TSSAA sanctions lacrosse, adds dose of 'legitimacy' to growing sport

By Published: December 27, 2018 10:57 PM CT

Thanks to the efforts of Memphis University School on the boys side and Hutchison on the girls, high school lacrosse in Memphis has been legit for a long time.

And now the TSSAA has given as many schools as possible around the state the chance to reach the lofty heights of the Owls and Sting.

This month, the state's governing body for high school athletics approved lacrosse as a TSSAA-sanctioned sport, beginning with the 2020-2021 school year. Previously, the sport was overseen by two independent bodies – the Tennessee Scholastic Lacrosse Association for boys and the Tennessee Girls Lacrosse Association.

But the continued growth of the sport – and the opportunities for athletes that will come with that growth – meant the time was right for the state to take over, according to CBHS coach Collin Welsh.

According to USA Lacrosse, the sport had just under 325,000 participants nationwide in 2017. Boys' lacrosse participation increased 24 percent between 2012 and 2017 with girls' participation increasing 28 percent.

The continued scrutiny over the potential long-term effects from playing football could further increase boys' participation in years to come.

"The growth ... it's only going to get bigger," said Welsh, who helped spearhead the sanctioning effort along with Josh Scouten, athletic director at the University School of Nashville, and Will Jenner, who oversees the program at Nolensville High near Nashville.

"So it was important to get that state sanctioning. We know there are going to be some hiccups and bumps along the road, but this will solidify (lacrosse throughout the state)."

One of the main issues is legitimacy. As Welsh points out, programs at the larger public schools have often been left to their own devices, and state approval will help change that.

"Not being given time off to travel for games," said Welsh. "Not being given access to the weight room or the practice field. Not being allowed to use classrooms for chalk-talks. Not being awarded varsity letters ... this validates those teams."

Added Hutchison coach Dave Gearhardt, "It's a good thing for the state. For schools like Hutchison, St. Mary's, Ensworth, and on the boys side MUS and Christian Brothers, we've been operating as a quasi-TSSAA sport in the eyes of the school.

"(Those schools) won't see a tremendous amount of change. It's the other schools whose administrations haven't supported them as they should have. The hope is that as a TSSAA sport they will."

Gearhardt's girls have dominated the state, winning the last seven championships in a row. Their neighbor, MUS, has won three in a row, and the two schools combined have won 15 of the last 16 championships.

Great for them but maybe not so much for competition, which is the lifeblood of any sport. Welsh says TSSAA sanctioning will help in that area as well.

"It's going to raise the level of competition," he said. "I think some (potential players) may have been turned off by the self-fundedness aspect of it. But this will help the sport continue to grow and attract better athletes and just offer another outlet for learning life goals and life lessons.

"And another opportunity to play in college, especially on the girls side. We're not trying to have equality of outcomes; we're trying to have equality of opportunities."

Welsh added the current plan is to push the season back a couple of weeks, which would allow the state lacrosse titles to be decided during Spring Fling, along with those in baseball, softball, boys soccer, tennis and track. 


TSSAA High School Boys Lacrosse High School Girls Lacrosse Hutchison MUS CBHS
John Varlas

John Varlas

John Varlas is a lifelong Memphian who has covered high school sports in various capacities for over 20 years.

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