Twenty-seven players have turned out for a Forest Grove program in its fourth season

Three years ago, Will Burnard really wanted to play high school lacrosse.

Then a freshman, Burnard had played youth lacrosse in Hillsboro, but Forest Grove High School did not offer a program. Burnard’s mother, Anne, had heard that players without a school program could participate with the closest school in the neighboring school district, so she contacted the lacrosse coach at Glencoe, which did have a program.

But the coach told her that allowance only applies to players in the same school district. Anne Burnard broke the news to her son one day after school.

“He just looks at me and he goes, ‘I can’t play, can I?’ And I’m like, ‘No,’ and he just went in his room and shut the door,” Anne Burnard recalled.

So Burnard decided to start a lacrosse program at Forest Grove. Three seasons ago, the team started with just a handful of players, but the program has grown rapidly and is now contesting its first varsity season this spring after playing a JV schedule the past two years.

“Our program has grown from, like in the first year, we had six to eight kids, and this year we have 27,” Burnard said.

Perhaps that quick growth should not be too surprising. After all, Forest Grove coach Kevin Hummel said, lacrosse is a sport that tends to naturally attract players.

“It’s a really interesting game. It’s a lot different than any other sport right now in high school because we wear pretty unique gear,” he said, mentioning the required shoulder and arm pads, helmets and gloves. “I think what really sets the sport apart is the lacrosse stick, and it’s ... a really unique piece of equipment that’s not in any other sport. It’s just really appealing to young boys to play a really aggressive, fast-paced game like lacrosse.”

In Oregon, high school boys lacrosse is a club sport governed by the Oregon High School Lacrosse Association. Forest Grove plays in the Pacific Conference along with Glencoe, Century, Hilhi, Newberg, Tigard and Tualatin. The fee to participate is $125, which is the same as for other high school sports at Forest Grove.

Players must also provide their own equipment — stick, helmet, gloves, and pads —though the school has been providing transportation this season to away games, Burnard said, now that the Vikings are playing at the varsity level.

And Forest Grove already has experienced some success this season, going 2-3 in nonconference play before opening up league play with a loss to Glencoe — the reigning Pacific champion — on Monday.

“We’ve had a couple wins this season, which has been awesome,” Hummel said about victories against Putnam and Valley Catholic. “We’re really excited about moving up to the varsity level and being able to hang with these programs that have been around for a couple of years.”

Will Burnard, Jake LeBrun and Tony Macchiato are the team captains and dependable contributors for this year’s squad, Hummel said. He also pointed out Taylor Hitchcock and Spencer Duckworth, and is excited about the potential of freshman Mike Long, who is already starting on defense in his first year in lacrosse.

Hummel’s longer-term vision for the Vikings is to start a youth feeder program so players can gain experience before starting high school and for enough players to turn out next year to field both a varsity and a JV team.

As for the youth program, Hummel hopes to get started with a seventh- and eighth-grade team next spring.

That seems like a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time. But given the program’s track record already, this could be just the beginning for Forest Grove lacrosse.

“Lacrosse basically sells itself. It’s such a unique, fast game,” Hummel said. “I think every kid that’s ever come out and been on the fence ... has always sided with being on the team, because after that first day of practice they’re in love with the sport.”

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