Airline to play first varsity lacrosse game Friday night at Freedom Fields

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Airline is playing its first varsity lacrosse game Friday night at Freedom Fields.
The Vikings face the Tyler Spartans at 7:30.

Airline is a member of the Louisiana High School Lacrosse League’s Division I North league. The league was created when Airline, Tyler and South Bossier joined last year. Other members are Byrd, Caddo Magnet, Captain Shreve and Loyola.

South Bossier, comprised of Parkway students, plays its first game of the season Tuesday against Caddo Magnet at Lee Hedges Stadium.

Airline began exploring the idea of adding lacrosse in the spring of 2013. Cope Middle School, one of Airline’s feeder schools, has had a team for several years.

The Vikings fielded a junior varsity team last season. Airline has about 25 players in the program, coach Steve Martino said.

Martino said the Vikings played well in the LHSLL’s Division II JV league last season. The only action this season so far was in the One Team, One Fight Karl Mitchell Jamboree.

“We’re looking pretty strong,” Martino said. “There’s a lot of hope with our season. If we play to our potential we definitely can make some ripples in our district.”

The Vikings practice for about an hour-and-a-half a day, Martino said. Speed, agility, good footwork and stick skills are just some of the requirements for being a successful player.

Practice is mainly devoted to working on the team concept.

“The kids have got to get out there outside of practice and work on their stick skills,” Martino said. “That’s what a lot of these boys have been doing on their own.”

Even though lacrosse is not among the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s 22 sanctioned sports, Martino said the Airline administration, including principal Jason Rowland and athletic director Ronnie Coker, has been fully behind it. Coker is the faculty sponsor.

“We’ve had the utmost cooperation from Mr. Rowland and Coach Coker,” Martino said. “They’ve done an excellent job as far as treating us as a school-sanctioned sport. They’ve really made the transition easy.”

Martino also said he appreciates First Baptist Bossier letting the team play home games at the new Freedom Fields complex.

“I want to thank them for allowing us to utilize their fields there,” he said. “Our parent board — team president John Schulter and his wife, Lisa — worked really hard to get those fields for us along with Coach Coker. That’s huge to have a home-field advantage in a beautiful complex.”

The LHSLL has three divisions — North, South and Central. Dutchtown, Lafayette High, St. Thomas More and Catholic play in the Central Division. Brother Martin, Gautier-Pascagoula, Holy Cross, Jesuit, Mandeville, St. Paul’s and St. Martin’s play in the South Division.

The season runs from late January through April including playoffs. New Orleans Jesuit is the defending state champion.

Lacrosse has been growing at the high school level across the state and nationwide.

Jesuit fields four teams, according to its website — varsity, junior varsity, “frosh” (ninth and 10th grades) and U15 (eighth grade). The four teams have 15 coaches, including four for the varsity.

Baton Rouge Catholic High’s program is in its eighth year, according to the school’s website. The school fields three full squads with 77 players on the roster.

According to its website, the Louisiana High School Lacrosse League was formed in 2008 “to provide a framework and organizational structure for the growth of youth lacrosse in the State of Louisiana.”

The local Red River Youth Lacrosse Association has grown from 60 players when it was formed in May of 2012 to more than 300, according to its website.

— Russell Hedges, rhedges@bossierpress.com