Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Lacrosse Faces Hurdles Locally as Sport Grows Area Is Short on Experience, Coaching

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Lacrosse Faces Hurdles Locally as Sport Grows Area Is Short on Experience, Coaching

Article excerpt

When he was just a seventh-grader, Chase Bly knew in order to become a better lacrosse player, he had to move away from Pittsburgh.

At first, he tried to live in Pittsburgh and play elsewhere, with his mom making two trips each week during the summers to take Bly to Baltimore - perhaps the lacrosse capital of America - so he could play with an elite club. By his senior year of high school, he transferred from Sewickley Academy to St. Paul's School in Baltimore, living with a club teammate's family.

Pittsburgh reflects a national trend of lacrosse as one of the fastest-growing sports, as evidenced by its adoption into the WPIAL in 2004 for girls and 2009 for boys. Since then, the number of girls teams has grown from 23 in 2004 to 38 for next season, and the boys will be up to 39 next season from 28 in 2009. US Lacrosse named Pennsylvania as one of the fastest-growing states for youth and high school lacrosse in its 2014 participation survey - though that also includes lacrosse hub Philadelphia, which will play host to the Division I men's national championship today.

But a lack of quality coaching at the youth level in Western Pennsylvania is preventing the sport from moving past that initial boom of exponential growth in the early 2000s, those close to the local lacrosse community say.

Bly started playing lacrosse in the fourth grade through recreational leagues, but by middle school he grew frustrated as East Coast teams were beating his by more than 20 goals in tournaments.

"I just decided I wanted to play at the next level," Bly said of his decision to move to Baltimore. "I wanted to get great quality coaching, and there's no place like Maryland for the best coaching."

His decision paid off. Bly is now a freshman defender at Richmond, a Division I program.

Left behind

Gary Neft has coached boys and girls lacrosse in Pittsburgh for 30 years at various different programs. Now the coach of Pitt's women's club team, he said while Pittsburgh adopted lacrosse earlier, places such as Orlando, Fla., Columbus, Ohio, and cities in California and Colorado have exceeded it.

"It has not grown here as fast as it has grown [elsewhere]," Neft said. "Other parts of the country have passed us up. And it comes down to one thing and one thing only: coaches. That is a problem."

Neft said the trouble is at two levels. In high schools, it's hard to draw experienced coaches to Pittsburgh because school districts often struggle to find teaching positions for new coaches. On the youth level, there aren't as many parents or members of the community who have played lacrosse at an elite level and can volunteer their experience.

Tim Hastings, Sewickley Academy boys lacrosse coach, lived in Baltimore for 23 years and said the reason Pittsburgh struggles to find youth coaches is because it lacks the history and culture of the sport prevalent in Northeast hotbeds. …

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