The sport of lacrosse has a very long and rich history in the northeastern United States, but currently it is the fastest growing sport in the county. A spring sport, Oakland High School recently completed its inaugural year.
An offshoot of an independent lacrosse program started about 15 years ago called Murfreesboro Mayhem — which won the state tournament in 2013 and 2108, coming in second in 2019 – concerned parents whose children had been playing for Mayhem decided to keep the game going when Mayhem chose to close down.
“As a parent who has had two sons play in that program from middle school through high school, winning two state championships, and who are now both playing lacrosse in college, I felt it was necessary to band some people together and start a new program associated with a school. Oakland happened to be it,” said Steve Popovich, Sr., President of the Oakland Lacrosse Booster Club. “Hats off to Aaron Simpson, Thomas Witherow, Dave Schlacter, Michelle and Brian Fowler and Wendy Kowalski for all their help. And a special thanks to Oakland’s front office and Athletic Director. To be where we are now as an organization took a lot of time, hard work and effort….”
Oakland Lacrosse Draws from County for Players
Because the team is a considered a “club”, they are allowed to have students from all over Rutherford County come play for their program. Their roster consists of players from every high school in Rutherford County, but the majority are from Oakland. That’s going to change when the sport goes TSSAA, which is still pending.
“One of our main goals when we started Oakland Lacrosse was to build this program so other schools in the county would embrace the sport and develop their own programs,” explained Popovich. “Williamson County has done a great job of building their lacrosse programs, and there’s no question we can be equally competitive.”
It Takes a Team to Create One
Popovich readily admits that none of this could have been done without the help and assistance from many who want the sport to continue to thrive here. “It’s an exciting thing to watch build,” added Popovich. “With the amount of talent here in Rutherford county alone it would have been a shame to not redevelop a program here.”
More information is available at https://www.oaklandlacrosse.com.
How Lacrosse Got Started
Locally, Montgomery Bell Academy, Pope John Paul, and Father Ryan have had teams for several years. But the game has a long history of being played in boarding schools in the Northeast. Primarily because that is where the sport began.
Popovich says that the sport actually came from Native American tribes. The game was written about by missionaries in the 1700s, but its beginnings go all the way back to the 1100s. According to the Thompson Brother’s website, the first non-Native American team was founded in Montreal Canada in the 19th century. Rules were not codified until 1960.
Important Lacrosse Players
The Thompson Brothers, part of the Onondaga Nation, are the “hot ticket” in the game at the moment, and the four of them play in the Premier Lacrosse League. According to the league’s website, “The Premier Lacrosse League is a men’s professional lacrosse league in North America, composed of seven teams rostered with the best players in the world. Co-founded by lacrosse superstar and investor, Paul Rabil, and his brother, serial entrepreneur and investor, Mike Rabil….”
“Jim Brown, arguably one of the greatest football players who ever played, was a four year All American lacrosse player at Syracuse University in New York,” said Popovich. “That’s probably the best selling point I could tell someone.”
A Little About the Game of Lacrosse Today
While lacrosse definitely started up north in places like Long Island and Albany, New York, in the last 20 year the sport has migrated its way down south. Georgia has an incredible number of programs. “They start putting sticks in kids’ hands as soon as they start walking, instead of a soccer ball or baseball,” Popovich explained, “that’s why the talent level is so great down there.”
It’s a unique sport in that there are elements of hockey, football, basketball and soccer. Lacrosse is physical, demanding overall great footwork, seamless transitions, and strong hand/eye coordination.
“It really is the complete packaged sport,” says Popovich. “I truly believe it’s going to catch on quickly here. Our high school program is composed 60% of guys who have never played the sport before. They all either play football, soccer, basketball, baseball, or track. Each one of them would tell you how much they love lacrosse and wish they had known about it at an earlier age. That tells me we are on the right track. It makes me think of that “Field of Dreams” quote, ‘If you build it, they will come’.”
Receiving its name from the French word for stick, “la crosse,” besides a netted stick, players are equipped with helmets, shoulder pads, elbow pads and gloves. There isn’t a defined number of players on a team, however according to beginnerlacrosse.com, ten players are allowed on the field at one time – three attack, three middies, three defenders and one goalie.
“I think our high school roster has about 22 guys,” said Popovich, “which is great for a first-year program. Ideally, we’d like to be at around 35 to 40 so we can have a junior varsity team, and also have more depth for games and practices.”
Benefits of Playing Lacrosse
Scholarships are one thing about lacrosse that gets parent’s attention. “I can tell you from a parent’s perspective, the scholarship money that’s out there at the collegiate level for lacrosse is a huge selling point,” said Popovich. “If you have a youth, middle school or high school, who might be interested in being a player, look into it now.”