Editor’s Note: The Anti-Hotbeds Of Lacrosse Series was written by Richard Roy, Head Coach of Nadzitsaga-Harney Lacrosse in Oregon, Kevin Flynn, Head Coach of Hellgate Lacrosse in Montana and Alex Alviar, Head Coach of 10Sticks Lacrosse in Montana. The posts provide a deep look into the heart of lacrosse, and growing the game, in some of the most challenging places in the United States: isolated, Western towns and Native American Reservations.
In this three part series, each Coach will lay out their team’s situation and history, but they will also fill you in on what they have learned from these situations, and how it can be applied to the larger game. The challenges they have faced have helped them see what is important and what is not, and each part of the series will make you think.
First up is Richard Roy of Nadzitsaga-Harney Lacrosse in Oregon.
Much is written about the growing popularity of lacrosse, lacrosse in the hotbeds of Baltimore, Long Island, upstate and central New York, Philadelphia, Northern Virginia, etc. There is even more being written about the explosion of lacrosse in “new” hotbeds like Denver, Portland, Oregon, Southern California, Atlanta, etc.
As lacrosse people, we applaud the growth of the game. But we coaches that moved to isolated western communities, from more traditional lacrosse regions, and started programs, are taking this opportunity to tell our stories about an aspect of the growth of the game that urban/suburban/hotbed players, coaches, fans and administrators likely never face:
Getting totally overwhelmed by the hardships and obstacles our programs must deal with just to play a game. We are also taking this opportunity to express serious concerns over the “path” the game is taking and the erosion of its soul.
Nadzitsaga-Harney Lacrosse has been part of the Oregon High School Lacrosse Association, and playing in the High Desert Conference, since 2008 along with six other central/northeast Oregon programs. Our lacrosse program started because I was asked by a prominent member of the Burns Paiute Tribe to “teach us our game” after it became known I was from “back East” and played college lacrosse.
I grew up in New Hampshire at a time when lacrosse was strictly a “prep” school sport and it was near impossible, or at least extremely difficult, for a kid to play the game if they were not enrolled in one of these New England prep schools. Our lacrosse program started out as a partnership between the Burns Paiute Tribe, the Harney County Commission on Children and Families, and the Boys and Girls Club of Harney County.
The word “Nadzitsaga” is the name of the ancient Northern Paiute “ball and stick” game. The local Burns Paiute Tribe (Wadatika Band of the Northern Paiute Nation) requested that we incorporate the name of their ancient and traditional game into our program. The Paiute Tribal Government and Administration has been very supportive of the lacrosse program and we have had several tribal members play on the high school and youth teams.
We do not use the name of the high school (Burns High School) primarily over local “political” issues regarding the concerns of some locals that the lacrosse program would seek very limited funds from the school district to help fund the sport. It is a hot button issue as all schools in this district already have four-day school weeks because of funding issues.
However, we do get considerable support from the school district administration and AD in the form of no-cost access to multiple fields for practices and games, early release for away games, inclusion in the yearbook, morning announcements, etc.
As one former school district administrator told me, “lacrosse has increased the involvement of the student body in a positive extracurricular activity, and we now have almost 70% of our kids doing something constructive after school.” We are now being included in the school district’s concussion testing program, required grade check and drug testing programs like the other sponsored sports teams.
But just being accepted isn’t our only issue.
The combined population of the cities of Burns/Hines is about 4,700 people. The total population of Harney County is less than 7,000 people. Now get this: Harney County covers an area larger than the state of New Hampshire. The unemployment rate has varied from 18 to 25% over the last decade or so. There are far more cows in this area than people!
The nearest community of over 5,000 people is Bend, Oregon 129 miles west (population >80,000). The nearest WalMart is 135 miles away. There are two high schools in the entire county; Burns High School with an enrollment of about 300 students and Crane Union High School with an enrollment of approximately 80 students.
Crane High School is also one of the last remaining public boarding high schools remaining in the United States. Some Crane students’ home’s (i.e., ranches) may be 50-75 or more miles away and the students stay in dormitories during the school week beginning their freshman year and return home to work on their ranches on the weekends.
The “high school” lacrosse team (Harney) travels over 4,000 miles in a season to play a 13 to 15 regular season game schedule and a tournament or two. If we make the post season, like we have the last three seasons, we travel an additional 650 to 750 miles round trip to play one of the large Portland Metro area schools and get summarily “run off the field”. We are the self-proclaimed “hicks with sticks.”
We typically have 14-16 players on the high school team and 12-18 playing youth lacrosse (6-8th). This year we also have over 300+ kindergarten through fifth grade students playing soft lacrosse in PE class at the Slater Elementary School. As of the spring of 2012, all Burns School District students (elementary, middle school and high school) are now exposed to the game lacrosse through PE.
Over a two week period in April of 2012 we had over 400 school district students playing lacrosse multiple days a week from kindergarten through high school. I think this lacrosse program has a solid future and will experience some significant growth over the next few years.
In the past we had to draft parents to help provide transportation to and from games for the high school team. In 2012 we purchased a “retired” 21 passenger airport shuttle style bus to transport the high school team without depending upon parents to provide transportation. Our annual operational budget ranges from $7,500 to $10,000. Most of these funds go to pay for hotels and gas. No funds go to compensating coaches or Parent Board members.
The Nadzitsaga Lacrosse program certainly focuses on teaching proper lacrosse technique and skills. We actually attempt to emulate the Tufts University model of lacrosse. By the fall of 2012, we will have had seven players go on to college to play lacrosse back east. However, there is an even amount of teaching the roots of the game, the culture of the game, character, leadership, responsibility and accountability. We are far more than Xs and Os.
We pray a traditional prayer of thanks giving prior to every game, and we also pray after the contest. Each fall we hold more traditional lacrosse games (Medicine Games) in cooperation with the local Paiute Tribe to help teach the origin and history of the game to the local community, local players, and players that come from other programs that probably do not get much exposure to the origin and history of the game.
We stay away from the ever-growing emphasis on “veneer, superficialiality and window dressing” that is becoming the definition of the game. In our opinion, there is less and less substance in the game and more concern about “tilt and swag” than the roots and meaning of the game.
There are way too “Ken” dolls on the field that are too worried about making a “fashion” statement, and less are concerned with respecting the origins and meaning of the game. Much of this, in my opinion, is driven by lacrosse-product manufacturers that value profit over the traditions and meaning of the game.
Our view of, and what we promote as a “complete” lacrosse player includes excellence in the classroom, community involvement, leadership, excellence on the practice and playing field, and honoring and respecting the roots of the game. We do not need more “dumb jocks” running around the lacrosse field, we have enough real problems already.
Thanks to Michelle Steinbeck for the photos and for chaperoning the road trip!