For a game so old, lacrosse in the Lowcountry is in its infancy.
When Jeff Richardson, the assistant lacrosse coach at Wando High School, moved to the area six years ago, there was one adult club lacrosse team. When Kari Moss began working with the Mount Pleasant Recreation Department in 2009, there were no recreation leagues.
Now, there are roughly 1,000 boys and girls as young as 5 competing in lacrosse leagues in Charleston and Mount Pleasant and on numerous travel squads that participate in tournaments throughout the Southeast.
Wando, Academic Magnet, Bishop England and Porter-Gaud have high school teams, and Wando won last year’s state lacrosse championship.
“I would say it’s the fastest growing sport in the area,” said Jay Ward, who oversees the Mount Pleasant Recreation Department’s lacrosse program. “This is my 15th year with the department, and you never saw anyone walking around with a lacrosse stick. Now, you’ll go to a football game and there will be kids on the sides throwing lacrosse balls. You see lacrosse goals in people’s backyards.”
Moss, who just left the Mount Pleasant Recreation Department and is moving to Germany, was a college coach for six years.
“When I moved here, there was an instructional league with Jeff Richardson, so we had a database,” Moss said. “It took off like wildfire. I think we had 230 the first year. The next year, there were 400-plus. It’s grown pretty quickly.”
The sport began with the American Indians but only recently started to enjoy popularity in the Southeast.
Tom Harris, who co-owns Lowcountry Lacrosse in Mount Pleasant with Jeff Mayer, says lacrosse has elements of many sports, including football, soccer, basketball and hockey. Teams have 10 players: three defenders, three attackers and three mid-fielders along with a goalie.
Precision passing can lead to shots at a small goal, just like in hockey.
“You have plays, offenses just like in basketball. It’s a very fast, high-scoring sport. A typical game is 11-10,” Harris said.
There is a major difference between lacrosse and field hockey. In lacrosse, the ball is carried in a mesh basket attached to a stick. In field hockey the ball is struck with the stick, similar to ice hockey.
Richardson said he began a summer lacrosse program with 35 kids shortly after moving here. He and Jeff Mayer approached the Mount Pleasant Recreation Department about running a league, but the department was reluctant. The need was demonstrated through the formation of lacrosse travel teams, and now games are held twice a week during the March and April season in Mount Pleasant, Charleston and Daniel Island.
Members of that first team were part of Wando’s state championship team.
“The sport is here to stay,” Richardson said. “Kids are excited about it and their parents, too. It’s growing by leaps and bounds.”
While the majority of players are boys, there are a fair number of girls who also participate in lacrosse, Moss said.
The girls’ game is not as physical with an imaginary bubble surrounding the player so opponents cannot tackle them.
One of the biggest problems is finding qualified coaches who can teach participants the proper techniques at a young age.
“There are fundamentals you can only learn when you’re young and rise up with it,” said Harris, who played collegiate lacrosse. “We’re doing a great job of teaching our youth the right way and they’re growing up in the game.”
The Charleston area is doing well. Harris said lacrosse in Charleston is the best in South Carolina with aspirations of becoming as strong as Charlotte or Atlanta.