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Lacrosse 'Years' From Becoming School Sport, Enthusiasts Say

A local lacrosse group is leading a charge to get the club sport recognized as a varsity sport in Pinellas County, but that struggle "has a long way to go," at best.

A group of local lacrosse enthusiasts, coaches and parents met in Clearwater last week to have an update to their struggle to get lacrosse to become a recognized varsity sport in Pinellas County public high schools.

Although the Florida High School Athletics Association (FHSAA) recognizes lacrosse as a sport, only 250 boys and girls teams exist in the state. Only four high schools in the greater Tampa Bay area have a team, all private schools and none are in Pinellas County.

Michael Guju, a real estate lawyer whose son plays for East Lake High School's club lacrosse team, has been the appointed leader of the group and has met with Pinellas County Schools officials to try to find a way to get lacrosse recognized by the school district.

Guju suspected it would be a few years before lacrosse is a recognized varsity sport, a contention Dan Mayer, Palm Harbor club lacrosse coach, seconds.

"It will take several years for this to take place," Mayer said. "I think it has a long way to go."

The key sticking points are the county's rigid centralized funding of sports, which Mayer says is not state mandated, Title IX, a federal law whereby schools must offer equal athletic opportunities for girls' sports as for boys' sports, and funding.

School districts are increasingly being choked by budget cuts and insufficient funding. Pinellas County is no different. Of the three aforementioned issues, funding may be the most critical. 

To see lacrosse become a reality, "we are going to pay for the entire system through fundraising," Guju said. "It has to be an absolute wash or revenue neutral for the school district."

Another sticking point is that the school district wants any team sport to be available to all high schools, not just the handful that can raise enough funds to field a team. Mayer believes that may be negotiable. He argues that not every high school in the county offers golf yet it is recognized as a varsity sport.

Mayer also believes there are more benefits for a student to play (and a school to offer) lacrosse than say, girls' flag football.

"There are no college scholarships being offered for flag football," Mayer said.

Mayer added that outside of football and girls' and boys' basketball, there are no junior varsity sports. Adding lacrosse would offer more sporting opportunities, which enriches both the schools and the students.

The school district is currently undergoing a "bluebook study" of the proposition to see if adding lacrosse as a varsity sport is possible. From there, the issue will be in the hands of the school district's athletic office.

Mayer is expecting an update from the school district later this month.

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