When Jenny Thompson joined the Columbia Women’s Lacrosse Team last season, she had a tendency to taunt the opposition from her position as goalie.
Thompson, a thin girl with a pixie haircut, suffers from exercise-induced asthma, but she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her brother, a former Hickman lacrosse MVP.
So she chose to play goalie, and at the end of the season, the senior players gave her a spirit award for having the best roar in the goals.
Like Thompson, many of the girls on the team began playing to continue a family tradition. But the girls may soon have an opportunity their brothers did not — the chance to play MSHSAA-sanctioned lacrosse for their high school.
Sanctioning through the Missouri State High School Activities Association organizes teams throughout the state under the same rules and bylaws. It’s a complicated process, but in Missouri, it’s the main way for athletes and sports teams to earn interscholastic recognition.
In 2006, Nerinx Hall, a private school in Webster Groves, petitioned the MSHSAA to sanction girls lacrosse. The ballot measure passed. As of Jan. 10, there were 24 schools registered to play in the inaugural season, which began last month.
But the Columbia schools are not among them. Sanctioning is good news for schools in St. Louis, where the sport has exploded in popularity. But here, where both Hickman and Rock Bridge have unsanctioned boys teams, the girls citywide team is more complicated.
An unsanctioned team can’t compete against MSHSAA member schools, meaning less competition in an already sparse playing field, said parent coordinator Elaine Jarvis. The team only has five games on its schedule this season, and there are no other teams they can play in mid-Missouri. Jarvis would like to see the Columbia schools pick up lacrosse, but all new sports have to complete an extensive application process that includes an appeal to the school board.
In December, District Athletic Director Bruce Whitesides issued a challenge: Find at least 30 girls each from Hickman and Rock Bridge interested in playing next year.
“For a sport such as lacrosse that has a large number of participants in a game (12 on a team), we need to have enough bodies to field a team and enough team members for credible practices,” Whitesides said. “Lacrosse is a physical game, and injuries do occur. You need enough participants to continue throughout a long season.”
It’s a lofty goal for a team that currently has about half as many players citywide, but players and parents don’t see they have any other option. Jarvis said it’s been difficult coordinating the few games the team does have because most of the teams Columbia Women’s Lacrosse played last year are now sanctioned. More are expected to do so next year.
When the season began at the end of February, the team had managed to secure 30 commitments from players to play next year at Hickman. But only two players on the current team are from Rock Bridge, and only a handful of girls have expressed an interest in playing next year.
Players have had trouble selling a traditionally East Coast game in the Midwest, where most people aren’t familiar with the sport.
“It’s a cross between hockey, field hockey and soccer, but it’s in the air,” said Dana Murdoch, a member of the Columbia Women’s Lacrosse Team.
Team members have appealed to friends at school and distributed information at feeder junior highs, but there’s been less interest than anticipated, Jarvis said.
“They want 30 girls per school, and they’ve only got about 20 in the whole city playing,” said Craig Hurst, president of the Hickman (boys) Lacrosse Club. Hurst has been involved with the team for eight years now, since his oldest son entered in eighth grade.
The girls team is actively recruiting players at Rock Bridge, but even getting its numbers up isn’t a guarantee the team will be sanctioned. Whitesides said there are other considerations, such as funding, the availability of teams to play and the impact on other sports.
Parent coordinators are trying to schedule a meeting with Whitesides to discuss the team’s options. The players say they are excited about the possibility of sanctioning, and Thompson said she looks forward to establishing a crosstown lacrosse rivalry. But it’s the parents who have led the push.
Jarvis said regardless of outcome, the team still has an entire season ahead of it.
“We’re trying to get it sanctioned for schools next year, but we have to focus on this year’s team,” she said. “We’re right on target for growing the sport.”