Lacrosse is currently one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States, receiving support from high school programs and club teams across the nation. The sport, which originated among Native American tribes long before European contact, has attracted many U.S. athletes as an alternative to more ubiquitous sports.
“The growth in South Alabama and the greater Southeast has been really phenomenal,” according to George Irvine, founder and current president of the Mobile-based youth lacrosse team, the Mobile Mavericks. “Every year, our leagues double or triple in size.”
Part of the appeal of lacrosse, Irvine said, is its high-speed play.
“Lacrosse is the fastest sport on two feet. It’s one of the most high-energy, exciting sports you’re ever going to watch.”
Irvine, a native Mobilian and attorney with Stone, Granade & Crosby, first encountered the sport of lacrosse in Virginia while attending the prestigious liberal arts college Washington and Lee University.
“Washington and Lee, at that time … was actually a division-three school playing at a Division 1 level and was a powerhouse.”
His second encounter with lacrosse was when his son Richardson came back from McCallie Sports camp in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he’d been exposed to the sport.
“We found that the Daphne, Lower Alabama program was just starting. It was the first, formative year, so we joined that program and helped start it with Winton Blount and Jenny Ross,” Irvine said.
According to Irvine, lacrosse is a spring sport. Practices are in the winter from November to January, depending on the location of the league. Games start in February and last until mid-May.
When asked to describe the sport itself, Irvine replied that its uniqueness makes it difficult to explain.
“It’s a field game and it has elements of ice hockey, soccer, basketball and football, so it’s hard to describe … the players wear equipment, and there are 10 guys or girls on each side. The goals are in the field in the same way ice-hockey goals are in the field. The players are able to use their stick to attempt to dislodge the ball when the opponent is carrying it.”
Until the Mavericks came into existence, lacrosse had never been formally played in Mobile.
“The history of lacrosse in Mobile is the history of the Mobile Mavericks … In 2011, I formed the Mobile Youth Lacrosse League Inc., doing business as Mobile Mavericks,” Irvine said, laughing. “That was when we started the program as a nonprofit corporation.”
Soon after its formation, there were enough Mobilians playing in Daphne that Irvine and others were able to establish an independent team in Mobile.
“I got a grant from U.S. Lacrosse, which is our umbrella organization … of 24 sets of equipment, which we are able to lend to new players at a nominal fee so they can decide whether they like it or not.”
When asked what progress the organization has made since its founding, Irvine responded that the Mavericks’ high percentage of returning players suggests a level of sustainable success. The great number of new players also indicates progress.
“Our very first year, we had three games … and now, we could play three games every weekend if we wanted to,” Irvine said.
Another measure of success is winning. Last year, the Mavericks’ U-15 team went to the Dan Anderson Lacrosse Classic, a large regional tournament in Birmingham that hosts many highly competitive teams from across the southeast. Despite the Mavericks’ short history, they managed to win three out of four of their games.
“Winning’s not the only measure, but it’s a measure,” Irvine said. “It’s not everything but it sure is fun.”
Irvine attributes the recent success of the Mavericks in part to the efforts of the Mavericks’ new coach, Zach Pall.
“Zach was a NCAA Division 1 All-American in college and was a professional player. He is currently on the Israeli national team and coaches our kids. I think the fact that we won the games we won this year is a tribute to Zach’s skill as a coach.”
With the popularity of lacrosse on the rise, Irvine said, it should not be long before high schools throughout Alabama develop lacrosse programs.
“There’s a real push going on right now statewide to integrate lacrosse into the school system. It’s been denominated a developmental sport by the Alabama High School Athletic Association. There’s an organization in Birmingham, the Greater Birmingham Youth Lacrosse Association, that is expanding into a statewide organization to provide for more formalized lacrosse competitive play.”
There even appear to be hints of teams being established in south Alabama.
“As I understand it, there’s going to be a Mobile team and a Baldwin County team in that league next year for the first time … We hope that very soon we can get it into the schools down here as well,” Irvine said.
One activity that will assist the Mavericks’ growth is the recent push by the municipal government to upgrade and modernize Mobile’s public parks.
“It’s my understanding that some of the funds from the city are going into the modernization of the facilities at Sage, and that some of these fields are going to continue to be for the lacrosse team’s practice and competitive usage,” Irvine said.
Another possible catalyst for growth would be the proposed sports facility at the intersection of Interstate 65 and Hank Aaron Drive.
“We think that that’s a facility that the city and the county really need because sports tourism is a tremendous economic engine,” Irvine added.
When a city has excellent facilities, Irvine said, it is able to attract large numbers of tourists who will spend money at local businesses.
For example, the “End of the Summer Bash,” a Gulf Shores lacrosse tournament that will take place in August, has already attracted at least 50 teams from across the Southeast. This event will likely bring tens of thousands of dollars of revenue to Gulf Shores.
The Gulf Shores area is ahead of Mobile in this regard, Irvine said, and until Mobile builds a similar facility, Gulf Shores will continue to outcompete Mobile.