Ten years ago, high school lacrosse in Southwest Florida consisted of one club.
Times have certainly changed, as more and more kids are getting interested in the sport. There are now 11 lacrosse clubs in the area, and two will join the FHSAA next season.
"There is definitely a 'cool' factor in lacrosse," Community School coach Rich Lewton said. "When kids who aren't involved with the team come to see one of our games, they think the sport looks interesting and they come out for the sport."
Lewton's Community School squad is the oldest high school 'club' team, but it's only been around for eight years, and the first two years the team didn't play anything but intrasquad scrimmages.
Lewton, a three-time All-American lacrosse player at Hofstra (N.Y.) in the 1970s, started the club team at Community School when a few of his students asked him about the sport and inquired about getting a team going.
"In those early days, I didn't schedule any out-of-area games because the kids had never played the sport before," he said. "I wanted them to learn the fundamentals and rules of the game before we went up against other clubs. The most discouraging thing you could do to a group of kids who have never played lacrosse is have them lose every game by 20 goals and quickly lose interest. Once the kids were ready, we started getting some out-of-area games."
Initially, Community School had to go to places like Fort Lauderdale for competition. But in the past three years, Southwest Florida has expanded from two teams to 12. Clubs have started this year in Naples, Riverdale, Lehigh and St. John Neumann. Three schools have both boys and girls lacrosse clubs — Barron Collier, Cypress Lake and Fort Myers. A pair of private schools — Community School and Canterbury — will play in the FHSAA next season.
"The ultimate goal is to have all the area clubs sanctioned by the FHSAA," Barron Collier boys coach Jay Black said. "And I believe it will happen sooner than later. The interest is there and many schools are trying to meet the Title IX requirements. One of the last hurdles is getting enough qualified coaches and officials, and more and more people are getting involved on that end."
Black played college lacrosse at East Carolina and is amazed with how the sport has grown in Southwest Florida over the last five years.
"When I came down to Florida, most people didn't even know what lacrosse was," he said. "But I've seen this happen in other areas. Once you bring lacrosse to an area, I've never seen it grow stagnant. People absolutely fall in love with the sport because it combines so many aspects of other sports. It's the second highest growing high school sport in the country behind bowling."
Community School assistant coach Mike Friedmann loves to spread the gospel of lacrosse. He hosts "The Southwest Florida Lacrosse Report with Coach Mike Friedmann" on Comcast Channel 35. The show airs Wednesdays and Saturdays at 9 p.m.
"Anything I can do to spread the word on lacrosse, I'll do," Friedmann said. "It's really amazing how much the sport has grown around here just by word of mouth. I'm just trying to give it some more exposure."
Black said lacrosse is very spectator-friendly, and that the parents of his players have become instant fans of the sport.
"Lacrosse is a sport where there's constant action, everybody's moving," he said. "Plus, there is lots of scoring, which makes it different from soccer. You can get a crazy 17-15 game in lacrosse, but you also have games that are 7-6."
He also says you don't have to be a certain size to play lacrosse.
"You've got kids of all sizes out there," he said. "It's not like football where you have to be a certain size to be successful. We've got bigger kids and smaller kids out there. And since lacrosse is still new to this area, the skill levels are very similar. It's not like up north where a newcomer to the sport might be hesitant to start up because everyone's been playing for 10 years. Here, most kids are very new to the sport so everyone is at the same level."
Barron doubles up Community School
Evan Brezovsky scored two goals to lead Barron Collier to a 4-2 win over Community School in high school lacrosse Monday at Barron Collier.
Tim Andes and John Pyskowski had the other goals, and Sebastian Ramirez, Garrett Munzenrider and Matt Baron each dished out assists for the winners.
Chris Tompkins had a goal and assist for the Seahawks. Mark Aughton scored the other goal, while Wyatt Russo added an assist.