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Growing: Lesser known sports gaining in popularity

February 28, 2013
By SETH STASKEY - Times?Leader Sports Editor , Times Leader

When the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference was founded, it was built on the idea of crowning champions for football, basketball, baseball and track.

Those sports are still highly visible in the Ohio Valley and throughout America. However, they also have plenty of company as the OVAC has now been around for 70 years.

While the OVAC now crowns champions in 13 sports, there are plenty of other sports locally that are experiencing growth that could be knocking on the door both at the state level in Ohio and West Virginia.

Article Photos

ST. CLAIRSVILLE’S Carlee Gillespie (8) and Haley Skukan (9) battle with a Brooke player for possession of the ball during the OVAC Soccer semifinals. Soccer has increased in interest since it was introduced as an official sport locally during the 1990s

The growth of sports such as lacrosse, hockey, bowling and soccer have had little negative impact on the traditional sports. Obviously, in some schools that might not be the case because smaller schools have fewer kids to choose from, so the pool of candidates is different.

Locally, Wheeling Park, Wheeling Central and The Linsly School offer lacrosse, which is played in the spring. The state of West Virginia hasn't sanctioned the event as a sport nor has Ohio despite the sport's growth in the metropolitan areas throughout the Buckeye State.

According to United States Lacrosse, 21 states sponsor the sport. That number could conceivably be going up soon because the USL says there were more than 324,000 players ages 15 and younger.

So, how will this affect the Ohio Valley and the more 'mainstream' sports? It remains to be seen what new direction the local sports landscape will take in the coming years.

"I don't think these kinds of sports hurt others because it's different kinds of kids," said OVAC Executive Secretary Tom Rataiczak. "For instance, a kid who goes out for the bowling team probably isn't the same kid who going to go out for basketball."

Football is the main sport in the United States for males and also the financial lifeline for athletic departments in the Ohio Valley. Many area football teams' numbers were down this season when compared to previous years, but numbers in the schools are down, so there's no direct correlation that another sport is pulling athletes from football.

For example, Monroe Central is the most recent Eastern Ohio school to add soccer as a varsity sport. The Seminoles' football numbers haven't been adversely affected.

"I think it's not the varsity sports that are hurting high school numbers, but it's the fall baseball or the AAU basketball or club volleyball," Rataiczak said. "Those things are taking kids away from the other sports because they're making their sports year-round."

Bowling is a sport that's been approved in Ohio and locally Union Local, St. Clairsville, Bridgeport, St. John, Martins Ferry and Buckeye Local all sponsor the sport and take part in the OHSAA tournament.

The sport isn't recognized in West Virginia, but several schools are beginning to offer 'club' teams for it, which means the WVSSAC could soon be approached about adding the sport.

"In the OVAC, 25 percent of the schools have to sponsor the sport and then someone has to approach us about a tournament," Rataiczak said. "So, we would need 13 schools that sponsor bowling."

Overall, the popularity of other sports is growing compared to football, but the gridiron sport is still the king in the Ohio Valley. Plus, any change in football's numbers can probably be associated with more factors than the addition of sports, such as safety as the battle against concussions is a daily topic in this country.



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