SCHSL sanctions lacrosse as boys and girls sport

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's public high schools will sanction boys and girls lacrosse beginning with the 2009-10 school year.

The S.C. High School League executive committee voted 11-0 Thursday to add the sport, which was played at the club level by 31 public school boys and girls teams statewide last year.

Although lacrosse supporters had hoped to start sanctioned, championship play this school year, Thursday's vote was considered a victory for a sport that has grown dramatically nationwide the past nine years.

"It's been a long while, and I feel enthusiastic about the decision that was made," said Hal Ness of the S.C. chapter of U.S. Lacrosse, the sport's amateur governing body. "This is a positive decision. I have no problem at all with starting in '09-10. We'll be more stable then because we'll have additional schools coming on."

Ness' organization has worked with SCHSL officials throughout the summer and fall crafting guidelines.

The sport will be played from January to April, encompassing a four-week preseason, six-week regular season and two-week postseason. Lacrosse will start and end earlier than other spring sports, a move aimed at easing the burden on facilities and manpower.

Teams will be allowed to play 12 regular-season games plus two tournaments.

The playoffs will consist of 16 teams for both boys and girls, provided that many schools are fielding teams when play begins in January 2010. Last year, there were 16 boys teams and 15 girls teams.

In the event there are not 16 teams, playoffs would not be held. Instead, a season-ending tournament would be played with no state champion recognized.

Executive committee members considered starting play this school year, but the economic downturn forced them to opt for caution.

"Let me have one year of preparation," Lexington principal and committee member Creig Tyler said. "There are too many intangibles that I don't know yet that are going to make or break the sport. We are getting ready to face enormous (budget) cuts, not only right now, but in January."

Since the sport is currently unsanctioned, most schools provide only facilities. Costs related to travel, equipment and officials are covered by private sources. Committee members worried that taking on those costs this year might cause some schools fielding teams to drop the sport.