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The Burbidge Beat: 4 Tips For Having Your School Sanction Lacrosse

It hurts! That’s it.  Sometimes progress hurts.

That’s my disclosure for this article. It has been pretty easy for many of us in the lacrosse community up to this point.  We have had great people come before us and fight the fight, now we reap the rewards of the years of building by others. UHSAA’s decision to sanction lacrosse is a significant step for the sport in Utah.  There are some programs that are concerned and are commenting that “sanctioning doesn’t work for our program” and they freak out. They start to worry about stuff they either cannot control, they do not have the knowledge to manage, or things they just don’t know exist. My message, don’t bury your head in the sand with “I think” or “maybe” when talking about your program. Rather, take the initiative and figure out how sanctioning will benefit your program and how you can help your program prosper under sanctioning. To use a multi-billion dollar slogan, “Just do it.” (No endorsements paid for this article)

I was speaking with Craig Morris the other day about a few issues with sanctioning and he told me that the UHSAA officially announced lacrosse as a spring sport. For many of us, that only makes sense but this is just one of many things that have to be worked out on a state level and within the context of where does lacrosse fit in the UHSAA system. It’s simple, but it has to be figured out to work with the whole system of sports and activities.

Why do we as community care about this decision? This decision triggers most everything in the next part of the process. The Board of Trustees sends the notice out that lacrosse is considered a spring sport, districts can plan for discussions to offer lacrosse, if they haven’t already. Schools can start to prepare for the adjustments as or if needed.

I have had so many calls and emails; it’s incredible to see that sanctioning is so “top-of-mind” for so many people.  The first and most often asked question I received from the lacrosse community is, “Can a school district not recognize the state sanction and not add the sport to the school(s) program?” The answer is yes.

Even with the recommendation of the UHSAA a district or sometimes school can decide not to offer lacrosse as a varsity sport. Once the UHSAA sanctioned lacrosse, it was and is still up to the Districts to decide to offer it to the schools; then the schools have to decide if it makes sense to offer it to the student body as a varsity sport.  This prompts the next question, what’s going to happen to my school’s program?

In the first paragraph of this week’s article I was giving some sage advice, or maybe just my opinion. The advice, roll up your sleeves and get to it. Too many of the people I speak to say that they heard that this-and-that would happen. When I ask where they heard it from, it is usually something they hear from someone else who heard it from someone very important.

I think we need to take a different approach, one that gets the knowledge we need and creates action in the process. Here are my four steps to success. You don’t need to call a 1-800 line or register online for the secrets, this is straightforward, and anyone can do it.

Have a functioning parent board

First, go to your club lacrosse board, you should have a group of parents that take a ton of time out of their lives to make sure the organization runs smooth. Ask them if they KNOW what’s going on with your program. You will find one of two things. First, do you have a board and is it functioning effectively? Second, is the board planning ahead to at least 2020 or are they just holding on for this year? You have to have a board that is functioning for boys, girls, and youth. They may be separate entities, but you have to have them if you want to be successful. These boards will more than likely become the booster clubs of 2020 or whenever your school offers a varsity program. If you board is one person, get it changed. If your board is the non-functioning type, volunteer. Yes, I swore, I used the word “volunteer.”

Work with other programs

Second, ask your boards to contact other boards to find out what they are doing. What can the boards do together to find out what needs to be done to assure that the district and schools offer lacrosse as a varsity sport? Power comes in numbers; they can mobilize and utilize common resources and draw on each other for more influence and power. Lacrosse is a big community that is amazingly diverse; we need to tap into this force more often.

Have a ‘unified message’

This is from Brian Barnhill, who has had to run a board on both the high school and college level. Brian’s advice is to “create a unified message” for your program that can be shared by the board and each parent who is speaking with the district or school. The boards will want to have a clear message, have factual support for their meeting with anyone that can make a difference. Walking in with a message of a “we want lacrosse as a varsity sport at our school because we want it” won’t work.  Lacrosse boards should be armed with numbers of students who participate in youth level lacrosse, numbers for lacrosse of both girls and boys if applicable, and how many students from the school/district participate. The trend of growth is on a hockey stick trajectory, and they should have that type of information available and assembled in a coherent, unified message. The message should be one that all the lacrosse boards in the district use. The message should be something easy to remember and understand that relates to your school and district even if you don’t know the sport of lacrosse.

Be willing to negotiate

Fourth, make sure to address the concerns of the districts and schools. When the sanctioning committee was giving presentations to the UHSAA, the message was always about how can the sport of lacrosse help benefit the players, school, and area. The concerns of the members and schools were pretty universal. The cost to implement lacrosse, field space usage, and the effects lacrosse would have on the other programs and school as a whole. There were others, but those were the core issues. The committee addressed them in clear, easy to understand ways. They didn’t always solve them, but they made sure the UHSAA knew we understood the issues and were willing to work within the parameters needed. We needed the camel’s nose in the tent.

If you reach out to me, I would be more than happy to let you see the presentation outline we gave to the UHSAA. It never changed at the core; it had to address the concerns that the UHSAA has to maintain a top-tier program and to abide by tested rules. The most significant concern was how best to help the education-based athlete succeed.

I know we have outliers that don’t fit this mold we have been discussing. I will try and address them and other issues like: What happens to the freshman teams? Will there be a co-op rule? What happens to school teams that are not included? Look for later articles.

Remember, there are so many people willing to help, ready to roll up their sleeves with you and your program, we just need to start asking each other.

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