Lacrosse Finding a Home in Northern Michigan
Once a sport almost exclusively played in the Northeast region of the United States, lacrosse has found a home in northern Michigan.
Through the Northern Michigan Lacrosse Conference, youth and high school programs have emerged in Traverse City, Cadillac, Petoskey and Sault Ste. Marie.
"Everyone kind of has an interest in the game, because they’ve seen it once or twice before,” Cadillac coach Jeff Rork said.
"I just like everything about it,” added Sault Ste. Marie goalie Robert Kehring. “It’s fast-paced, hitting, scoring. It’s got everything that you like. It’s like hockey on a field basically."
Although not supported as a Michigan High School Athletic Association varsity program by the respective school districts, through the YMCA and parent organizations, the sport operates at the club level.
Despite having never played lacrosse, Sault Ste. Marie varsity coach Gregg Schmitigal has been involved in the sport since its beginnings in the Sault area seven years ago.
Founded by Schmitigal and others in 2009, Sault Area Lacrosse has grown from exclusively offering the sport at the youth level to supporting high school junior varsity and varsity programs.
"I find myself watching more than coaching sometimes,” he said. “It’s just amazing what they can do with that stick and ball."
Like Schmitigal, Petoskey varsity coach Wally Kidd co-founded Petoskey’s lacrosse association 13 years ago, and he says lacrosse has a special quality that other sports offered in northern Michigan don’t have.
"Because lacrosse is so unique in northern Michigan, it becomes a lot like a fraternity,” Kidd said. “These kids have something in common that a lot of the other kids in town don’t have.
"The way we get kids involved with lacrosse is we simply put a stick in their hands. You put a stick in a kid’s hands, and a ball, and he’ll just never put it down.”
As the sport continues to expand so do the opportunities for athletes to continue their careers at the collegiate level.
"Kids are going on to play college, and lacrosse has the highest number of high school athletes playing at the NCAA Division I-III level,” Rork said.
Cadillac senior Sam McCumber is one of two members of the YMCA-sponsored program who will play collegiately next spring.
"It’s really cool, to be able to continue the sport that I love playing at the college level,” he said.