When Wyatt Rancourt arrived at the Lawrenceville School, a New Jersey prep school, as a 14-year-old, he did so behind the eight ball in his chosen sport of lacrosse. He had only been playing for two years and didn't have much exposure to the game before seventh grade due to growing up in Florida.
“Especially in a college town like Tallahassee, football was my early focus,” he said. “When I arrived at Lawrenceville, it was a little intimidating. The talent level was off the charts.”
Three years later, Rancourt, a rising senior, is team captain and eyeing lacrosse as a post-high school calling. His accomplishments speak to his skills and dedication, but they also speak to a nationally-expanding interest in the sport.
It is those traditional Northeast prep schools, like Lawrenceville, and major college programs like Duke, Syracuse and Penn that are now being flooded with high-level talent from California, Florida and Arizona.
Rancourt is no exception. He was introduced to the game by a Connecticut native, Charles Minter, who founded the Tallahassee Lacrosse Club and went on to coach the club team at Florida State University.
With the growth of the game reaching new heights, more youth are getting involved at a younger age. This is not only driving better competition, but it is also spurring growth in the game at the collegiate level.
In the last year alone, St. Mary’s, University of Northwestern, Palm Beach Atlantic, Quincy University and Purchase College all either started programs or plan to in the foreseeable future.
In fact, NCAA-powerhouse conference Big 10 recently announced the addition of men’s and women’s lacrosse as their 27th and 28th official sports.
National youth participation in the sport continues to grow—over 138 percent since 2001—and is reaching close to 300,000 youth participants.
According to an article published in The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) by Ryan Wallerson earlier this year, participation in youth sports is down four percent, while the participation in youth lacrosse is up 158 percent between 2008 and 2012. Many cite the rapid growth as a direct result of waning interest in football because of the many similarities the two sports share.
Many also cite lacrosse as being much safer than football and hockey with far fewer occurrences of concussions being reported.
When asked about playing for a major prep school and the prospect of playing at the collegiate level, Rancourt was enthused about the opportunity. “There is something special about playing in the prep-school leagues, and I do hope more southern and western players take the chance at this experience,” he said.
And it's precisely this experience that's leading to what could be a renaissance period in the sport.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.