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Texas Hates Lacrosse?

Nah. But it’s lack of statewide familiarity is definitely holding it back.

Texans fan waves flag Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The University Interscholastic League in Texas (”an organization that creates rules for and administers almost all athletic, music, and academic contests for public primary and secondary schools in Texas”) had a council meeting on Sunday. The UIL is kind of a big deal in the Lone Star State. It’s been around since 1910 and is the largest such organization in the world.

Routinely, whenever the council meets, sports that are not UIL sanctioned are brought up for debate as to whether or not they should be UIL sanctioned and voted on by the council. This past Sunday the council met and sports like “bass fishing, boxing, gymnastics, lacrosse, table tennis, water polo and even cooking” were up for discussion and voted upon. All of the sports on the table on Sunday were rejected but as the article from Sports Day notes, “some were rejected more than others.” Most notably lacrosse was a big loser.

Back in June the council authorized its staff to study whether or not lacrosse and/or water polo should be a UIL sanctioned sport with a survey (page 7). The results of the survey were in the Sports Day article and they were not good for lacrosse. Nearly 80% of respondents rejected the idea of adding lacrosse as a UIL sanctioned sport. Water Polo received 43% support in the same survey.

The Sports Day article also noted that,

“While the UIL didn't take action to add water polo, that could be coming soon. "I think it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when," UIL deputy director Jamey Harrison said.

Water polo garnered twice as much support as lacrosse, and is on the fast-track to legitimacy. Let that sink in for a minute.

Now, let’s not overact. Lacrosse is growing in Texas. Back in 2011 the Houston Chronicle posted an article about lacrosse’s growth within the state and how its larger profile could merit sanctioning by the UIL.

Lacrosse has been in the conversation. The Woodlands coach David Seale said coaches spoke to the UIL three years ago about the possibility of adding lacrosse. It hasn't been officially proposed yet, but Seale said he could see that happening eventually.

"The problem with adding it as a UIL sport right now is that the interest is centered around the big cities," Seale said. "So there are several teams here, around Austin, Dallas and San Antonio, but your more rural areas, your 1A and 2A schools, it hasn't taken off there."

Despite lacrosse’s growth in Texas over the last decade, it’s still very much a regional/big city sport. The Houston Chronicle reviewed the topic in 2015 and found that not much had changed in 4 years.

"We've had members of (the Texas High School Lacrosse League) present to the council a few years ago," said UIL director of athletics Mark Cousins. "(But) at this time, there hasn't been a plan to make lacrosse an official UIL sport." .... "I think it's just people haven't heard of the sport," said Randy Estes, an official who works high school and college matches. "We could do the soccer analogy, but everyone had heard of soccer even before it went UIL (in 1983).

While there are probably several reasons why so many respondents rejected the idea of adding lacrosse as an UIL sanctioned sport (several people on Twitter suggested money and/or lacrosse’s potential threat to football’s position of power within the state as two likely culprits), the fact remains, Lacrosse’s lack of familiarity throughout Texas is probably the overarching reason why it is routinely rejected.

Even the Texas High School Lacrosse League (a multi-jurisdictional boys lacrosse organization that helps to oversee 90 programs and 169 teams within the state) admits there’s a regional problem. On their homepage it notes that lacrosse’s “lack of geographic diversity, and lack of knowledge of lacrosse in non-urban areas yields a low level of interest in adding lacrosse as a UIL activity.” So it’s not just a bunch of football coaches protecting their corner. Much of the state probably doesn’t even know lacrosse exists, let alone able to articulate reasons why it should be UIL sanctioned.

Lacrosse is growing in Texas and it is relatively popular in the urban/affluent areas of the state. But until lacrosse can crossover into mainstream Texas culture, it’ll always be regional sport.