The State of Lacrosse: Hawaii

The State of Lacrosse features a state-by-state look at lacrosse growth in the US. In each post we'll interview individuals involved in growing lacrosse in their home state. Today we focus on Hawaii and speak with Ryan Counter. Ryan is the co-president of the Hawaiian US Lacrosse chapter. Visit Hawaii lacrosse at www.hawaiilacrosse.com.

Tell us a little bit about the state of lacrosse in Hawaii?

Lacrosse in Hawaii right now is the strongest it has ever been since the first few men started the club over 25 years ago. Last year we held our 21st annual Hawaii Lacrosse Invitational with 28 teams from Japan, Canada, Australia, and mainland USA. The Men's club has undergone some reorganization and elected leadership to take us through 2012. We have seen a big increase in the number of guys coming out each Sunday for pick up games at Kapiolani park and the overall skill level has improved year to year. We welcome anyone to come out and play, skill level ranges from beginner to former and current high level D1 and MLL players, and everything in between. We also get a lot of active military stationed in Hawaii and have been trying to improve our outreach to the military. We are all about growing the sport and having fun.

We will be taking a team to the San Diego Jam by the Sea Tournament in April to compete in the Elite division. Hawaii used to send a team to a mainland tournament every year, but it has been almost 10 years since we have done so. We feel it is important to support other tournaments and build relationships with the greater lacrosse community.

The youth programs have been steadily growing the last 5 years and are getting closer to becoming recognized as varsity sport at the High School level. If they can become recognized by the ILH (Interscholastic League of Honolulu), that will be a huge step in the growth of youth lacrosse in Hawaii.

What region of the state has growth of the sport been the strongest?

RC: The only island with lacrosse is Oahu. Primarily played at Kapiolani park in Honolulu.

What age level is Hawaii seeing most of its growth? Youth? High school?

RC: Youth, 4,5,6 grades and up. Some of these boys are now moving in to High School and the level of play is definitely getting better. The key is to get them started young. If they do not gain a love for the game by the time they get to high school they are often involved in other sports.

What is high school/prep competition like in Hawaii? It seems there is about six established programs in the state?

RC: Yes, 6 High School teams, all club right now. Also, boys and girls 1-3 grade, and 4-6 grade. The youth program (AYLA, stands for Aloha Youth Lacrosse Association) was started in 2004 so is still fairly young. However, the participation has been increasing every year.

We held a level one coaching clinic in February sponsored by US Lacrosse and had a great turn out, there is a lot of support from the adults trying to grow the youth program. Many of the
men's and women's club members are also involved as coaches or referees for AYLA, as well as the US Lacrosse Hawaii Chapter which oversees everything is still fairly young. However, the participation has been increasing every year.

Punahou School went undefeated in the state last year, are they the favorite again for this year?

RC: Punahou, Wolfpac, and Iolani are competitive with each other, but yes Punahou has been a favorite. They are also leading the way in terms of becoming a recognized varsity sport.

The Punahou School mascot is the 'Buff n Blue', what exactly is that?

RC: Punahou does not actually have a mascot per se. They used to be the "O Men" when the school was all men. Then when they admitted women they changed it to the buff (gold) and blue which are the school colors. In 1890 "Oahu wa" became the first school song. School colors of buff and blue were chosen, reflecting the hues of beach and ocean.

According to Wikipedia "Punahou doesn't have a mascot. The symbol that perhaps most closely qualifies as a school mascot is the hala tree, whose image is used in the school's seal."

The Hawaii Invitational Lacrosse tournament is well known in the lacrosse community and has been going strong for over 20 years. Can you talk about how that tournament has had a positive impact on lacrosse in the state?

RC: This years 2012 tournament will be the 22nd annual. It is always a great event and truly the most international lacrosse tournament in the country. It draws a lot of attention to Hawaii and the game of lacrosse due to the diverse participation and high level of play. Every year we get at least 2 teams primarily made up of MLL players. Two years ago Inside Lacrosse came out to document the tournament, there was incredible competition that year between perennial powerhouses Wimmer Solutions and Crease Monkeys, and newcomer to the HI Lax scene, Iroquois Nationals.

It is a great opportunity for locals to watch high level lacrosse and build awareness around the sport. Our tournament has been a real driving force behind the growth of lacrosse in Hawaii. And it is always one hell of a party in paradise.

Are there any college club teams on the island? I assume given budget limitations their competition is limited to other Hawaiian schools?

RC: Many University of Hawaii students currently play with the Men's or Women's clubs, but there is a movement underway to gain recognition as an official UH club sport. Travel is always an issue when you live on a remote island.

Is there any potential for further growth specific to Hawaiian university club teams?

RC: Yes, at University of Hawaii as stated above. Also HPU, and Chaminade University on Oahu.

Is it challenging for the sport to get a foothold in a state so known for its love of other sports such as football and surfing?

RC: It is a challenge, but not one we can't overcome. Mostly it just takes awareness, exposure, and organization. Soccer, football, baseball, swimming, paddling, surfing, etc,. have traditionally been very strong in Hawaii. As a parent if you grew up in Hawaii, chances are you have not been exposed to lacrosse and will guide your child to activities that are more familiar. Fortunately, lacrosse is a fun sport to watch even if you don't understand what is going on, and more fun to play. It is a great fit for boys who like the physical nature of football, but the speed and athleticism of soccer.

Access to gear has also been an issue in the past. There are currently only 2 stores on Oahu that sell lacrosse equipment, and for some parents the initial cost is a deterrent. No one wants to spend a few hundred dollars on gear, only to find out their child doesn't like it in a few weeks. We have worked to overcome this obstacle by getting donations and loaning gear to first time players to try out, or those that cannot afford a full set of gear. Reducing any obstacles for new players is key to our success in growing the game at the youth level and beyond.

Is it correct to say that the adult/post college club scene in Hawaii is strong with teams like Hawaiian Punch that travel and compete around the nation?

RC: The post-collegiate men's club is currently very strong. We put together a really solid Hawaiian Punch team this year for our tournament, and hope to do well in San Diego. Many of the original guys who started the lacrosse club have said this is the strongest elite team Hawaii has ever put together. We have stepped up our organization, coaching, and team practices to take it to the next level. We are always at the mercy of transient players who come and go, but right now we have a solid crew.

What are the biggest challenges that lacrosse growth will face in Hawaii in coming years?

RC: Acceptance in the schools as a recognized ILH sport is the biggest obstacle. The men's club seems to be growing and we have guys in place who have taken on responsibilities that have fallen by the wayside the past few years. Our website was also in disarray and I think we suffered due to lack of available information on how to get involved. If we keep up the work at the youth level, and encourage the men and women to support those efforts, I think the outlook is positive.

Anything else you'd like to share about Hawaii lacrosse?

RC: Mark your calendars for the 22nd annual Hawaii Invitational Lacrosse Tournament October 26-28, 2012!!

More information to come, check www.hawaiilacrosse.com for updates, or follow us to receive an email when there is a new post.


Thanks Ryan!