Oasis Academy senior Taryn Barrenchea and the rest of the school were left in the dark on whether a lacrosse season will happen after last week’s state announcement.
When the state lifted full-contact sports from the “no-play” list last week, it left out one high school sport that’s been growing.
The state update applies only to sports governed and regulated by the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association. Club sports, like lacrosse, are not allowed to resume until at least May 1 when the state expects to transfer authority to the local governments. The reason: the NIAA can oversee and regulate the mandatory weekly testing for both players and staff for high-risk sports, including football.
Lacrosse, which is conducted by the High Sierra Lacrosse League, was deemed full-contact and high-risk during the state’s update on youth sports in October. There’s growing evidence, though, that lacrosse doesn’t present the same risks. And that’s how HSLL President Justin Cutler is approaching getting the lacrosse season back on the table.
“It didn’t seem like there was any chance to allow club sports to administer the testing. That was my impression,” said Cutler, who coaches the Galena girls high school team. “I felt pretty confident and felt if they said yes to football, then lacrosse would be easy and dovetail. that was a curveball that we didn’t expect.”
Instead of appealing to the state to allow lacrosse with weekly testing, Cutler said the HSLL will ask to reclassify lacrosse to the moderate category where most high school sports reside.
“It seems more reasonable to pursue a reclassification of lacrosse, which is more accurate,” Cutler added. “The real easy argument is the girls game at the lacrosse level, there’s less contact than soccer. There’s really no contact. That one was an easy one. It should be allowed to play.”
Cutler feels similar with boys lacrosse, which can be perceived as eliciting more contact. Cutler said that players are coached to be 6-10 feet away from their opposition unless they’re “on ball.”
“They should be moving quickly. The possession is 5-10 seconds,” Cutler said. “Realistically, you’re within 6 feet of player for 5 minutes in a 60-minute contest. I think it’s really accurate. From my perspective, it seems like it’s an easy decision with the low consequences for COVID-19 Task Force and the governor. I would think that as administrators, pollical officials, they should be looking for every opportunity to have the kids engage in anything.”
Although lacrosse is a club sport, Cutler said the HSLL follows NIAA and National Federation of High School Sports guidelines, including the abbreviated six-week season for the current school year. Cutler said the league has discussed modifying the season schedule but decided to stay aligned with the NIAA. The spring season for 11 varsity boys and nine varsity girls programs, including Oasis Academy, begins in April and ends in mid-May.
“We need to grow the girls game so there’s equal opportunities. That’s an important piece to moving forward,” Cutler said about getting lacrosse sanctioned. “We’re working hard in getting girls engaged in sport of lacrosse. We’re doing the right thing to align with the NIAA and make sure we’re maintaining academic requirements. We’re continuing to demonstrate that we have numbers in participation and oversight. I think it’s a matter of time. Every year we’re consistently growing in 20-25 percent range. They can only put it off so long.”
Oasis Academy girls head coach Lisa Swan understands that the boys game may present higher risk but was surprised that girls lacrosse is considered high risk.
“The girls don’t come into any more contact than girls softball or girls soccer,” Swan said. “Your time next to a person other than the draw is very limited because they’re always moving. Their heads are still truly not next to each other.
“The boys definitely do come into contact more so.”
While hopeful that a season will happen, Swan said losing another season would be detrimental to her senior group, especially. Five seniors lost their season in 2020 and four seniors return for the 2021 season.
“It would be very negative,” Swan said about the potential of losing this season. “We’ve been practicing once a week on Tuesdays once school started back up. All those new girls only got to play a couple of weeks and did not learn much. We anticipate them to play this year. If the season is taken away from them, it will very disheartening and disappointing. It’s another semester lost in sports. It’s another opportunity to play a sport they love.”
Tackling the current issue – bringing a lacrosse season to reality in two months – is the biggest goal for the HSLL and its schools.
The HSLL and HSLL Foundation, which helps the league grow the game and provides financial support, drafted a letter to the state in response to last week’s announcement. Cutler said the argument is that lacrosse should not be classified as high contact, citing several studies, including a recent dive by Penn State University.
Cutler said the HSLL will stay in touch with the region through social media and post a position statement on their website. He encourages families to voice support to their local leaders, especially the state, but in a productive manner.
“Hopefully, it gives parents ammunition to speak intelligently to why we should be allowed to play,” he said. “Hopefully, the more voices they hear, the more they will pay attention. The key is getting them to pay attention to it. We should be looking for every other win in finding ways to reengage in something that looks like normal life. If we can bring back pieces of that, especially for the youth dramatically affected, that’s a good thing.”
In addition to the physical and mental well-being of the student-athletes and coaches, Cutler is also concerned that interest in lacrosse could take a major hit if the season is not allowed. Fallon (Oasis), Douglas, Carson and the lake schools continue to grow or are beginning to bring lacrosse onboard. Lacrosse would be the only high school sport that would lose back-to-back seasons because of the pandemic.
“The prospect of losing a second season, to miss two seasons back-to-back, it’s going to set us back 10 years,” Cutler said. “They are going find something else to do. The thing that really worries me is going to find some of these growing high school programs, all that growth is going to stumble and be 10 years back. It’s really going to impact the girls’ game. They’re at the most at risk.”
Cutler’s optimistic that high schoolers will be back on the field in two months.
“I think there’s a really good case for it. I do think the parent voices are going to be key and getting attention to that,” Cutler said. “We have amazing families and wonderful communities around lacrosse.”