Recently, we’ve answered questions such as which college is the best for lacrosse. This article got me thinking of the New York – Maryland lacrosse rivalry, and which area reigns supreme. I decided I wanted to take a look and see exactly, “Where is lacrosse the most popular?”
Here’s how I plan to tackle this question.
First, I will compare the total number of participants in the sport at the youth levels and compare it with the rate at which the sport is growing in the area compared to five years ago. Then, I will also take a look at the number of high school and college teams — whether that is NCAA, NAIA, MCLA, or WCLA — in addition to whether there is a professional lacrosse presence in the area. The success of the college and pro teams will also be taken into consideration in terms of how many championships they have won. Finally, I will look at the percentage of athletes in high school that play lacrosse compared to the total number of athletes in that state.
There are a few things I should mention about how I collected the data.
I referenced 2018-2019 High School Athletics Participation Survey released by the National Federation of State High School Associations for the high school data. This survey broke down not only participation of boys and girls athletes in various sports, but by state as well. The US Lacrosse Participation Reports unfortunately doesn’t give a state-by-state breakdown. Here’s the problem with the NFHS survey: it only reflects data from the state’s high school athletic associations. Makes sense, considering that is what the organization is all about. Anyway, that means that states that haven’t played a sanctioned season of lacrosse at the high school level in the state are not included on the 2018-2019 survey. So, states like Utah that are entering its first season of lacrosse as a sanctioned sport aren’t counted in this survey. While this may leave out some states that could very well be growing at an incredible rate, I don’t think it will eliminate the states where lacrosse is the most popular based on the criteria I have already established.
As a result, I have only included the states with lacrosse sanctioned at the high school level for consideration in the data table below.
Where Is Lacrosse The Most Popular?
New York is the with the most total number of high school athletes participating in lacrosse, as well as number of male high school lacrosse players and the most number of female high school lacrosse players. The also have the largest number of high schools playing lacrosse out of all of the sanctioned states with 314. Not only does New York have the largest amount of players and high schools in the country, but they also have the most NCAA lacrosse teams — men’s and women’s combined number of programs — as well as the highest number of professional lacrosse teams (you can actually see exactly which lacrosse teams are located in each state in our database of NCAA lacrosse teams here). In terms of percentages, New York is fifth out of all of the states in the category of the percentage of male high school athletes playing lacrosse, as well as ninth in terms of women’s high school athletes playing lacrosse.
However, it seems that New York has not only stagnated in its growth in terms of the number of lacrosse players from 5 years ago, but has declined by close to 7 percent from 5 years ago. In terms of the rate of growth of lacrosse in the states we have data for, it ranks 23 out of the 26 states.
Interestingly enough, Colorado is the state at which the total number of lacrosse participants has been declining the most rapidly. Compared to 5 years ago, participation in high school lacrosse has dropped nearly 13 percent among sanctioned high schools in the state. Other states that have seen a decline in participation over the last five years are Maine (-0.42 percent), Connecticut (-3.14 percent), New Hampshire (-4.87 percent), Delaware (-6.86 percent, Vermont (9.25 percent) and New Jersey (-10.90 percent).
Illinois has been the state that has grown the most at the high school level, as they have seen a 649 percent increase in participation among boys and girls combined over the last five years. They went from 973 total athletes participating to 7,290 lacrosse players playing in the Illinois high school sanctioned lacrosse system. Pretty cool!
Ohio is the state that has grown at the second-fastest rate — not counting Arkansas, which has grown by over 500% but in reality has only gained 126 new players — at a 40 percent increase. Missouri is next, as lacrosse among girls high school players has grown 30 percent in the last five years, while there is no data available for boys high school players. Florida (27 percent) and California (26 percent) come in the next two spots.
California is actually the state that has the second-most number of lacrosse players with just over 20,000 athletes in 273 boys and 279 girls high school teams. Both of those numbers of high school teams for boys and girls are both second in the nation in those categories.
Delaware takes the top spot for number of boys athletes playing lacrosse compared to other sports — undoubtedly aided by its small population — while Maryland is the state with the highest percentage of girls athletes playing lacrosse.
New York’s top ranking as the state with the most college lacrosse teams has the Empire State with a national best 150 NCAA lacrosse teams competing. Pennsylvania is second on that list, with 121 teams. Massachusetts is third with 77, while Ohio is actually the state with the fourth-most NCAA lacrosse teams with 51 teams.
Where Lacrosse Is The Most Popular
Based on the above data and insights, it’s pretty clear lacrosse is the currently the most popular in New York based on the total number of high school players and teams, NCAA teams and professional teams. However, it is interesting that the sport has decreased in participation by nearly 7 percent in the last five years. I doubt we will ever see lacrosse have a major decline in New York, and I would expect the sport to continue to be wildly popular there. It makes sense that the state with the highest number of participants would have trouble producing the same amount of growth as newer lacrosse areas, due to the fact that most people in the state are already aware of the sport.
Based on growth statistics, however, it seems like the Midwest is currently the hottest place to be picking up the sport right now. A 649 percent increase in players in five years in Illinois? A 40 percent increase in players in Ohio? It definitely seems to be the trending sport to play if you live in the middle of the country. It would be great to see the data for the number of high school participants at the club levels in other growing states around the country and compare just what the actual rates of growth are in terms of number of lacrosse players at the high school level in any form of competition.
California, of course, has seen an incredible amount of growth itself, growing 26 percent in the last five years and having the second-most number of lacrosse players competing at the high school level.
What really surprised me though, was the 12 percent decrease in participation in Colorado. It would be interesting to see the growth statistics for the youth programs and see exactly if this is a hiccup or a growing trend in the state. I’ve always heard over the last 10-15 years that Colorado has been a hotbed for the sport, and in terms of the total numbers of participation for a team out west, I think that is an accurate statement. Not a good sign, though, if those numbers keep decreasing.
So, I would say that New York is overall the most popular lacrosse state, but Illinois is definitely growing at a rate that is unmatched across the country. Hopefully US Lacrosse will start releasing state-by-state data as part of their US Lacrosse Participation Reports.