Lacrosse Town USA: Friday night lights in Woodinville

WOODINVILLE, Wash. – There’s a sense that something special is afoot in this suburban haven northeast of Seattle.

woodinville-billboard

One of three commercial billboards provided by the Woodinville Lacrosse “Wood Lax Angels” (Photo: Gary Bamesberger)

Bustling with passion for those that play here, Woodinville is well-known for its world-class vintners, boutique nurseries and hot air balloons lofting with the easy summer evening breeze.

And for the some 10,000 that live here, it’s a community that loves its outdoors.

A community with deep roots in high school sports and other family activities, said Woodinville Mayor Bernie Talmas.

“(High school sports) help unite a community,” he said.  “Everyone knows when a Woodinville team is playing.  It’s what’s great about a family oriented community.”

On any given Friday during the fall, just follow the glow of lights from the high school stadium, the echoes of Falcons devotees, friends and families cheering their favorite preps on the gridiron and you’ll know.

But with spring in the air, gridiron traditions are also taking root with another sport.

And the crop is sprouting all around – in the halls of the local high school, in local businesses along the town’s main street.  Even on commercial billboards around town.

It’s an unlikely suitor in this community. But one that nearly half of all U.S. states know well and embrace.

Lacrosse.

For Gary Bamesberger, president of the Woodinville Lacrosse Club, the parent-volunteer organization that supports the high school program of 45 varsity and junior varsity student-athletes at Woodinville High School and oversees the some 200 youth from kindergarten to high school that play the sport in the community, the challenge — and opportunity for lacrosse, is to help the community understand the sport.

“Culture and community is what we’re really trying to grow,” he said.  “When you think about a four-year-old sport in a community, it’s about creating interest and a desire for kids to play.”

Not an easy task for a program just entering its fifth year.

Along with building a sense of community with the sport, Bamesberger is a part of a group of dedicated parents known as the “Wood Lax Angels” that is telling its story.

Their role is simple — to quietly elevate the awareness of lacrosse in the community.

But some of their deeds aren’t necessarily quiet.

This spring a series of commercial roadside billboards began appearing around town promoting the sport.  And over the holidays, in advance of the program’s traditional sign-up period, the group arranged for month-long ads promoting the lacrosse program to run amongst the trailers at the local AMC Loews Woodinville 12 Theater.

Woodinville Mayor Bernie Talmas

Woodinville Mayor Bernie Talmas (Photo: City of Woodinville)

Combined with traditional print advertising, active Facebook and Twitter engagement and its own YouTube channel, Bamesberger’s crusade has taken on the sophistication of a pro football season-ticket campaign.

And it’s working.

“I haven’t seen this in any of the other sports,” Talmas said.  “Too often kids in this world feel like they’re being ignored.  When they see their picture on a billboard, they feel a part of the community.  And that the community respects what they are doing.”

There are other signs that the sport, which is much a part of spring traditions among the East Coast lacrosse hotbeds of Virginia, Maryland, New York and Massachusetts as little league baseball, is no longer viewed as an alternative, but the norm.

Just this year the Northshore School District committed resources to put lacrosse lines on the football field.

“It’s an all-out effort on many fronts,” said Bamesberger, whose band of angels has the program, and the town’s interest humming along – all with the goal of educating the community and parents on the benefits of getting their kids into the game and perhaps into college.

“It translates into a general awareness around town about lacrosse.  We want parents to learn what the sport is.  What it can provide,” he said.

With the angels doing their part, so are the Falcons.

Since breaking onto the Washington state prep scene in 2010, Woodinville lacrosse – an ASB club at the local high school, has soared.

In just its second year of play, the Falcons club won Washington State’s Division II boys title elevating the program to the prestigious Division I where it has a chance to test its mettle against state powerhouses, Bellevue, Mercer Island, Eastside Catholic, Issaquah and Bainbridge.

Woodinville Lacrosse Movie Theater Ad

All high school programs that regularly groom student-athletes for play at the NCAA level.

It’s an opportunity that provided an uncrowded path for over 50 highs school graduates from Washington state this last year that were recruited by NCAA lacrosse programs around the country.

To get there Bamesberger and other Woodinville parents are starting at the youngest levels – a foundation that youth football, little league baseball, youth basketball and others have understood for years as the foundation for strong high school programs.

“We’re building the program from the ground up,” said Bamesberger who is also working to grow a kindergarten-level girls program in hopes of establishing similar footing that is in place for the boys.

And that’s great news for Talmas who sees his community as not just a tourist destination but a welcoming environment for active families.

“We know about families that move to Woodinville so their kids can play lacrosse,” said Talmas who embraces new opportunities that can capture the interest today’s young people along with established youth sports such as football, little league baseball, basketball, track and field and swimming that were available to their parents’ generation.

woodinville_2011

Woodinville High School student-athletes celebrate their 2011 Washington Lacrosse Boys State Championship in just their second year of play. (Photo: Michael Jardine)

“It’s very important for families to have a wide range of youth sports programs,” he said. “What’s exciting about our community is that any kid can go out and can play a sport like lacrosse.”

When the Falcons open play tonight against the combined squad from Snohomish and Glacier Peak High Schools to the north, coach Gavin Molitor will have something to prove in expanding on last spring’s 6-11 record.

But for now, this spring, look to the Friday night lights glowing over Woodinville’s high school stadium, and listen for the cheers.

And if you wander over to the grandstands and take in a game, you may just discover what has this community buzzing.

Woodinville High School kicks-off its 2014 Washington state boys lacrosse season against the combined Snohomish-Glacier Peak high school team at 8 p.m. tonight at Woodinville High School.

To learn more about Woodinville Lacrosse visit WoodinvilleLacrosse.com or follow the program on Facebook  or Twitter.

About Lacrosse in Washington State
Lacrosse has over 100 years of history in Washington state with clubs playing in the early 1900s and high schools now in their fourth decade of state competition.  With Native American origins, lacrosse is one of the oldest organized sports on the continent and today is considered the fastest growing sport in America.  In Washington state, some 4,000 student-athletes attending over 200 high schools play prep lacrosse, while another 6,000 play lacrosse at the youth, adult and collegiate club levels throughout the state.  For more information on high school lacrosse in Washington state visit http://www.WashingtonHSLAX.com.

www.WashingtonHSLAX.com

~ Mike McQuaid, Sports Information Director, US Lacrosse – Washington State Chapter

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