Letter: To CHS, keep lacrosse
To the editor, When I was 16 years old, I moved from West Point, New York to Clinton, South Carolina. Suddenly, weekends riding the train to New York City became weekends driving to the Laurens Walmart.
To say I suffered from culture shock would be an understatement! But something amazing happened that year. Despite having known each other since they were born, a group of girls at Clinton High School welcomed me with open arms. With their support and acceptance, I found the courage to forge a new life in a southern town, and to introduce my friends and Clinton High to a “northern” sport: lacrosse.
Today I live in Nashville, Tennessee where I work as a journalist and middle school lacrosse coach. When I heard that Clinton High is considering replacing its lacrosse program with girls soccer, I couldn’t sit back without making an effort to explain why that would be a mistake—for the school and the community. Adding soccer is a wonderful idea, simply not at the expense of lacrosse.
Lacrosse originated among Native Americans as a war game played between tribes across hundreds of miles, as a way to settle disputes and conquer new lands. Fast paced and high-scoring, it’s a sport that is preeminent in the Northeast and growing nationwide, particularly in the South and Midwest.
According to NFHS data, 38 schools and 1,600 students in South Carolina participate in lacrosse, and those numbers are growing nearly 19 percent per year. There are very few schools in the South that can say they’ve had a lacrosse program for more than a decade—Clinton should see it as a point of pride that it is on the forefront of that national trend.
Over the last 12 years, lacrosse has provided confidence and diversity of experience to countless women at Clinton High School. In the coming weeks, I expect many will share their experiences first hand. But in the meantime, the community needs to make a decision based on (1) what is best for female students at CHS, (2) what is best for the school, and (3) what is best for the community.
First and foremost, it is in the best interest of female students at CHS to keep the program in tact. Lacrosse provides a rigorous athletic experience for girls who otherwise might not choose to play a sport.
In the spring of 2004, when I told a neighbor I was starting a lacrosse team at Clinton High, he said, “you’ll never get those girls to run.” I took great pleasure in proving him wrong. That charter team was a hodgepodge of players: cheerleaders who’d never played a team sport; non-athletes who found they were assertive and skilled; a shy, book-smart valedictorian who donned goalie pads and faced fierce competition. We lost every game that season. But we played our hearts out. And we had fun doing it.
Soccer is a great sport revered around the world—and I look forward to the day when Clinton High offers that sport to its female athletes as well—but it is also very intimidating to girls who haven’t played before. It is a low-scoring game, with long stretches of intense running.
Girls often begin soccer training at a very young age. By the time a student reaches 7th, 8th, 9th grade—if she hasn’t played youth soccer, it’s unlikely she will pursue soccer at the high school level.
Lacrosse, on the other hand, is adaptable for girls of all sizes and different strengths, and offers a rare opportunity for girls to step up and try something new. These days, it’s hard to find that kind of opportunity at the high school level.
Since lacrosse is a relatively new sport in the area, students who play will be given opportunities to participate at a higher level; several alumni have played club lacrosse in college, others are now coaching. By offering lacrosse, Clinton offers its young women a chance to grow.
Second, Clinton High School has and will continue to benefit from offering lacrosse. I’ve been told that demographics in Clinton have changed and that with only 800 students at CHS, there may not be enough interest to field both soccer and lacrosse teams.
While it’s easy to expect that adding a new sport will deplete the roster of another team, that simply isn’t the case. If coaches work together to empower all of the girls at the school—there is no reason that CHS can’t field both teams.
Research is clear on the benefits of athletic competition, exercise and camaraderie on learning, retention and graduation rates. Fielding more athletic teams is better for Clinton High School, school spirit, and for the emotional, physical and mental health of the students that play.
Finally, offering lacrosse is best for the Clinton community as a whole. Today, lacrosse growing at a faster rate than any other U.S. sport, soccer included. Offering both lacrosse and soccer to its young people shows that Clinton is a town that is progressive, moving forward, and alive with the trends of the country.
Clinton is working hard to recruit new businesses to the community and new faculty and staff to Presbyterian College—like my father, back in 2003. Lacrosse at the high school will be a welcome recruiting point to people and businesses from other regions in the nation.
Without a doubt there are obstacles to keeping the lacrosse program at Clinton High. Whether it’s difficult to find coaches, fund programs, or recruit athletes—I encourage the leaders of the school and the district to be outspoken about those obstacles, so the community can be creative and innovative in overcoming them.
I’ve been told that without a certified state championship, the sport is “less meaningful.” Perhaps Clinton, with the support of Presbyterian College, should host one. If money is the issue—I am convinced that alumni of the CHS lacrosse program (myself included) would participate in fundraising. Together we can persevere and succeed.
Clinton High School and its lacrosse program hold a very special place in my heart. What could have been a very dark time in my life became a moment of transformation—for me, and for many other girls. I hope that opportunity will remain available for others like us.