By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian
High school athletes live for two things: college scholarships and rivalry games.
With lacrosse being a growing sport, the future can provide both of those.
Since the West Virginia University Lacrosse Club formed in January of 1971 and played the first game of lacrosse in West Virginia in late March of the same year, lacrosse has started to spread throughout the Mountain State.
Fairmont Senior began fielding its boys’ and girls’ teams in 2005, and it’s been up from there, with the teams winning six state championships between them since their start.
With the start of conditioning for the upcoming season, both Polar Bear teams are hoping to not only win championships but to bring more opportunities for their players and for the sport itself.
The Fairmont Senior lacrosse team is the only one of its kind among Marion County high schools. With East Fairmont and North Marion not having yet fielded teams, those players are eligible to play on the Fairmont Senior squad, an idea that the Polar Bears’ girls coach Jon Cain welcomes.
“It’s been a rule but it’s never happened,” Cain, who has been the coach of the girls’ team since it started in 2005, said of the situation. “I have no problem with it. I’d love to see anyone who wants to play come out. We’ve just never had anyone from other schools play. It’s a growing sport, and we’d like to see it grow stronger.”
Calvin Todd, Fairmont Senior’s boys’ team coach, also explained that the opportunities for student-athletes in the game of lacrosse are endless right now, citing many colleges and universities which are just starting their programs.
“You’ve got a lot of schools like Wheeling Jesuit, Alderson-Broaddus and West Liberty (who have programs). and now WVU and Marshall have club teams,” Todd said. “It’s not just high school; it’s starting to grow all over.”
Cain added that for other sports like soccer and football, scholarship spots are limited. But for a lacrosse team that’s just starting out, it has room for more players.
“It’s a great chance for these kids to get the chance to play a sport they love but also get their education,” said the longtime girls’ coach.
One of his players, senior Maddie Stevenski, is among that group.
Stevenski, who started playing lacrosse as a freshman, recently signed her national letter of Intent to play lacrosse with West Virginia Wesleyan, which added women’s lacrosse to its list of varsity sports in the fall of 2010 and lists six players from West Virginia on its current roster.
The senior three-sport athlete said that lacrosse has brought on many opportunities for her, including the chance to play at the next level, but it was the game itself that she fell in love with.
“When I first started I was a freshman, and I didn’t know if I wanted to do it. I was awful, but then I started to get into and it started to get better and easier,” she said. “I didn’t get a whole lot of playing time as a freshman, but I played a lot as a sophomore and that’s when I knew I loved it. I love soccer and cheer, but lacrosse was different for me.”
Stevenski said that she actively tries to get her friends from rivaling East Fairmont and North Marion to join the squad, but some said that it’s “a little weird to play for the other school.” But boys’ coach Calvin Todd said that that’s where it needs to start.
“For lacrosse here in Fairmont, it’s important to get kids from North and East out playing,” Todd said. “Every sport there’s a rivalry game except for lacrosse. Everyone loves a good rivalry.”
With the annual East-West football game being one of the oldest rivalries in the state of West Virginia, Todd hopes that one day the lacrosse rivalry can compete for one the best rivalries around.
Stevenski agreed, saying, “I think it’s good because you get the whole community involved and active with a rivalry.”
With teams in West Virginia still forming, squads like Fairmont Senior spend much of their time playing out-of-state teams, but Todd said that’s good for the players to experience.
“You can really get a good judgment on where your talent level is at. When you’re playing the same teams over and over you know them,” he said. “Here in West Virginia it’s a little more physical game than in maybe Pennsylvania where you have real good stick handlers.”
For Stevenski, she hopes to leave the team she’s been with for four years with a championship to show others what they’re missing.
“Hopefully this year we get it. I want it back and I want it bad,” she said. “Being a senior and knowing the talent we have this year, I’m very excited.”
And for those who have never played, Cain, Stevenski and Todd all agreed that if you were to just try it, you’d never question it again.
“The reason I want them to come out is because very rarely have I seen a kid come out to practice and say this isn't for me,” Todd said. “Most of them love it.”
The lacrosse season officially begins on Monday, March 3, with the team’s first practice and will kick off with the Meltdown Tournament on March 15.
Email Matt Welch at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.