Lacrosse has been a popular high school sport in the Oak Park area for quite some time. The boys program at OPRF High School dates back to the 1970s, the girls to 2003. Fenwick also fields boys and girls lacrosse programs.

In recent years it looked as if lacrosse would be approved as an Illinois High School Association-sanctioned sport, complete with an official state tournament series. The measure was to take effect by this spring when the season began, but last week it was announced by the IHSA Board of Directors that it would be delayed another year.

“This decision does not change the IHSA’s plan to go forward with a boys and girls lacrosse state series, it just delays it,” said IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman. “This is actually probably a good thing for the long-term health and growth of the sport, which is the exact reason the board placed parameters on the number of teams needed to begin a state series. Our biggest fear would be that we forced things through and tried to start before our schools were ready.”

In October 2009, the IHSA Board approved the start of a lacrosse state series to begin as early as this spring, contingent upon 65 boys teams and 40 girls teams entering into the state tournament. The numbers were there then, and even rose a bit by October of 2010 to 68 boys teams and 42 girls teams. But as of last week only 47 boys teams and 33 girls teams were entered to participate in the state tournament. The IHSA also received confirmations from 14 schools that would not be able to enter into the state series this season, making the team benchmarks impossible to reach by Feb. 1.

“We have been anticipating the jump to IHSA governance for a while,” said Dan Ganschow, the head boys lacrosse coach at OPRF and a member of the IHSA Boys’ Lacrosse Advisory Committee. “However, my disappointment ebbs when I reflect on why we decided to delay the decision; when we make the jump to be supported under the IHSA, we want to do it because it’s best for every team and every school with the best interests of the athletes leading our decisions.”

Katie Simok, the head coach of the girls lacrosse team at OPRF, said that while both programs at OPRF currently adhere to IHSA eligibility rules, having a state tournament series would more than likely boost interest from student-athletes at the school.

“I suspect that we’ll have more girls interested in playing once it becomes IHSA sanctioned. For now, we are happy to see the incredible growth in the Chicago area,” said Simok. “During our first varsity season in 2004 there were only 17 girls programs in the state. To see that it has more than doubled to 42 teams in only five years is amazing.”

The lacrosse season will begin as usual in mid-March. The sport is currently played under the guidance of the Illinois High School Lacrosse Association.

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Brad Spencer

Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...