Lacrosse’s Appeal Growing Across Space Coast
By Robert Hughes // May 21, 2012
Sport On Rise Locally
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – There’s something about sporting a black eye that really grabs the attention of a guy.
And so it was when Hunter Montgomery happened upon Tristan Haikonen one day this spring and noticed Tristan had such a shiner.
“Hey, how’d you get the black eye?” was Montgomery’s natural question.
“Oh, I was throwing a ball around with a lacrosse stick,” the fourth-grader said.
Montgomery was taken aback, but not by his accident.
“There’s lacrosse here?” he asked.
Montgomery, a lacrosse player who transferred to Melbourne High School, learned there was indeed youth lacrosse being played in Brevard County and that it had been in Satellite Beach for about five years now.
That revelation led him to sign on to coach youth lacrosse here.
And so it happens that local kids and others are discovering lacrosse, a fast-paced game that was invented by the American Indians and has long been popular in the Northeast.
Viera/Suntree Lacrosse Club President Roger Welton said the game is “spreading like wildfire” across a county where news of its existence is being spread mostly by word-of-mouth. “And I’m absolutely thrilled to see that.”
Vedrana Haikonen, who offered the story of her son Tristan’s black eye to show how that word spreads, said, “Normally, it’ll be a kid walking around with a (lacrosse) stick, and another kid will ask him about it.”
Haikonen serves as president of the Riptide Lacrosse Club, for which sons Tristan and Josh play in Satellite Beach, and so has much interest in seeing the game draw more players.
“Oh, we had these little street signs (promoting the league) that the town keeps pulling up and throwing away,” she said with a laugh, knowing of the town’s rules about signs.
But despite a lack of advertising, kids are discovering lacrosse in Brevard simply because more are playing.
High school lacrosse programs in the county started in 2007, with Melbourne Catholic Central, Holy Trinity Episcopal and Viera HigH School fielding teams.
The next year, current Holy Trinity coach Mike Leary started a youth program in Satellite Beach that drew 90 kids.
The former football coach said he “knew a lot of kids and went around the schools to promote the sport.”
“To be honest, I just pounded the pavement and marketed the game,” he said.
Leary’s marketing paid off, as participation almost doubled the next year and tripled to 270 by 2010. At that point, players came from such a wide area that the program split into clubs in different parts of the county.
With so many youngsters playing the game, pressure mounted for more high schools to field teams.
This year, seven Brevard high schools (MCC, Holy Trinity, Viera, Merritt Island, Satellite, Eau Gallie and West Shore) have lacrosse (six with girls’ teams) with more teams to come.
The appeal of lacrosse for youngsters is obvious to anyone who has seen the game.
Invented by American Indians centuries ago, it is a fast-paced ballgame where players use long sticks (called “crosses”) with baskets on the end for catching and hurling the ball with accelerated speed at small goals. It’s a bit like hockey on foot – without the ice.
Satellite Beach Riptide Coach Sam Costa said, “Lacrosse is hands-down my favorite sport. It has some of the contact of hockey, with the finesse of basketball” that can involve players of any size and shape.
As Welton explained, “If you can’t run so well, we could put you on offense. If you like to run, it’s the middle of the field. And defense is for the big and strong.”
And since lacrosse is new to most kids in the county at this point, the proverbial playing field is leveled for new players who otherwise might be intimidated by competing in a more established sport.
An added bonus is that lacrosse has been added to high school programs without the use of school funds.
“It’s a self-funding sport,” former MCC high Coach Rich Rogers said. “Donations covered the $5 to 6,000 it took for this year. And kids mostly have their own equipment.”
Vedrana Haikonen added that scholarship money is available for players who can’t afford to buy equipment.
All that’s left for more growth in lacrosse is for more kids to discover it.
Second-year Viera/Suntree Viper player Austin Snyder, 14, said a friend introduced him to the game.
Snyder said the attraction to the game for him is “the movement; you’re always moving. After I learned the basics, it kicked in.”
Now he says his friends are asking him to teach them the game.
Snyder’s teammate Kris Perry, 14, was introduced to lacrosse in a less direct manner.
“I’d seen it on ESPN and I wanted to find out about it, see how much fun it is,” he said. “It’s not hard, you’ve just got to get out there and do it.”
Perry, who plans on playing high school football next year, finds lacrosse to be “a mixture of football, basketball, hockey, a little soccer… I put all those things together when I play this game.”
From seeing it on TV and playing fields, local kids are being drawn to lacrosse in many different ways now.
Hopefully, it’s gotten to the point where black eyes and “illegal” signs aren’t necessary to spread the word anymore.
Merritt Island Lacrosse Club — merrittislandlax.com
Satellite Beach Riptide Club — RiptideLaxClub.com
Viera/Suntree Vipers Lacrosse Club — vieralacrosseclub.com