When Michelle Gazarik set about creating a youth lacrosse league, her biggest hurdle wasn't finding funding or arranging transportation.
"No one knew what lacrosse was," she said.
Unlike Northern Virginia and Maryland, lacrosse hadn't established a foothold on the Peninsula. Coaches struggled to find players who knew anything about the sport, much less were ready and willing to play. A lack of suitable fields, proper equipment and knowledgeable volunteers also contributed to growing pains in the first few years, Gazarik said.
Today, Gazarik's league, now called Hampton Roads Lacrosse (HRLax), has expanded to dozens of high schools from Williamsburg to Virginia Beach, and into North Carolina.
The game is so easy to fall in love with, says Grafton High coach Jim Buchwald, because of the fast pace. "The fact that you can score within eight seconds from the faceoff is a draw."
Recently, Menchville added lacrosse as a club sport.
There's hesitation to add lacrosse a school-sponsored sport because of insurance costs and lack of interest across the board, Gazarik said.
As a result "school lacrosse programs are not funded by the schools, but by the parents," she says.
HRLax is a non-profit and uses fundraisers and parent contributions to pay team expenses.
One of the problems HRLax had in expanding was the price tag that came with playing. Quality lacrosse sticks can cost up to $100; counting safety pads, other equipment, and travel expenses, lacrosse isn't the cheapest sport. Because of some of those costs, Gazarik said, kids aren't exposed to lacrosse from an early age.
Gazarik says that volunteers and coaches have had to get creative and ask for outside help to spur growth in the region.
"The local Dick's Sporting Goods store sponsored a Lacrosse Community Sales Day, and broke all sorts of records due to the growth in demand for lacrosse equipment," she said.
Lack of interested players also has led to some creative problem-solving. Players from Kecoughtan who want to join a team must travel almost a half hour to Poquoson to form a mixed squad; players in Newport News schools can only play for Menchville, since the other schools don't have teams.
Girls lacrosse also has trouble drawing players. While boys in Williamsburg can play in a special select league, girls play on a team combined from Jamestown, Lafayette and Warhill.
Shyla Tubicsak, a sophomore at Warwick, has joined the ranks of players who make the journey to play lacrosse. Tubicsak drives 20 minutes to Menchville every day for practice.
"What drew me to the game is it's a lot like field hockey," said Tubicsak, who also plays on a travel field hockey team.
The drive to and from practice has put some strain on her social life, she says, which is common among local lacrosse players.
That's not to say that the process hasn't had its successes. HRLax recently helped with the first annual lacrosse state tournament for club teams, and there's newfound sentiment to make lacrosse an official VHSL sport.
Several local colleges also have begun to support lacrosse, including Christopher Newport University, Old Dominion University and William and Mary. Hampton joined the movement this year, adding men's and women's club lacrosse teams.
Tubicsak says that area colleges are becoming increasingly interested in lacrosse players, even at the club level.
"I can go to college (for lacrosse) and I can get scholarships," she said.
Those in charge of HRLax have faced an uphill climb over the years, but appear to have succeeded. Their goal is no longer survival, Gazarik said, "Our mission is to get a lacrosse stick in every person's hands."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun