First Sarasota County Public High School Lacrosse Programs to Launch at Riverview High School
Something unprecedented is happening at Riverview High School.
Something never before seen in Sarasota County.
On February 17, 2016, spectators will witness the first home game of the very first FHSAA sanctioned lacrosse team in a Sarasota County public high school.
Lacrosse is often referred to as “America’s oldest sport.” The game was played by Native Americans hundreds of years ago. Yet in recent years, exponential growth has also made it the nation’s fastest growing sport.
Participation at the high school level has grown over 100 percent since 2006, far outpacing the growth of any high school team sport. In Florida alone, the sport has grown over 70 percent in the last five years.
But here in Sarasota County, the only lacrosse programs available to local high school players existed at private high schools and with two local club teams – the Sarasota Seahawks, here in Sarasota, and the Manasota Monsters, located in Bradenton.
The growing lacrosse community in Sarasota County wanted to be able to offer their kids something more – to be able to play lacrosse as a Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) sanctioned sport. This would allow them to play varsity lacrosse for their high school, compete for state titles and even to earn college scholarships.
In answer to this need, SRQLAX was created in 2013 as a non-profit designed to facilitate the transition of lacrosse from a club sport to a high school varsity sport in Sarasota County public high schools.
“We knew that there was the will to make this happen in our community, “said SRQLAX board president Rachel Hautamaki, “we just had to find a way.”
After extensive meetings with parents, coaches, players and community members, SRQLAX brought the idea to the Sarasota County School Board to see what could be done to make it happen.
“We had such a fantastic response from the school board,” added Hautamaki. “They really understood our vision from day one. And once we met with the administration and athletic department at Riverview High School, we knew that FHSAA lacrosse was going to become a reality in Sarasota County public schools.”
What was decided on was a three-year pilot program, to be established at Riverview High School. SRQLAX was given the responsibility of not only creating the program from the ground up, but also completely funding the program, with costs estimated at approximately $100,000. In addition, the lacrosse teams would be set up as “pay to play” sports, meaning that each player is also responsible for a participation fee.
“The cost was our biggest hurdle,” said Hautamaki. “Not only did we need to fund coaches’ salaries, referees, transportation, uniforms, equipment and all the usual costs, we also needed to be able to offer scholarships, so that the sport would be available to any eligible student who was serious about playing lacrosse.”
The board of directors of SRQLAX, an all-volunteer group representing a cross section of lacrosse coaches, lacrosse parents and community members, went to work. Thanks to their unwavering commitment to their vision, and months of hard work, they were able to raise the money to make it a reality.
Support began to come in from fundraisers with local businesses, including PDQ, The Corner Grill, and the White Buffalo Saloon. But the greatest amount of support came from the Sarasota community itself, as local businesses and individuals contributed generous donations, sponsorships, and underwriting dollars.
Our goal was met and on January 18, 2016, Riverview High School held tryouts for their first ever boys’ and girls’ varsity lacrosse teams. “The turnout for the tryouts was truly phenomenal,” said boys’ head coach Pete deLisser, “as well as the talent. We are looking forward to a fantastic inaugural season.”
The Riverview Rams Lacrosse season officially began on February 9, 2016, with away games for both teams at Out of Door Academy in Bradenton. The season continues through April 6, 2016 for the boys’ team and April 1st for the girls’.
“This is just the beginning,” stated Hautamaki. “The ultimate goal of SRQLAX is to see FHSAA sanctioned lacrosse teams in all of the Sarasota County public high schools over the next ten years.”