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US Lacrosse prepares to move to new home as game continues booming

Sport has spread rapidly since governing body formed in Baltimore, but group's focus is still education

July 13, 2013|By Chris Korman, The Baltimore Sun

The organization has a planned operating budget of nearly $19 million for 2013, officials said, and is sitting on about $10 million in cash reserves. (By comparison, USA Hockey spent $30 million in 2012, its 75th year.)

The bulk of its 2012 revenue came from nearly $12 million in member dues. The rest came from sponsors, advertising and other sources.

The group spent nearly $6.7 million for member services — such as an insurance policy that covers players, a monthly magazine, and printing and distributing yearbooks — and about $1.5 million each on special events and marketing. Running the organization cost about $2.5 million. In 2011, Stenersen was paid nearly $213,000, according to its tax documents.

It also spends about $2.9 million on the sport's development, including its "First Stick" program, an initiative to build new teams and help existing ones.

Kristin Ventrusca used a First Stick grant to help establish youth and high school lacrosse programs in Montville, Conn. A group of about 12 players had been traveling to nearby towns to play, but parents sought to start a league closer to home and create a way for their children to play in high school.

At first, Montville High School rejected a request to sponsor lacrosse as a club sport. Then Ventrusca's group was awarded the grant from US Lacrosse, which provided sticks and goggles for 24 players, two sets of goalie equipment and the means to send coaches to become certified by the organizing body. The high school subsequently relented.

"I don't think there's any way the school would have paid attention without US Lacrosse's backing," Ventrusca said. "That proved that we were serious and we had backing."

Being able to offer free equipment to athletes who might have been scared off by the cost also enabled the club to grow quickly, she said. After only a year, the club has 127 athletes, and the boys and girls high school teams have been promoted to varsity status.

The grant also paid for Ventrusca to attend US Lacrosse's convention and Fan Fest, allowing her to mingle with 7,000 other league organizers, coaches and players.

The event will return to Baltimore in 2015 for the first time since 2011. The Baltimore chapter — one of 64 regional chapters spread through 42 states — has 6,000 members, and US Lacrosse has helped fund teams for inner-city players of all ages.

Influencing the game elsewhere has come more slowly for US Lacrosse. Stenersen wants the game to appeal to a broad group of athletes from a variety of backgrounds. A former player at the University of North Carolina, he believes it sells itself.

Lacrosse has often been described as a combination of aspects of other sports: the finesse of soccer, the one-on-one isolation seen in basketball, strategy similar to ice hockey, physicality akin to football.

Whatever it is, its growth has been undeniable. It continued despite being scarred by the Duke University lacrosse scandal in 2006 that painted the sport's athletes as privileged and out of touch. Three players accused of raping a stripper were cleared, but the stigma was hard to shake.

At the same time, programs labeled "elite" and focused on pushing players toward college careers sprung up, creating an environment Stenersen feels is too focused on competition and the unrealistic goal of earning a scholarship.

Peter Baum, the first player from west of the Mississippi to win the Tewaaraton Award as the best college lacrosse player in the country, credits the West Coast Starz program for helping him develop into a top player — and getting him in front of college coaches.

"Programs like that push players to new levels and make coaches aware that great players can come from these areas," said Baum, a recent Colgate graduate who has accepted a job with Adrenaline, which owns the Starz program. "Starz did so much to push the game to a new level."

While US Lacrosse runs the national program for elite players and has an interest in supporting the game at its highest levels, Stenersen's philosophy calls for a focus on young players who may not even play the game in high school.

"We understand the importance of providing a consistently positive experience for our youngest players," he said. "That is when there is the greatest impact, when the lessons that all sports can teach are most likely to take hold. That is why we've focused so much attention on making sure coaches and officials are held to high standards. Leaders of youth sports are very important to the development of a child, and having kids enjoying our game the right way creates the foundation we need for US Lacrosse."



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