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Growing the game: Neenah lacrosse embraces sport's move into the WIAA

For the first time, the WIAA is sponsoring boys and girls lacrosse this spring. Neenah players and coaches say it's a great opportunity for the state's "untapped" talent.
Posted at 12:56 PM, Apr 11, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-11 13:56:47-04

NEENAH (NBC 26) — A new sport has entered the WIAA lexicon.

For the first time, the state's governing body of high school sports is sponsoring boys and girls lacrosse this spring.

Neenah High School has had a club lacrosse team for decades, but coaches and players believe this is a new opportunity to grow the sport's popularity.

  • In the sport's inaugural season, there are 40 boys teams and 36 girls team playing WIAA lacrosse this spring.
  • While the sport is new to the WIAA, it's not new to high schools; club teams have competed in a state tournament sponsored by the Wisconsin Lacrosse Federation since 2003.
  • Members of Neenah's varsity team see the move to the WIAA as an opportunity to grow the emerging sport.
  • The state lacrosse championship will be held on June 8 in Sun Prairie.

At Neenah this spring, it's more or less business as usual.

“We get to go to the WIAA state tournament now and win a WIAA state championship trophy hopefully," Neenah head coach Eric Marsh said. "But in our eyes and the way our athletes are treated and the way that they do this, it’s not really any different.”

Marsh has been coaching high school lacrosse for 15 years; he began at Appleton before transitioning to Neenah before last season.

“Here in the school it’s very much treated like every other varsity sport was for a long time," Marsh said. "The tradition here runs pretty deep.”

In the past, the Wisconsin Lacrosse Federation governed the high school game, sponsoring a state championship since 2003.

The new move into the WIAA is seen as an opportunity for growth.

“It’s always kind of been like a small sport in Wisconsin," Neenah senior Benjamin Carey said.

"There’s really good talent here. It’s untapped right now," Carey added. "Lots of guys don’t realize it yet but they could be in the same position as me in four years time.”

Carey picked up the sport in fifth grade. Now, he's headed to the University of Albany on a lacrosse scholarship.

“Lacrosse is in my opinion the best sport in the world," Carey said. "It’s so much fun, you can play it literally everywhere. Everyone has the same opportunity. And I think with it becoming a WIAA sport it will start to grow more."

Right now there are 40 boys high school teams in the state. That number is expected to rises and Carey said it begins with a youth movement.

“I would sell it to the youth kids, personally," he said. "There is a huge youth group in Neenah, Appleton, that Green Bay Area. It’s huge. And I think if you can sell it to those young guys, it will grow.”

“I think it’s just going to take more exposure to the game," Marsh said. "Getting it in front of people and getting it in front of their eyes so that they can say, 'Hey this is a really nice sport. The is a really cool sport.'"

Several teams have already begun their seasons. Neenah plays its first game of the year Saturday at Neenah High School against Franklin.