Gainesville High boys lacrosse coach Lyn Marsh is optimistic about the impact the Georgia Southern Shootout tournament can have on a sport that has struggled to gain traction in Hall County.
The tournament, hailed as the ‘the largest lacrosse tournament in the Southeast’ by its organizer, Monkey Up Tournaments, expects to draw more than 15,000 visitors to Allen Creek Soccer Complex on Saturday and Sunday.
Marsh sees it as an enormous opportunity to help popularize a sport that’s played by only two schools in Hall County, including his own Red Elephants.
“I think it can do a whole lot, coupled with the fact that in four years I’ve had five kids go to school on scholarships to play,” Marsh said. “We try to get that point out to the public. I’m trying to make people realize that it is a fantastic sport and it’s fast growing. We’re just behind the curve in Hall County.”
The tournament is the larger of the two annual Monkey Up Tournaments played at the massive complex on Allen Creek Road near Interstate 985. Participants range from ages 11-19 among boys and high school ages for girls.
More than 100 teams will compete among those age groups for spots in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions in Florida, which selects its participants among only 10 tournaments across the country.
Lacrosse players from across the Southeast are traveling to attend the tournament, but Marsh said he wouldn’t be shocked if his own players are getting involved.
“I would not be surprised to see some of them out there,” said Marsh, whose players have used different avenues of summer training to prepare for the 2014 season.
Gainesville and Riverside Military Academy are the only schools in Hall County to field lacrosse teams. The Eagles were the first to form a program in 2001, and the Red Elephants followed in 2006. Buford was the third area school to field a lacrosse team when it held its inaugural season earlier this year.
High schools in neighboring counties have a more widespread lacrosse presence. All Forsyth County public schools offer the sport, including Lambert High, whose boys team has reached the state championship game each of the last three years and won it twice. Meanwhile, the addition of Buford has bumped Gwinnett County up to 13 programs.
Marsh says the potential to expand lacrosse to more high schools in Hall County is a possibility in the future, but will require the development of feeder programs for younger players in order to introduce the sport to players at a younger age. Exposure to nearby tournaments, such as the Georgia Southern Shootout, is a plus.
“I’ve been talking to people for years and years about trying to start it up at different schools because we’ve been at the disadvantage of having to travel all over the place,” Marsh said. “We don’t have a feeder program, but I’m hoping that something like that will maybe open some people’s eyes.”
“It’s amazing how many parents with kids coming out to play for the very first time have no clue. They watch a game, and the kids fall in love with it.”
Gainesville currently has two players at Piedmont College in Demorest, including Lions starting goalkeeper Dale Morley. The 2011 graduate currently holds weekly clinics locally for current Red Elephant players and potential new players.
The sessions have helped with the team’s depth, and Marsh anticipates 16-17 returning players from last season’s 1-10 team. He has been required to cut players due to high turnout in recent years.
“That wasn’t a problem before,” Marsh said. “It would be great if we could get it to where it would be seen in the county, I can guarantee that.”
Marsh says lacrosse is desirable for football players looking for a spring sport that complements their physical strength, but also caters to cross country runners with higher stamina than typical athletes.
Marsh, who also coaches football at Gainesville, is finding that some of his players find more success on the lacrosse field in the spring than the football field in the fall.
“Of those 16-17 kids I have coming back next year, probably 14-15 of them choose lacrosse only, but they’ll run cross country to condition,” Marsh said. “I’ve had kids that played football for me that said nothing about playing football in college, then got to the point where those are the kids are playing lacrosse in college right now.”
Marsh says another aspect of lacrosse that could potentially make it more attractive to Hall County athletes in the future is its cost to play, which he says is moderately priced after the initial equipment purchases.
“Start-up cost is pretty expensive, but once you get going, it’s fairly (inexpensive),” he said. “I’d say it’s less expensive than football by a long shot. A little bit more expensive than soccer, but just to maintain the equipment.”