By: J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola
The sport of lacrosse is one of the most popular and fastest growing sports in the country and that trend continues in Osceola County as St. Cloud High becomes the third county school to add the sport to its varsity line-up – joining Celebration and Tohopekaliga.
“It’s a go,” St. Cloud athletic director Bryan Smart said. “Zach Beaverson, who will serve as our first head coach, and some students approached my predecessor Eric Godfrey last year and talked to him about starting a team. Eric was more than supportive and helped get a club team off the ground. The interest is definitely there and we decided to go varsity this season.”
In addition to Godfrey, Smart also praised Tohopekaliga coach Robert Weilert for his assistance. “Whether it was ideas, suggestions, tips or program protocols, Coach Weilert has been a tremendous asset. He obviously has his own program to worry about but has been totally unselfish in helping us out,” Smart said.
Beaverson will coach both the boys and girls teams and will be assisted by Todd Schultz, who played varsity lacrosse in college. Beaverson hopes to add an additional assistant or two in the future.
Smart noted that many challenges will face the school’s new lacrosse program, including budget, equipment and the scheduling of fields for practice times and games. “Obviously we will need to find money for uniforms, equipment and to pay game officials. There also only so much on-campus practice field space and we have and many teams that need to use them; so scheduling becomes an issue” Smart said. “But at St. Cloud High School our main priority is the always the student. They wanted this program, so we will find a way to make it work.”
Interest has been solid in the early going. In addition to fielding a club team last school year, Beaverson said he has had a steady crowd of student-athletes show up three times a week for summer workouts. “Some kids have summer jobs, while others are playing other sports or have family commitments, yet we still have between 25 and 35 kids – mostly sophomores– show up for summer workouts in 95 degree heat. Participation and enthusiasm for the sport has been off the charts.”
With 10 players on the field at one time in a sport that also has liberal substitutions, Beaverson believes he will have no problem finding the 20-35 roster members it takes to field a lacrosse team. “Once school starts and the word gets out, interest will grow,” he said. “The fact also remains that this is just a fun game to play and is a great ‘crossover’ sport for athletes from other teams can use to keep in shape.”
Beaverson says he and Schultz will have several obstacles to overcome including scheduling. “We are going to try to schedule as many doubleheaders as possible so both teams can play on the same field on the same day,” he noted. “We will schedule practices back-to-back and maybe even do some joint practices with the boys and girls teams. It will make for some long days but we will figure it out.”
As far as on the field performance, Beaverson says managing expectations will be hardest thing. “Kids don’t like to lose and I don’t like to lose, but in reality I know the first year or two will be difficult. Some of these Orlando-area kids have been playing organized lacrosse since grade and middle school. We are starting with a few athletes that may not even know which end of the stick to hold,” Beaverson jokes. “Our goals will remain modest in the first year or two – have fun and try to get better every practice and every game.”
Currently 200 public and private high schools play lacrosse in Florida. Championships are held in a small (1A) and large school (2A) division. Celebration’s girls team has been the most successful team in Osceola County, winning several district championships – including in 2022 when they went 13-4. But the other three teams in Osceola County – Celebration boys (9-5), Tohopekaliga boys (11-8) and Tohopekaliga girls (9-8) also posted winning records.
“We’re becoming the third county school to add lacrosse, hopefully a couple more schools will add it in the next couple of years so it can become part of the Orange Belt Conference championship schedule,” Smart added.