Local passion for lacrosse is exploding

  • Written by Derek Johnson

LaCrossePhoto by Derek Johnson. Andy Farrington (center) coached the Woodinville 7/8s to a perfect 15-0 record this year and the GELL Championship. For decades, the prevailing image of lacrosse players was that of East Coast kids playing on the posh campuses of their boarding schools. 

But over the past decade, that viewpoint is giving way to the new reality: The popularity of lacrosse is exploding everywhere, especially in Western Washington.

In an age where baseball’s allure is on the wane among teenagers, lacrosse is stepping in to fill the void. Kids find it more exciting than soccer because it’s faster with much more scoring. Parents find it safer than football and are extremely open to letting their sons (and daughters) play.

About 10 years ago, two former lacrosse players from the University of Albany, Ian O’Hearn and John Baumann, came to Seattle and wanted to spread their passion for lacrosse.

They helped establish Bellevue as a local powerhouse, with a club that catered from kindergarten all the way through high school

Over the past decade, Woodinville’s involvement in lacrosse has gone through several permutations. They were part of Eastside Lacrosse, until Woodinville banded together with Bothell and Inglemoor to create their own club, North Shore Lacrosse

Then in 2009, Woodinville made the bold move to leave North Shore and form their own club.

Gavin Molitor, an English teacher at Woodinville and former lacrosse player, agreed to become head coach of a high school team.

Woodinville’s program now consists of a 3/4 grade division, a 5/6 grade division and a 7/8 division. These teams serve as a feeder program for Woodinville’s high school team and as a member of the Greater Eastside Lacrosse League, or GELL.

"Our goal is to win high school state championships," Woodinville lacrosse booster Gary Bamesberger said. "Our journey is to take our kids and our community to that playing level.

"Bellevue, Mercer Island and Issaquah have been the programs that really created the horsepower for lacrosse to happen in the Northwest," he said. "Many people have participated in getting it going, but certainly the Bellevue-Mercer Island rivalry has been really good for lacrosse in the Northwest.

"What’s happening is that lacrosse is spreading across the state and it’s the fastest growing sport in the country by far. It’s growing like crazy. It’s both a boys and girls sport. It has a lot of cool things to it. Kids are flocking to it."

Bamesberger was asked to get more specific.

"The action appeals the most. For the boys, it’s aggressive. There’s obviously some hitting involved here and there. But it’s also a skill sport. You have to learn how to pass and catch. Just being a big strong bulldog is not going to win you games. Some of the better teams around here really articulate the finesse game by passing and quick ball movement. And it’s just a lot of fun. It’s a really good time out on the field."

Looking forward, Bamesberger foresees continued growth.

"Our schedule looks very much like a football schedule," he said. "We play Bellevue, Skyline, Issaquah. It’s just like a football program in that way. Our kids are building rivalries. We look at the programs that are doing well and it’s a challenge to get to that level.

"Some kids just lock in and get going and develop their skills. It’s a lot of fun."

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