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Success within a stick’s length

Local man is building the popularity of lacrosse from school to school and throughout southern Cali

Posted: December 14, 2008 8:50 p.m.
Updated: December 15, 2008 4:56 a.m.
 
Saugus has seen a lot of athletic success recently, and lacrosse is starting to catch on - not only at the school, but across the Santa Clarita Valley.

The Centurions went 10-3 last spring and won the Pacific League, and the foundation was laid by Steve Tyson, who has been a huge force behind bringing the sport to not only the Santa Clarita Valley, but the greater Los Angeles area as well.

In 2002, Saugus joined a group of schools that fielded California Interscholastic Federation-sanctioned lacrosse teams, including Harvard-Westlake, Malibu and Culver City. Other schools, Tyson explains, fielded teams in a different fashion.

"There's a new term called ‘virtual varsity,' where you want to play a varsity program, but you're not varsity-sanctioned yet," he said. "You don't get the P.E. credits, you're not CIF-sanctioned, you don't get to practice during school hours."

Despite those setbacks, more schools are starting lacrosse programs, and Tyson, currently the head coach at Golden Valley after leaving Saugus in the hands of new coach Patrick Campbell, held signups this past Sunday for spring lacrosse.

Slowly but surely, the area is catching up to other parts of California, which boasts the third-largest amount of varsity programs in the country behind New York and Maryland. San Diego and Northern California have had lacrosse for many years, and Orange County started to pick up on the sport shortly before it came to Los Angeles around the turn of the century.

CIF-sanctioned teams generally play anywhere from 10 to 14 games in a season and hold five-day-a-week practices. For teams in the area, a trip to the southern section and state playoffs follow a successful regular season.

There are 12 teams sanctioned by the CIF in the greater Los Angeles area, and Tyson says that 20 percent of the teams in the area are still at club-level.

"Some schools are hesitant," he said. "Some schools are holding out to wait and see how (lacrosse) does."

Tyson expects the numbers to continue to grow, and hopes the compelling nature of lacrosse attracts even more interested parties.

"You sell lacrosse because it's a hugely dynamic game," he said. "You could flip to ESPN and see a game, and all of a sudden, you're going, "Oh, wow, look at that!"

One of the biggest challenges of selling lacrosse is diverting athletes from other sports. Football players often make a year-round commitment, training and lifting weights when they're not in season. More established spring sports, such as baseball, also wall off certain athletes. But Tyson's plan includes imprinting lacrosse on younger players like the other sports do.

"What works is when you go to a school and set up an arrangement with the P.E. teacher and do a demo," he said. "You take a stick and a ball, and you rocket a ball across the gym in junior high, and then you hold the stick up and say, ‘Hey, who wants to try this?' The kids come running out of the bleachers."

Tyson also says that players who may have played their regular sport for the last time during fall or winter are prime candidates.

"Kids who are on their last hurrah in high school are common participants," he said.

The college level is improving out west, too. The Pacific-10 conference now has fully sanctioned women's lacrosse teams, and the men have club teams. Tyson also wants to start girls' lacrosse in the area.

Hopefully, it will blossom the same way the boys' game has.

"It's such a dynamic sport that it's hard not to fall in love with it when you're an athlete," he said.

jgulino@the-signal.com


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