COLUMBIA — Although it is a relatively new sport to the area compared to other parts of the state, youth lacrosse is growing in popularity around mid-Missouri.
The Mid Missouri Lacrosse League, now in its second year, will host Columbia's first youth lacrosse tournament on Saturday at Cosmopolitan Park.
"It came about from a demand of people in the league wanting to keep playing lacrosse," said Kevin Ventrillo, who is set to become the program's president next year.
Columbia residents created the league in 2010 to increase involvement in the sport among children in Columbia and hopefully provide the high school club programs with players who have better skills.
Current MMLL president Stacey Tonyan said the Columbia youth program has grown from 46 members in its first year to 74 players. Players come from Columbia, Jefferson City, Rocheport and other nearby communities, Ventrillo said.
"We are accomplishing our goals in our league," Tonyan said.
The first annual Battle of the Sticks for seventh- and eighth-grade boys programs features three teams from Kansas City, two teams from St. Louis and one team from Columbia.
Ventrillo said the league wants to put on the tournament in the future and hopes it becomes a multiple-day event.
"It's a chance to grow the sport in the middle of the state," Ventrillo said.
Tonyan said teams from Kansas City and St. Louis have an advantage because their players learn the sport at a younger age in more established leagues. Ventrillo and Tonyan agreed that Columbia high school players have had trouble competing with other teams from around the state.
Ventrillo said it is beneficial for players from Columbia and around the state to play different opponents.
"You want to play better competition to create better players," Tonyan said.
Jesse Bunch, who will coach Columbia's team in the tournament, said the league has been successful so far.
"It's definitely helping our high schools," Bunch said.
Columbia's team will also play in the Midwest Cup on June 18 and 19 in Maryland Heights.