In Florida, football is king and there is no sport that comes remotely close. However, that is not stopping lacrosse enthusiasts from trying to land a foothold in the Sunshine State, and specifically in Pinellas County.
The sport, which is wildly popular on the amateur level in the Mid-Atlantic states, the northeast, the Carolinas and in pockets of the Midwest, is slowly gaining ground in Florida.
Small clubs have popped up throughout the Tampa Bay area, and some municipalities offer the sport.
Lacrosse is also gaining some, albeit limited, interest in high schools. Recently, lacrosse was elevated on a state level from a club sport to a varsity sport by the Florida High School Athletics Association. Club sports, such as hockey, are not recognized by the FHSAA.
Despite the blessing of the FHSAA, lacrosse is not that popular among high schools statewide. There are a total of 250 high school lacrosse teams in Florida; 137 boys teams and 113 girls teams. Mostly the schools with teams are from highly populated areas of the state (specifically South Florida, Orlando, Jacksonville, Fort Myers area, Gainesville and Tallahassee).
Tampa Bay Area Schools Are Making a Case
Despite lacrosse club teams dotting the Tampa Bay area, only four schools (Berkeley Prep, Cardinal Mooney in Sarasota, Jesuit and Tampa Catholic) have lacrosse teams that compete with FHSAA-sanctioned schools. Each of the four schools is a private school.
A group of lacrosse enthusiasts hopes to change that. Tonight at 6 p.m. at Pappas Ranch Steakhouse and Bar, 2630 Gulf to Bay Blvd. in Clearwater, coaches, parents and fans will hold a meeting to discuss ways to generate enough interest to have Pinellas County schools host lacrosse teams as a varsity sport.
Drew Wagner, the coach of Clearwater High School's club lacrosse team, isn't sure whether finances are the reason lacrosse is shut out in Pinellas County.
"I'm not sure, that's what we hope to find out," Wagner said. "We really don't know the reason yet. This is one of the things we are trying to figure out."
Pinellas Group Wants to Take Issue to School Board
The group hopes to have the subject placed on the agenda of the Pinellas County School Board for its May 22 meeting.
There is a similar effort in Hillsborough County to have public schools recognize lacrosse as a varsity sport. Wagner said a Hillsborough County group has been working "for six months, maybe a year" in their efforts to rise from a club sport to a varsity sport.