Often, when folks in these parts think lacrosse, they think of a city in Wisconsin on the Mississippi River, or a funky game played primarily on the East Coast. Charley Sopko and Stephanie McDonald are looking to change that mindset.
Lacrosse—the sport—quickly is spreading across the Midwest, thanks to the success of collegiate level programs at schools like Notre Dame and national TV broadcasts of the NCAA playoffs. Sopko has made it his personal mission to bring the sport to Oak Forest.
“I picked the game up in college," he said. "I was a PE teacher when I graduated from Illinois State. They had a team there where I played, and I fell in love with the game. More recently, they had a club team in Orland that my son was on. Demand was catching on, and then I thought it would be great to bring it to Oak Forest."
Sopko went to the Oak Forest Park District, just down the street from his office at the main fire station where he serves as deputy chief. He presented his idea to McDonald, the district's recreation supervisor.
“I was a little nervous," she said. "I didn’t know much about the sport. Charley explained it to me. He has so much enthusiasm when he talks about it, and it’s contagious. It’s great to get on (new) things as they happen."
Last year, according to both McDonald and Sopko, the Oak Forest Park District was able to field only one team, compromising of about 30 boys and girls from third- through eighth-grade. This year, Sopko estimates a turn out of 75 kids.
Call it a flurry on increased interest that nearly matches Oak Forest team's nickname: Fury.
“I was extremely happy with the kids we got last year," Sopko said. "There’s a lot of talk this year about people coming out. It is catching on, even though people aren’t as knowledgeable about the sport, they’re still excited about it."
McDonald credits Sopko for spreading the word.
“I give all the credit to Charley," she said. "He’s done all the legwork and has been the one that’s gotten it to our town. If you wanted to play lacrosse, you were going to Mokena or Orland or Homer Glen. The response we’ve gotten has been fantastic."
And parents, don’t worry if it seems like a lot of kids. Sopko’s philosophy is that everyone plays. The teams are co-ed. There is a registration on Wednesday, Jan. 12 at the Oak Forest Park District, but if you can’t make it, the season starts in March. If you’re interested in coaching, the U.S. Lacrosse Associaion will be hosting a clinic in February at Lyons Township High School’s south campus. (See attached PDF file).
At the high school level in Illinois, lacrosse remains a club sport, though there is a movement to add the sport to the IHSA list of sanctioned activities. That movement hit a speed bump at the IHSA's regularly scheduled board meeting on Monday.
IHSA Directors approved a recommendation to delay the start of the boys and girls lacrosse state series until the 2011-12 school year, at the earliest.