The game took place at Cosmopolitan Park, on a field that overlooked the flowered graves of Memorial Park Cemetery. There was only one set of bleachers, so many fans brought folding chairs, or stood.
This was high school lacrosse.
Hickman defeated Rock Bridge 18-10 on Friday. It was a lopsided game that reflected Hickman’s dominance in the annual matchup. Hickman has won the game every year since the two schools formed separate clubs. However, the two schools have only been playing the sport since 1999, when both schools were part of the Columbia Lacrosse Club. The schools split in 2003, and both joined the Missouri Scholastic Lacrosse Association.
Only 34 Missouri high schools have lacrosse teams, and every team participates as a club sport. Most of the schools that have teams are in St. Louis and Kansas City and, because of that, Rock Bridge and Hickman have combined to play nine games in either St. Louis or Kansas City. Hickman and Rock Bridge are also in a conference with Rockhurst, Pembroke Hill, and Springfield, all of which are 100 miles away or more.
“We play almost all the games on the weekend,” Hickman coach Jamie Mullen said. “It’s attractive to them (schools from St. Louis or Kansas City) to come play us because we’re half way between St. Louis and Kansas City. We have an attractive setup at Cosmo.”
Although Mullen thinks the setup is attractive, it is also far away for players and fans. The Kewpies have tried to negotiate with the school in order to play games at the school’s field, but they have been unable to persuade administrators
“We’ve been working on it,” Hickman player Thomas Eckles said. “They’ve considered it, but girls soccer games sometimes interfere.”
The Kewpies aren’t allowed to practice at home, either. The team practices at a field located behind the Activity and Recreation Center.
“The field is kind of crappy, but we make due,” Eckles said.
The logistics of travel have been difficult on the lacrosse team, but the high price to join has been devastating. It can cost hundreds of dollars for a player to join a team.
Eckles said that money issues keep many players away from the sport. He knows one person, in particular, who would have played if not for the high price of the game.
“We would have one of the biggest kids at our school play, if he didn’t have money issues,” he said.
Lacrosse skills also take time to develop. Mullen said it takes an entire year for athletes to get acclimated to the stick.
“There’s quite a bit of learning process,” he said. “There are little quirks that give people an advantage, but people need to learn the techniques.”
With all of the downsides to lacrosse, it’s surprising that the sport is continuing to grow. The Kewpies have 60 players spread out among their varsity, junior varsity, and freshman teams. Area coaches are also in talks to start a youth league in Columbia.
“We feel like lacrosse is a good sell,” Mullen said.
Eckles has been playing lacrosse since sixth grade. He had four goals and three assists against Rock Bridge, and said that he loves the sport.
“It’s fast-paced and you get to hit people,” he said. “It’s the best.”