Baseball or lacrosse?When the sport of lacrosse became sanctioned by the Minnesota State High School League back in 2006, many feared it would spell the end of high school baseball as they knew it. However, five years later, the two sports seem to be getting along amicably.
By: Patrick Johnson, Staff Writer, Woodbury Bulletin
In the past, when growing up in Minnesota, almost all of a school’s best athletes would likely play one of two sports in the spring — baseball or track and field, with a few deciding to play golf.
However, when the Minnesota State High School League sanctioned lacrosse back in 2006, many feared it would be the end of high school baseball as it was known.
But, five years later, the two sports seem to be getting along amicably.
“We haven’t seen the effects of it yet,” Woodbury head coach Kevin McDermott said. “The kids that are playing lacrosse right now are seniors that had already kind of had their path set — they either weren’t enjoying baseball or weren’t going to be an elite baseball player, so they chose a different route. But, where I think it’ll effect us will be the next five years where you have young kids that didn’t start playing baseball and they have to choose one or the other and they pick lacrosse instead of baseball.”
But, that doesn’t mean McDermott is overjoyed about the new spring sport.
“I hate it,” McDermott said. “But, I’m also fine with it. Whatever floats your boat. You’re going to get baseball kids to come out who love to play baseball. In one way, it makes my job easier, because I hate cutting kids and we’ve always had to do that in the past. But, if you lose some of your best athletes to another sport — and we really haven’t seen that yet — it’s tough.”
McDermott has been Woodbury’s head coach for three years, but has been with the program six years. His first year was the 2003-04 season when the Royals finished runner-up in the state tournament.
Woodbury head lacrosse coach Rich Limpert actually grew up playing baseball — and even played on the same Burnsville high school and Legion baseball teams with McDermott, who is now his “rival” coach at Woodbury.
“(Limpert) always tells me he loves baseball and watching us play and I just say ‘to heck with you,’” McDermott joked. “No, honestly, Rich is a great guy and he’s doing a great job with that program.”
Before jumping the baseball ship for lacrosse, Limpert — who has been the lone head coach of the Woodbury program since it’s creation — was a pitcher and outfielder for Burnsville and then for Minnehaha Academy.
“I’m a huge baseball fan,” Limpert said. “It was one of my passions. I love baseball. When we started this, and I know it doesn’t make sense, I was hoping lacrosse would be a fall sport, so it wouldn’t interfere with baseball.”
Limpert said lacrosse gives kids more opportunities.
“Some of the guys that might not be the best baseball players, but that are great athletes might want to try something new,” he said. “There’s plenty of athletes to go around, but I can’t say it’s going to help baseball at all. But, the positives about it are just like when we split with East Ridge, it gives kids more chances to play and to letter in a varsity sport.”
Sixty eight kids tried out for the Woodbury High School baseball program this spring. McDermott said he believed the program had 80-90 kids trying out a few years ago, but that decline had more to do with the construction of East Ridge rather than defections to other sports like lacrosse. There are 60 kids playing in the Woodbury High School boys lacrosse program this year.
“We have 60 kids that, if lacrosse wasn’t around, maybe wouldn’t be doing anything in the spring,” Limpert said. “Kevin can’t take another 60 kids in his baseball program. I guess some of them may have done track. But that’s another story.”
Baseball still king in Cottage Grove
The Woodbury boys and girls lacrosse programs began as cooperatives with Park High School. In 2009, the Woodbury boys program broke off on its own, along with the Park girls program, leaving an East Ridge/Park boys lacrosse program and a Woodbury/East Ridge girls lacrosse program.
“If I can make some comparisons, we started boys and girls lacrosse at around the same time in a co-op with Woodbury,” Kuemmel said. “With the girls we didn’t see a lot of girls giving up track or softball to play lacrosse. It was truly a lot of girls that would normally not be playing a spring sport. There weren’t a lot of kids jumping ship. I think it’s the same thing with the guys. I don’t think they’re giving up their sport to give it a shot.”
At Park, the girls high school program has flourished — even garnering a state tournament appearance in 2009 and a third-place trophy when it was a cooperative with Woodbury — while the boys program has yet to fully launch.
The Park girls program had 46 girls playing last year and 56 this year, which make up varsity, junior varsity and B-squad teams.
According to Kuemmel there are only six boys from Park on the Park/East Ridge cooperative high school team. However, there are many more Park players on prep team — for younger or inexperienced players.
Kuemmel said he felt Park’s baseball program had more kids tryout than ever before. The Park baseball program kept 61 kids at the high school level, but had to cut many more than ever before at ninth and 10th grade level — even though Park has many lacrosse players in those grades than in upper classes.
“We have not seen a dramatic change with our baseball, or softball or track, numbers,” Kuemmel said. “Maybe that will be something we’ll see down the road. But, for now, we’re not seeing that.”
Youth baseball leagues flourishing
McDermott said he believes lacrosse is going to deplete the talent pool for baseball and that it will start at the youth levels.
“We may lose a lot of kids that could have been great baseball players, but we’ll never know,” he said. “There’s certainly a few baseball players in the lacrosse programs that played baseball as ninth graders, but that’s definitely not a big number yet.”
The Cottage Grove Athletic Association, the East Ridge Athletic Association and Woodbury Athletic Associations all have their own youth baseball programs — along with their own VFW and Legion teams. In fact, in recent years Woodbury has two Legion teams. Also, neighboring St. Paul Park and Newport have their own youth baseball associations.
The Youth Lacrosse of Minnesota (YLM) is the home for youth boys lacrosse in Minnesota for second through eighth grade. The Minnesota girls lacrosse youth league is offered by the Middle School Schoolgirls Lacrosse Association (MSSLAX).
Cottage Grove and Woodbury each have teams in the YLM and Woodbury has a team in MSSLAX.
Woodbury Area Baseball director Joe Griesgraber, who runs the youth baseball league in Woodbury, said he hasn’t witnessed a change since lacrosse originated.
“It’s not to say it’s not possible to happen down the road, but I haven’t seen anything up to this point,” Griesgraber said.
The Woodbury Athletic Association had 27 traveling teams last year and 26 traveling teams this year.
“At 10 and 11 year old level we have 18 teams, which is about 235 kids,” Griesgraber said. “That’s a lot of 10 and 11 year old kids playing. There’s another eight or nine traveling teams at that age level. There’s no shortage of ballplayers yet. Judging from the travel numbers and the names I’ve seen playing lacrosse, I don’t think they’re going anywhere — and if they are, it’s to ERAA or WYAL or something like that. I haven’t really thought about it, because it hasn’t had any major impact yet. Maybe down the road, but as of right now from 15 years-old and all the way down there isn’t much of an issue.”