Big goal met

Lo­cal lacrosse coaches glad TSSAA will sanc­tion sport

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - SPORTS - BY PATRICK MACCOON STAFF WRITER

While McCal­lie School’s lacrosse team has won 10 state cham­pi­onships and sent 85 stu­dent-ath­letes to col­lege pro­grams since its pro­gram came into ex­is­tence in 1989, some­thing has been miss­ing.

For eight-time state cham­pion Blue Tor­nado coach Troy Kemp, the chance to play for TSSAA state cham­pi­onships be­gin­ning in spring 2022 is a dream come true.

A sport that orig­i­nated in the 17th cen­tury, played by Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes, be­came the first sport added by the Ten­nessee Sec­ondary School Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion since bowl­ing de­buted in 2002. The leg­isla­tive coun­cil voted last month to ap­prove a pro­posal to sanc­tion boys’ and girls’ lacrosse.

“If your school doesn’t get var­sity let­ters, it’s hard to jus­tify the amount of time kids put in to not be rec­og­nized,” said Kemp, who took over McCal­lie’s lacrosse pro­gram in the 1993 sea­son. “The sanc­tion­ing of the sport al­lows a chance for us to be­come le­git­i­mate. Our guys have been putting in the same hours as oth­ers do on the track, base­ball, soc­cer field, etc.”

Ten­nessee is the 25th state in the coun­try to sanc­tion high school lacrosse, which has grown rapidly in the South in re­cent years. At­lanta wel­comed a Ma­jor League Lacrosse team in 2017, while there are more than 100 prep teams in Ge­or­gia, where the GHSA has rec­og­nized boys’ and girls’ state cham­pi­ons since 2005.

“We have seen tons of ex­cite­ment and pos­i­tive feed­back whether on so­cial me­dia or from mem­ber schools in­ter­ested in adding the pro­gram at their schools,” TSSAA as­sis­tant ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Matthew Gille­spie said. “There will be sig­nif­i­cant growth over the first few years. This is an­other great op­por­tu­nity for stu­dents to be­come stu­dent-ath­letes and par­tic­i­pate in a sport.”

This past sea­son there were 11 lacrosse pro­grams in Hamil­ton County that com­peted in the Ten­nessee Scholas­tic Lacrosse As­so­ci­a­tion. Bay­lor and Sig­nal Moun­tain had both boys’ and girls’ teams, and there were boys’ teams for Boyd Buchanan, Chat­tanooga FCA (Hix­son), McCal­lie and Soddy-Daisy. Oolte­wah had a girls’ team, and Girls Prepara­tory School and Chat­tanooga Girls Lead­er­ship Academy also had pro­grams. After a break­through spring sea­son for Soddy-Daisy, which went 13-2 and was a state run­ner-up, coach Joshua Wicks is elated to see the sport con­tinue its up­ward tra­jec­tory. The Tro­jans be­lieve they can make their divi­sion fi­nal again this year, and the school is adding a girls’ team this spring.

“I have dreamed of the TSSAA mak­ing lacrosse

a sanc­tioned sport,” said Wicks, a Bay­lor grad­u­ate who is 32-17 over­all in three sea­sons with the Tro­jans. “Not only is this big for ex­ist­ing club pro­grams, but now with the state back­ing us up, ev­ery high school out there has the op­por­tu­nity

to get fund­ing from the state and start a pro­gram.”

The typ­i­cal lacrosse sea­son for Ten­nessee teams be­gins as early as late Fe­bru­ary and can last through May.

“I have to give a huge thanks to our ath­letic

di­rec­tor Jared Hens­ley, who voted to sanc­tion the sport and has al­lowed us to play games on the var­sity foot­ball field,” Wicks said. “The sup­port from the com­mu­nity and Jared has helped lacrosse be­come a grow­ing power

here. Not only do we have the op­por­tu­nity for more fi­nan­cial help, but we have a fam­ily vibe now.”

With stand­out lacrosse play­ers around the area, in­clud­ing McCal­lie se­nior de­fender and Duke signee Cameron Henry — the No. 13 prospect in the na­tion, ac­cord­ing to In­sid­eLacrosse.com — the plat­form will con­tinue to grow for ath­letes to show­case their tal­ents.

“Any time there is an op­por­tu­nity for guys and girls to get more in­volved in sports, it helps build re­silience,” Kemp said. “Hav­ing an­other op­tion is a win-win for ev­ery­body. I don’t care whether you are a pub­lic or pri­vate school. It will be re­ally neat to see more teams in Chat­tanooga in the near fu­ture.”

Kemp be­lieves the big­gest chal­lenges ahead for lacrosse are find­ing coaches ca­pa­ble of mov­ing the nee­dle for play­ers as well as find­ing of­fi­cials who can man­age the game.

How­ever, a dream has come to life.

“Lacrosse is go­ing to be­come an ac­tual sport like foot­ball, bas­ket­ball and base­ball,” Wicks said. “Our kids will have sup­port from the fac­ulty, stu­dent body and whole com­mu­nity. This re­ally takes a weight off our shoul­ders.”

STAFF PHO­TOS BY C.B. SCHMELTER

McCal­lie se­nior lacrosse player El­li­son Burt-Mur­ray prac­tices at Spears Sta­dium on Wed­nes­day. The TSSAA’s leg­isla­tive coun­cil voted last month to sanc­tion boys’ and girls’ high school lacrosse be­gin­ning in spring 2022.

McCal­lie ju­nior Bowen Hop­kins works on his face off last week at Spears Sta­dium. The Blue Tor­nado have won eight state ti­tles un­der coach Troy Kemp.

STAFF PHOTO BY C.B. SCHMELTER

McCal­lie ju­nior lacrosse player Mac Ma­clean prac­tices at Spears Sta­dium on the cam­pus of McCal­lie School on Wed­nes­day.

Joshua Wicks

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