A year ago lacrosse was virtually nonexistent in Iowa. Sure there were a few colleges with MCLA teams: the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, Dordt, Cornell College, and Northwestern College. But at the recreational and high school levels lacrosse had virtually no presence.
Driving around Des Moines, you would not see kids playing wall ball. Pick up games were unheard of. Scheels, the largest sporting goods store in the metro, would occasionally carry some starter gear, but then it would mysteriously disappear. The only time I ever witnessed lacrosse - in any form - being played in the metro was following a Des Moines Menace PDL soccer game. Three guys were tossing a ball outside of the stadium with poor results.
In early October last year, I decided that I wanted to try lacrosse. I had been playing hockey since high school and was eager to find a spring/summer sport that provided a similar experience. Although I love soccer, the only local leagues either started too early in the spring while I was still in my hockey season (Over-the-Hill) or were far too rough for "the beautiful game" and played on the worst fields in the city (Latino League). Softball was out for me due to its boring nature; my ADD does not have the patience to sit around waiting to bat. Since lacrosse did not exist, I came up with a really rough plan to try and get myself moving.
I started a blog (http://centraliowalax.blogspot.com/) with the goal of giving interested locals a place to go. I named my project the "Central Iowa Lacrosse Association." I joined the Warrior Nation (I have since deleted my original profile) and posted on the Lacrosse Forums; I wanted to have my website's links spread out. I laid the ground work for a team in the regional league (GPLL) and set up a logo design competition. Most importantly, I posted on our local hockey forums. I figured that most local adult hockey players, and probably some younger ones as well, were looking for a suitable summer sport.
I first made contact with another laxer in the area around Thanksgiving. We talked via eventually set up a "Toss Around," an informal session to introduce lacrosse. He had played for Augustana College in the Quad Cities and moved to Des Moines for graduate studies. At the same time, I learned that two of the local high schools sent a joint team to a fall ball tournament in Lincoln, NE. Eventually a former teammate of their coach sent me his contact info. The coach and several members of the team joined our first Toss Around.
I learned that the team was preparing for its first year in the Nebraska High School Lacrosse league and that their head coach was in desperate need of help. While not physically proficient (the Toss Around was my first experience), I knew the game and rules pretty well. As the team practiced, we continued having more Toss Around sessions and were joined by more and more interested adults. The growth was unexpected and seemed to stem from my blog.
With sponsorship from one of the schools, the high school team was officially christened the "Valley Tigers" and I created a website (http://wdmvalleylax.sports.officelive.com/default.aspx). The website (and a pres release) seemed to raise the team visibility enough to help bring over 200 people to our first home game. A surprisingly large number of whom were not directed affiliated with any of the participating teams; they were curious locals and a few transplants. We had even more fans at our next home game. The former coaching staff at the University of Denver thought enough of my website to contact us about a potential camp - IN DES MOINES, IOWA!
During the summer we had an "open league" for high school and adult players. It was a pickup league designed to increase participation and was advertised on a more formal, newly created site (http://centraliowalacrosse.sports.officelive.com/default.aspx). As the summer wore on, more and more middle school players showed interest. We began allowing them to join the team. Then I was contacted by parents moving to Des Moines from hotbed areas like Baltimore and North Carolina. A few of their kids have joined us as well.
As we head into fall, Valley's players are preparing for their second trip to the Lincoln Rampage Mid-Fall Classic. We are also gearing up for a box lacrosse league in a local indoor soccer facility. Everything is in place to start playing box under a few modified rules to accommodate our needs. To top it all off, on Friday I learned that the Minnesota Swarm will host a preseason game at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Iowa and ISU will play a box game beforehand; ISU is also participating in our box league. We are also working on getting Valley floor time that night - December 5.
Since I began with a shaky plan a year ago, I have learned how to play lacrosse. I have created four websites dedicated to the game and its growth in Iowa. I secured a permanent spot as an assistant coach of a high school team. I helped lead that team to a 12-1 first season. I organized both a summer pick up league and a winter box league. I have made connections with the lax programs at ISU and Iowa, as well as with the Minnesota Swarm. I am working with Lincoln's manager and the current Denver staff to make Des Moines a permanent fixture for a Denver summer camp. I have seen an increase interest in the ladies' game. Most importantly, I have experienced an increase in participation from around 20 guys to nearly 50.
Things are looking up. The future of lacrosse in Iowa looks bright.