Lacrosse Continues Slow, Steady Growth Among Area High Schools

12:51 PM, May 23, 2011   |    comments
Two-time defending Va. state lacrosse champ, Langley, advances to the 2011 state title game versus Chantilly, the 2008 state title holder.
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One of the more unique functions of PLUG ALERT--is the Massey Ratings.

The Massey Ratings are the brain child of Kenneth Massey, one of the mysterious "Wizards of Oz" omnipresent figures who created a formula that factors statistics, strength of schedules, how nifty a uniform is, the position of the Moon, and assorted other random elements that all result in the BCS rankings in college football.

As flawed as the process of ranking college football teams according to pure numbers is, the Massey Ratings are a handy tool when we rank high school teams.  Humans are quite capable to evaluate and rank teams in a world where every college football game from the spring scrimmage to the mid-January bowl game is televised.  But if I'm a Damascus High graduate living out in Oregon, how will I know how my Swarmin' Hornets rank against Quince Orchard this year? You have no way to see the team for yourself.  And Voila!  A handy set of rankings of the top teams in a given state (or a certain District of Columbia). 

The Massey Ratings are pretty accurate considering they use numbers and rankings that to this day, remain a mystery to me. I guess my rank doesn't cover learning the Massey process. 

Surveying the Massey Ratings for boys and girls lacrosse in our region of DC, Maryland, and Virginia, a couple items of note will pop out at you.

  1. The District's public schools are still working on establishing lacrosse in their league so the rankings in DC are all made up of private schools in the District (Gonzaga) and the top private teams in the Virginia (St. Stephen's/St. Agnes) and Maryland (Landon).
  2. Maryland is so stacked with top-flight lacrosse elsewhere in the state that local teams are shut out of the top five teams in the state...while said local teams-private schools in Maryland i.e. Georgetown Prep-are sitting pretty in the Massey's Rankings top national rankings (I have no clue why this is the case.  Why don't you call up Kenny Massey and tell me what he says.)
  3. Not counting the top couple teams in Virginia that are double-dipped in Virginia and in the District, almost all the rest of the teams in the state are from Northern Virginia.

Let's look at point two and point three and then factory in some history.

Note: The rest of this column will be purely focusing on the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) and the Virginia High School League (VHSL).  Private schools draw from a much wider base of students, hence making any conclusions about anything pretty weak.  The public schools in each state draw from a fixed pool of athletes; hence a region's success is decided upon what kind of kids come out for February try-outs.

According to the MPSSAA record books, boys and girls lacrosse wasn't a state-sanctioned sport until 1990 and in the twenty years of MPSSAA state tourneys, no Montgomery, Frederick, or Prince George's County team has ever won the state title. 

It is the complete inverse across the Potomac and Anacostia.  Northern Virginia teams for boys have won every state champion in lacrosse since the VHSL's inception of the sport back in 2006.  And it was just last year for the first time a non-Northern Region team on girls' side brought home a title.  Needless to say, Northern Virginia has the sport down on lock just as much as the Virginia Beach-area schools have had a lock on football in last couple years. 

But whereas in Maryland when there is a much wider field of participants, Virginia only offers one classification of lacrosse. 

The VHSL has only 68 member schools that offer boy's lacrosse while 67 schools offer girl's lacrosse.  The most popular sports for boys--football at 301 schools--and for girls--soccer at 268 schools--are typically are the most competitive. 

More people mean more money raised and allocated for the sport.  There aren't enough schools playing lacrosse for the state's governing body to invest in the infrastructure for the sport, which is an expensive one. In a time where budget cuts are cutting swaths of after-school activities wholesale, it's a testament of the passion of lacrosse that it's continuing to be successful enough to be recently recognized by the VHSL. 

Speaking of passion, lacrosse is right up there with the more popular sports, as there are national lacrosse tournaments and showcases for students to participate in. 

But looking at the big picture - I'm a big picture kind of guy - I'm sorry to break it to you lacrosse fanatics, lacrosse is largely a mercurial sport.  (I come from California where water polo matches draw a decent crowd so I'm familiar with regional sports).  It's going to take a long time for the sport to gain a foothold before it's seen more than just football in sticks (which interestingly enough is not the case as football is a power sport while lacrosse is more aligned with speed and finesse a la basketball.  Basketball with pads?) 

"Baseball, basketball, and football are so dominant (south of Richmond), so it's tough outside for the other sports to take hold," said Marshall head coach Andrew Freeman out of Falls Church, Va.   

For the time being, I can't foresee any huge paradigm shifts in Virginia as there simply isn't enough participation at the state level.  68 schools statewide?  Also, the state actively looks to ensure the insane popularity of football and basketball, hence condemning a slow growth of the sport as it's packed in a busy spring sports schedule. 

As for Maryland, the field is much more wide-open.  Local teams have challenged for state titles, but have never finished the job.  It's due to happen eventually with Wootton coming up short again in the state-semis for the sixth-straight season. Regardless of Massey Ratings, I think it's safe to lump in good teams like Wootton's boys or Churchill's girls with the rest of the state as very good teams. 

Aside from thinking the random actor in 2005's high-grossing comedy "Wedding Crashers" flubbed his lines.  He touts "Crabcakes and football!  That what Maryland does!" 

Dude should have slid in lacrosse in there somewhere. 

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