We’ve received several questions about the cooperative team approach, with some specific asks about schools that can participate, or why we considered this approach versus pursuing school specific teams, and what will happen to the Warrior high school teams if this moves ahead. All great questions, some can be answered now, but others will take some time to work out as we move forward.
While we’re not sure a blog post can convince everyone to agree; depending on your family’s situation and your perspective this can be exciting, concerning, and nerve-racking …all at the same time. What we think we can do with a blog post is share some context to what’s driving this effort.
The function of a co-op athletic team is to allow athletes across multiple schools or districts to combine as one team to compete when the numbers of participants at each individual school are not high enough to field a competitive team. Typically, one school acts as the “host school” handling all administrative and logistical needs for the team (field space, equipment, busing, training and meeting facilities, supervision, oversight and compliance). The minimum length of time a co-op agreement lasts is for two years (by IHSA rules) with options to renew for two additional years if agreed upon by the member schools. Last season, there were 100 high-school teams competing in the boys IHSA lacrosse state series in Illinois, with 22 of those competing as co-op teams (the girls numbers were not available at the time this was published).
Closer to home, our data shows us there will be approximately 90 players at the high-school level in the Warriors club programs this upcoming year. That number is inclusive of both boys and girls programs and includes families coming from as far away as Springfield, Decatur, LeRoy and Champaign. Of those players, 70% are attending Unit5 schools, 13% are in District 87, 11% are attending UHigh, TriValley and Central Catholic High Schools (combined) with the remaining 6% at other private schools or communities surrounding Bloomington-Normal.
A stated goal of the Warriors Lacrosse Club at its founding in 2011 was to begin building the sport of lacrosse in Central Illinois to eventual adoption within area high schools as a sanctioned varsity sport. Within seven years, the participation rate and competitive levels on both the boys and girls’ side has been impressive. Last season, there were 190 players within the Warriors program, with half of those at the high-school level.
One could debate the benefits of interscholastic athletics against the benefits of club sports, but we believe interscholastic athletics complement and enrich the academic experience and are integral to every student’s education and personal growth. Being recognized by peers, schools, administrators, and community for their efforts on field and in the classroom (in addition to playing at the highest competitive level) is something our players have worked hard for.
Within the last two years, two club programs from our league have moved to IHSA sanctioned lacrosse (both are co-ops, Washington/Metamora and Dunlap/Richwoods), with another considering it for next year. These programs are no different than our program, we consider them rivals and contemporaries and by not moving to IHSA our athletes and our community will continue to fall farther behind the competitive curve. We are also quickly running out of teams to play, so by not moving to IHSA our high school teams will be travelling outside central Illinois to find competitive games. We feel it is time to take our lacrosse programs to the next level.
FOBNL’s long-term vision is to have a thriving varsity lacrosse program at each high school in our community just as we have basketball, volleyball and soccer today. To achieve that goal, having an inclusive co-op team that includes all eligible high-schools can help us get there faster. From the outset (and we’ve made this clear with the athletic directors and the administrators we’ve met with thus far), our desire is the co-op be set up to be as inclusive as possible giving high-school players the opportunity to play IHSA sanctioned varsity lacrosse going forward. However, this is not something we can control. Once the co-op becomes established, expanding or including other high schools can only be done with the cooperation of all athletic directors, administrators, communities and boards of education that want to participate.
The first step is finding one high-school or district that is willing to take the lead on establishing and supporting the first lacrosse co-op within our community for the benefit of their (and other) student-athletes.