticks were cut from a single tree and made by an almost shaman type figure; in the 70s with the era of plastics, the sticks were standardized, patented and lighter. In the late 90s, sticks made a revolutionary change in being able to control the ball better, a term called "off-set", and now we have carbon fiber shafts as light as 5 oz, and heads as light as 4.3 oz while still being able to withstand the force of hard checks from opponents. The past ten years has seen incredible advances, thanks in part to the growth of the game on a more national scale.
From Western New York to the Massachusetts Bay area, and the Hudson Valley/Fairfield County in Connecticut (where I grew up) to the Baltimore harbor has been the hot bed of lacrosse for decades. Lacrosse in the northeast is faster, it has more skilled and higher IQ players compared to those that are a bit more physical in the south stemming from the football culture, and a slower, or more "laid back" style of play in the west; the skills and IQ will certainly change with time. However, there are two things that are true for every team; ground balls win games and defense wins championships.
SOUTH: What upcoming events/activities do you have that people can get involved in?
We have year round opportunities; the spring season for K-8th grade boys and girls; summer travel teams with tryouts in April for 8-18 year old boys and girls; a local summer camp hosted by the Head Coach of Army, Joe Alberici in the second week of June; fall ball opportunities for beginners and dedicated players K-12; indoor box lacrosse (5v5 in a concrete hockey rink); and a camp every MLK weekend.
We are three weeks into our spring season and have had a very successful Lowlax Kick Off featuring all of the areas youth teams, club high school teams, varsity high school teams, and four Division II college teams. It has been a ton of fun to see the growth and be a part of the team of passionate people down here that are helping to promote it. We certainly can't wait to see what is else is in store as we #growthegame.
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