When Tanner Scales arrived in Baltimore earlier this week, he couldn't help but feel like he was crashing a family reunion. While he knew next to no one, everyone around him seemed to be best friends.
But he didn't mind. The Denver native was just excited to join the festivities, to take part in his sport's biggest annual showcase of high school talent — the Under Armour All-America Lacrosse Classic.
"It's really cool coming out here and everyone's so close with each other and it is a really tight-knit community," said Scales, who will compete in the boys game Saturday night at Towson University'sJohnny UnitasStadium. "But they're awesome with accepting all of us and realizing that the sport is growing."
Take a quick glance at the event's rosters, though, and such growth may not seem obvious. Forty-two of the 49 boys are from the East Coast of the United States, while just two of the 45 girls hail from west of Virginia.
And if there was ever any question about which states were lacrosse's biggest hotbeds, the All-America game makes it overwhelmingly clear: New York and Maryland are far ahead of the competition. Eleven boys and 15 girls are from the Empire State, while 11 boys and 11 girls went to high school in the home state of Under Armour's headquarters.
The most telling numbers? Four members of the South boys team played for Calvert Hall last year. Only three of their teammates are from outside the Mid-Atlantic region.
"I think [New York and Maryland] are probably the strongest lacrosse places, so this really just proves that true," said Anne Heagerty, a midfielder from Huntington, N.Y. "It's just an elite group, both areas."
Inside Lacrosse and a selection committee of some of the top figures in the sport spent the past 12 months scouring the entire country for lacrosse's best players. The publication compiled a list of 500 kids, then narrowed it down to the boys and girls who were selected for the two games.
Lee Corrigan, president of Corrigan Sports, said he helped establish the event in 2006 so lacrosse could have its own version of the McDonald's All-American game in basketball.
He wants the event to honor the sport's best high school athletes, no matter geographic location. It just so happens that Maryland and New York — particularly Long Island — tend to have the strongest high school programs, and thus, the most polished players.
Still, there are signs that lacrosse is growing.
This year's showcase features the most states in its history, and the 2012 class of boys are headed to 19 different universities — a notable increase of the 13 colleges represented in the inaugural year..
"I wouldn't say the strength of Maryland and Long Island is deteriorating," Corrigan said. "But it's also being pecked away at a little bit by all these non-traditional markets that are really emerging as little mini-lacrosse hotbeds, if you will."
Scales is a part of that growth, something he feels wouldn't be possible without the pioneering efforts of New York and Maryland.
"Everyone says that the growth of lacrosse is because the West is getting involved," Scales said. "But we have to give a lot of credit to the kids from New York and Maryland for letting us get involved with this sport and helping it grow."