After years of existing as a club sport in the Gig Harbor area, boys lacrosse is coming to Gig Harbor and Peninsula high schools this spring.
The Harbor Fire Lacrosse Association, which operates boys and girls lacrosse from third grade on up, has operated at the high school level for the past five years.
The boys high school team had been comprised of students from both Peninsula and Gig Harbor high schools, and now it will be split up following a request from the Washington High School Boys Lacrosse Association, which aims to eventually make lacrosse a high school sport.
The Gig Harbor and Peninsula teams will remain affiliated with the club and not with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. However, they will wear the school’s colors and have the school’s logos.
Although the club teams are not beholden to WIAA regulations, they make an effort to align themselves with WIAA rules and standards, so when the WIAA recognizes lacrosse as a sport, the transition will be seamless.
“The continued growth in the state has been amazing,” Peninsula head coach Tracy Lyon said. “Every year I’ve been part of it, you hear about expansions in the state.”
While the sport has taken off in Seattle and, more recently, the South Puget Sound, its growth has been slower in the eastern part of the state, as well as the northern and southern areas. Until the growth is more substantial in those areas, it likely won’t be recognized by the WIAA.
Gig Harbor head coach Marc Kemp said everybody has to agree to adopt the sport.
“There’d probably be sufficient support if it was just a Seattle, west-side decision, but since the whole state has to support it, we haven’t gotten there yet,” Kemp said.
He thinks it’s only a matter of time.
Kemp grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, where he saw lacrosse gain in popularity from his time in high school in the early 1980s.
“Only private schools had the sport,” Kemp said. “I went to college, played there, came back. Ten years later, every school had the sport, and it’s a big deal.”
Harbor Fire, which will change its name to the Gig Harbor Lacrosse Association, was a Division II high school program. With the split, Gig Harbor will move into Division I because it’s a 4A school by WIAA standards, and Peninsula, which the WIAA considers a 3A school based on enrollment numbers, will remain Division II.
Both schools will play various D-I and D-II programs during their regular seasons.
In a nod to the game’s heritage, Gig Harbor and Peninsula will face each other for the first time in what’s been dubbed “The Baggataway Bowl.” The game will be played at 7 p.m. March 18 at Roy Anderson Field.
Baggataway is a Native American word for the original native sport, which has evolved into modern-day lacrosse. Kemp said they were inspired by the annual Washington-Washington State Apple Cup rivalry, as well as the Gig Harbor-Peninsula Fish Bowl.
They wanted to make the game an event, rather than just another game, Kemp said.
“We’re trying to honor the sport and its heritage by using that name,” he said. “We have a nice big trophy that we’re hoping will sort of become a perpetual trophy and get handed down every year that the two teams play.”
The rivalry is unique in a few ways. First, the players are familiar with each other because they’ve been playing together for years. The teams also share practice time at Roy Anderson Field.
“It’s literally a civil war-type situation,” Kemp said. “You’ve got families and brothers that have grown up playing together, now split apart. Of course, it’s gotta be more interesting and fun for them to sort of play for their school, rather than an even more independent Harbor Fire program. So now they’re wearing their school colors.”
Lyon, who was the JV coach for the Harbor Fire high school team last year, said it will be interesting to see how the rivalry unfolds.
“These players have played with each other, they know each other,” Lyon said. “I think that’ll up the ante as far as the rivalry is concerned.”
The players want to beat each other, but they’re friends, too.
“There’s not a lot of mean-spiritedness,” Lyon said. “Everyone wants everyone to do well. Gig Harbor wants Peninsula to do well, and we feel the same way. That might be different than football or basketball, where there’s a constant competition.”Sports reporter Jon Manley can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at email@example.com.