High school lacrosse: UHSAA, lacrosse proponents debate sanctioning the sport in Utah
SALT LAKE CITY — When Holladay resident Tyler Thatcher’s son Chase entered his third-grade lacrosse season five years ago, there were just seven boys in the Olympus team boundaries who wanted to play.
They needed at least three more players to even field a team.
At the time, the group had to combine with six boys from Skyline to create a full roster.
Last year, however, it was a completely different story.
In the Olympus boundaries alone, there were 96 participants in Chase's eighth-grade group.
Lacrosse, considered a high school club sport in this state because it is not sponsored by the Utah High School Activities Association, has grown exponentially over the last few years. Its popularity is evident all along the Wasatch Front.
From Cache Valley to the southern end of Utah County, there are currently 39 Utah boys varsity teams and 41 JV squads, as well as 30 girls varsity programs and 17 JV teams participating under the umbrella of the Utah Lacrosse Association.
Last school year, Olympus' girls team had more participants than any other girls sport at the school and the boys team was second only to football. Together, the lacrosse rosters were made up of more than 100 Olympus High students.
So much interest in the sport begs an obvious question: Why is lacrosse not sanctioned by the UHSAA?
Part of the reason is a moratorium currently restricting the state association's board of trustees from making any changes.
The UHSAA is under a self-imposed sanctioning freeze, which was put into effect nearly four years ago as schools struggled to finance the existing 20 sports and three activities of drama, speech and theater.
"We have nearly 90,000 participants in those things that we already sponsor and our member schools were a little hesitant at that time bringing on more activities," said Rob Cuff, the executive director of the UHSAA. "All of that takes dollars out of some budgets and, at the time, schools were losing money."
The moratorium does not have a set expiration date. Rather, if the ADEC, a committee of athletic directors that serves as a filter for the board of trustees, is presented with a compelling and organized proposal about adding a sport, ending the moratorium could be put to a vote.
"We haven’t said nobody can approach the board," Cuff said. "What we’re saying is, (the moratorium) would have to be lifted in order for you to be approved."
Nearly a decade ago, the ULA did approach the board of trustees with a proposal to add lacrosse. At the time, the girls program was not ready and the board did not want to add one program without the other.
Since that time, the sport has been gaining popularity among both girls and boys, and the ULA is exploring its options.
"We have had conversations with the UHSAA on what sanctioning would mean," said Josh Elder, the former commissioner over boys high school lacrosse with the ULA. "Sanctioning has both pros and cons."
Cuff, Elder, and Thatcher each cited benefits and challenges that would come from sanctioning lacrosse and from maintaining the status quo.
The most crucial requirement for any sport looking to join the UHSAA is adhering to its handbook — a 130-page document that outlines the guidelines and interpretations for all sanctioned sports and activities.
"That’s one of the pros or cons, however you want to look at it, in joining our association," said Cuff. "All of our bylaws would have to be abided by if a sport is added."