Overcast, chilly conditions weren’t enough to keep lacrosse fans away from Sun Life Stadium on Saturday as approximately 3,000 spectators bundled up to enjoy youth, high school and college games at the Orange Bowl Lacrosse Classic.
The popularity of the sport has exploded over the past decade, tripling in participation from 2001 to 2010, according to U.S. Lacrosse. Fans say they are attracted to the sport because of its fast pace.
“I like lacrosse because it’s a fast sport and is a lot of fun to play,” said Emma Braden, 13, a youth lacrosse player in attendance with her team.
“It’s been so much fun watching college lacrosse, learning from the college girls and spending time with my team.”
Scott Braden, coach of the Flow 24/7 youth lacrosse team from Boca Raton, says he thinks an event like this is the perfect catalyst to launch the sport’s popularity in South Florida to the next level.
“I think it is a fantastic event,” said Braden, who played lacrosse at Hobart College. “It gets young lacrosse players from all across South Florida to be able to come and see what everyone up north gets to see every weekend. Watching college teams helps young players see what they need to do to make it to the next level.”
Invented by the Native Americans, American lacrosse was concentrated in the northeastern United States and Canada. But judging by Saturday’s crowd, it is clear that northern popularity has migrated south.
In 2011, the Miami-Dade school board voted unanimously to allow lacrosse to become a varsity sport in public schools.
Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, Coral Shores and Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons were the high schools that participated in this weekend’s event.
Greg Boldt, a lacrosse player at Coral Reef High, says he hopes his team will be able to compete at Sun Life in the future.
“These were good high school programs that played [Saturday],” said Boldt, whose team was allowed to compete at the varsity level after a 2011 school board vote. “Hopefully our school can get up there and eventually play up here and win a game. I’m really looking forward to seeing my first Division I lacrosse game.”
Billed as “the fastest game on two feet,” lacrosse has also spread to public universities. The University of Florida only introduced its women’s team in 2010 and is already ranked among the top in the nation. The Gators placed third in the NCAA tournament in 2012 and are currently ranked second.
On Saturday, the Gators remained perfect with a 14-10 victory over last year’s NCAA runner-up, Syracuse University. Although the Gators are a young program, they have already built up quite a rivalry against the Orange, which came back from a seven-point deficit to beat the Gators for the second time 14-13 in last year’s NCAA semifinal.
Florida (7-0) pleased a Gator-dominated crowd with its program’s first victory over the No. 4 Orange (2-2).
Also making the trip down was men’s lacrosse teams from Michigan and Army.
Army bounced back from a 6-2 loss at nationally ranked Syracuse by blowing out Michigan 12-1 in the first meeting between the two programs. Army lifted its record to 3-2 and kept Michigan winless at 0-4 this season.
The event will finish up Sunday with youth games from 9 a.m. through 5 p.m.