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This spring, many high school boys in Massachusetts, who might once have played baseball, are choosing another sport instead.
The popularity of lacrosse has exploded — by almost 60% — over the past six years.
So, does this signal the twilight of high school baseball in the heart of Red Sox Nation?
WBUR's Fred Thys reports.
TEXT OF STORY:
[GAME SOUND, CONTINUES]
FRED THYS: King Philip Regional High School has the hottest lacrosse team in the Hockomock League, one of the best leagues in Massachusetts. The sun's rays filter through the clouds onto King Philip's shimmering white-and-gold jerseys. Because it's weekday afternoon, just a few parents are in the stands across the field from the raucous boys on the sideline. But don't let the meager attendance mislead you: lacrosse has leapt from private schools to a boom in the Massachusetts public schools. In 2002, just 106 high schools had lacrosse teams. Last year, it was 165.
[MORE GAME SOUND, CONTINUES]
THYS: At this point in the game, Coach Dan Warren doesn't like the way his King Philip Warriors are playing. They're getting too aggressive, incurring too many penalties, and he calls a time out.
DAN WARREN: Let's go! Get in here! You guys have to be jokin' me! You think you're gonna win like this? Do you? You think you're gonna win playing like a bunch of goons? That's not the type of lacrosse we play, and that's not how we win. Two-minute penalty? Trying to take a guy's head off? Clean up your act. Get your heads together, and play a smart game.
THYS: And they do! They incur a lot of bleeding knees, but the Warriors keep their cool, avoid too many penalties, and beat the visitors, Foxborough, 15-2. The Warriors are undefeated, and they've clinched the league title.
Once upon a time, some of the players might have been playing baseball this spring, but then they discovered lacrosse. John Cuozzo, team captain and cutup, is one of them.
JOHN CUOZZO: Well, as a young child I played baseball for many a year, and then I just decided that as a natural hockey player, I had far too much energy to play baseball.
THYS: So did senior Ian Jones.
IAN JONES: Basically, I enjoy lacrosse because of the physical nature of the sport and the athleticism that's involved, and the sportsmanship's much higher than that of most high school baseball teams. In baseball, you'll get people who get mouthy at the umpires, and stuff, and in lacrosse, you really can't do that, or you get thrown out of the game for a while.
THYS: In the winter, Joe Rose plays basketball.
JOE ROSE: I played baseball for eleven years, and I mean I liked baseball, but it was kind of slow-paced for me and kind of boring after awhile, so I wanted to try something new, then two years ago--this is my second year--started playin' lacrosse, and I'm glad I started doin' it, because I love it; it's so much fun. I love the guys on the team. We get along. We all hang out, and I'm so glad that I decided to play lacrosse instead of baseball.
THYS: But don't count baseball out. Judged by the number of boys who play, it's still the third-most-popular high school sport in Massachusetts, after football and track. Lacrosse comes in sixth, behind soccer and basketball. At King Philip, the baseball coach, Ed Moran, says his team's numbers haven't been affected by lacrosse at all--yet.
ED MORAN: But I think five, 10 years from now they will be affected, once the youth leagues really start to take effect in the younger ages. So, kids who normally would go out for baseball might opt for lacrosse.
THYS: Already the lacrosse team attracts some of the school's most talented athletes, including the football quarterback and running back.
STEVE SCHAIRER: Fellas: a little sluggish out there right now.
THYS: More than half the varsity lacrosse team plays football, and about half play hockey, and they're the big names on the hockey team, including the starting goalie. Steve Schairer, King Philip's athletic director, started the lacrosse program at King Philip in 2000.
SCHAIRER: I think one of the strengths of our team is we have a lot of hockey players that are playing. It's a natural transition from hockey into lacrosse. It's all the wrist stuff. It's all that eye-hand coordination with your stick. So hockey players make the transition (snaps his fingers) like that. Plus, hockey's tough guys, you know, they're rugged, and they get after it.
LACROSSE PLAYER: Let's go!
LACROSSE PLAYER: Let's go!
COACH WARREN: Let's go, boys!
THYS: King Philip's lacrosse team also has a pretty good wrestler, and one of the five fastest guys in the state from winter track. They give him the ball on the defensive end and tell him to run as fast as he can.
TEAM: One, two, three! Ayatash!
THYS: Ayatash is the cry of the King Philip Warriors.
PLAYER: This is where we fight!
THYS: And this goes on for the entire game.
For WBUR, I'm Fred. Thys.
This program aired on May 8, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.
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