A local lacrosse club is hoping to convince Unit 5 and District 87 to form a cooperative lacrosse team that would compete against other Illinois High School Association schools.
The Bloomington-Normal Warriors lacrosse club and its nonprofit advocacy arm Friends of Bloomington-Normal Lacrosse (FOBNL) have met with Unit 5 and District 87 athletics staff and administrators about the idea, said FOBNL President Mike Buelow, whose teenage sons play lacrosse.
The Warriors have grown alongside the popularity of lacrosse in recent years—from 20 kids in 2011 to 190 today. Around half of those players are now high school age, Buelow said.
“The Warriors program has reached this point now where we have enough kids to field what would be a competitive team, but only if we’re able to get some of the high schools to cooperate (with each other)," he said.
Lacrosse is still relatively new to IHSA. The first state champs were crowned last spring. There are 150 lacrosse teams (86 boys and 64 girls) set to compete in IHSA play in spring 2019, said IHSA Assistant Executive Director Matt Troha. Of those, 11 are co-ops, he said. That includes Dunlap and Richwoods, and Washington and Metamora, both near Peoria, Buelow said.
Unit 5 and District 87 don’t currently have any co-op athletics teams, Buelow said.
“It’s new. It’s a little bit foreign. So we’re doing a lot of educating,” said Buelow.
One big question is cost. Neither Unit 5 or District 87 are swimming in spare money to devote to new sports.
Buelow said FOBNL wants to launch the co-op teams—varsity for girls, and JV and varsity for boys—using a family and donor-funded model. Through FOBNL they’d privately raise $27,000 in one-time startup costs (like uniforms and helmets) and around $20,000 to cover annual season operating expenses, Buelow said. Around $67,000 would cover the first two years.
“For a lot of our players and families, this is important enough where they’re gonna do their part to help us stand up and keep it going,” Buelow said. “It would be great if the schools could afford it. Unfortunately, they’ve been pretty honest with us and saying, ‘If we have to fund it, we’re a few years out from able to consider it.’ So we’re trying to accelerate it for our players and our program. Eventually our hope is that, as it breaks apart from a coop and each school has its own team, at that point it would move to funding like it would for basketball, football, or baseball—funded and sourced by the school through its athletics budget.”
Unit 5 and District 87 confirmed that discussions were underway.
“While it is true that we (athletic directors) have had some preliminary discussions about the possibility of a Unit 5-District 87 lacrosse co-op, these conversations have not yet reached our prospective school boards so I’m not yet ready to discuss this in more detail,” said BHS Athletic Director Tony Bauman.
Added Normal West Athletic Director Stan Lewis: “Our school district is exploring the possibility of adding lacrosse, but I am not ready to comment on it at this time.”
There’s no firm timeline. If Unit 5 and District 87 school boards were to approve the idea by mid-November, the new co-op teams could be playing in spring 2019. The IHSA's spring sport deadline is Feb. 1, Troha said.
“It’s aggressive,” Buelow said.
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