For the past two years, and the last three of four, Philadelphia has hosted the Men’s and Women’s National Championship games (except Women’s Division II). It’s seemed that it’s been a staple for many locals, as well as many lacrosse fans, for Memorial Day Weekend. This year’s version had increases in attendance for all three days, and it shines a light on the topic about attendance and future venues for Championship Weekend, which Foxborough will have to continue the upward attendance.
But Philly is one of the main hotbeds for lacrosse in the entire nation, especially the east coast, joining Baltimore and Long Island. Each hotbed has a different kind of lacrosse athlete, and the toughness in many of the Philly kids is something that Baltimore kids or Long Island kids don’t have.
It should also be noted that talking about the “Philadelphia” lacrosse scene isn’t technically correct. It’s all the suburbs around the city which is where the action is at, similar to Baltimore. As a matter of fact, there’s only one good lacrosse team in the city, and that’s St. Joseph’s Prep, who fell to archrival (and my alma mater) La Salle College High School in the Philadelphia Catholic League championship last week. La Salle is located in Wyndmoor, which is about a couple of minutes away from where the city borders start.
There is no NLL team since the Wings left town, and no MLL team since the Barrage folded in 2009. Both teams were once popular when they were doing well, but when the Wings began to lose, attendance was probably under 1,000 spectators a game.
Like Baltimore and Long Island, outside of college lacrosse, high school lacrosse is the big draw, and it’s slowly getting bigger as more kids choose lacrosse over baseball and possibly other sports. The biggest spot is the Main Line in Delaware County, which is home to a number of great teams. In the Inter-Ac, there’s The Haverford School and Episcopal Academy, along with The Shipley School of the Friends School League. There’s also teams from Pennsylvania’s athletic association, the PIAA, such as powerhouse Conestoga, last year’s PIAA champion Radnor, Garnet Valley, Haverford High School, Penncrest, Ridley, Springfield (Delco), and Strath Haven. In the land they call Delco, two of the next top recruits, both of whom are headed to Virginia, are from here in Dox Aitken (Haverford School) and Matt Moore (Garnet Valley).
In nearby Chester County, you have Avon Grove, Downingtown East and Downingtown West, Great Valley, Owen J. Roberts, Spring-Ford, West Chester East, West Chester Henderson, West Chester Rustin, Bishop Shanahan, and Malvern Prep from the Inter-Ac.
In Montgomery County, there’s Abington (which is where Maryland’s Matt Rambo and North Carolina’s Austin Pifani are from), Lower Merion (the home of former Duke star Jordan Wolf), Upper Dublin, Germantown Academy of the Inter-Ac, and La Salle (where Rambo graduated and also where Tucker Durkin went to high school). And finally in Bucks County, you have Central Bucks East, and that’s really it.
Those are the four major counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania, but the game is growing in that area as well, and expanding to the Lehigh Valley and the Lancaster area, where teams such as Wilson West Lawn and Manheim Township are making names for themselves, along with teams like Emmaus. The game is beginning to grow outside of the Inter-Ac and outside of the immediate Philadelphia suburbs.
And it has catched on in the city. The Philadelphia Public League officially recognized lacrosse back in 2012, and created a District championship game between the Public League winner and the Catholic League winner. The PCL champion is 5-0 in District title games, each by double-digits of at 12 goals. The PPL is nowhere near the top two PCL teams, La Salle and St. Joe’s Prep, but at least they’ve started on the right foot.
Is lacrosse the most popular high school sport in the area? Absolutely not. Until Philadelphia stops producing very good basketball and football stars, those will control the high school sports scenes. But lacrosse is getting more and more popular in the spring time over baseball. There’s an increased interest in the sport in the past few years, and sites such as Phillylacrosse.com do a great job covering the Philly lax scene. But Philly isn’t Baltimore, and Philly certainly isn’t Long Island (besides, who wants to be associated with Long Island anyway?). It’s Philly, a distinct brand of lacrosse that attracts everyone from everywhere. The kids never give up, and they keep fighting.