The new sports that kids love to play
Step aside, football, basketball and soccer – there’s a new sport in town (several, actually).
Not every child grows up to be the star setter on the school volleyball team or a six-footer who keeps a cool head on the free-throw line. But plenty of students would love the chance to represent their school, given the chance. That’s why Kevin Gunn, a high school religion teacher at Ursuline Academy, started the Uptown school’s competitive sailing club five years ago. “I found it was good for a lot of people who just didn’t have a niche yet,” he says. “The typical girl who joins the Ursuline sailing team isn’t usually involved in sports or the arts, and they just need something to do. Sailing kind of fits that.”
Non-traditional sports like sailing, lacrosse, bowling and rugby are increasing in popularity, not only across the New Orleans area but nationwide. At the same time, participation in more traditional sports is declining. According to a recent study by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association and the Aspen Institute, participation in basketball, baseball, football and soccer has decreased the most out of 15 sports surveyed nationwide between 2008 and 2016.
These “big four” sports suffered the most drop-out rates due to the increased price of playing, the increase of one-sport specialization and year-round travel teams, and a lack of qualified coaches in sports across the board, the study says. Coaches at local schools say involvement in non-traditional club teams allow students who may not make the varsity teams to represent their schools, and find friends and a hobby that will continue through their formative years.
Ursuline Academy’s sailing club averages about 20 girls in eighth through 12th grades who practice at the New Orleans Yacht Club twice a week, and race on Fridays and at weekend regattas, Gunn says. “When people learn to sail, it’s a lifelong skill,” he says. “They’ll be able to sail with their children years from now.”
Doug Mills is the lacrosse commissioner with Carrollton Boosters, a youth sports organization in New Orleans. He has seen the club’s lacrosse division grow from 17 boys in 2010 to 100 boys in three age groups and a burgeoning high school girls’ team in 2017. Mills credits the sport’s popularity to several reasons: The sport is non-stop like soccer, with very little stoppage in play, and like other sports, players can be on offense and defense at any given moment.
“It’s just a fun sport,” Mills says. “It encompasses so many of the things kids like about basketball, soccer and football. You have to run and develop a skill set to throw and catch the ball.” Kids like the helmets and cool lacrosse sticks players wear and use, but parents like the sport’s less dangerous aspects compared to football, he says. Lacrosse is still a “contact” sport but not a “collision” sport like football, Mills says.
Parents of young lacrosse players are looking ahead to which sport their children may play in high school, and many of them want options besides football. “There’s an anti-football movement or feeling out there in the country, and it’s getting stronger,” Mills says. The students who have participated in Carrollton Boosters’ lacrosse teams often play later for Jesuit High School, Brother Martin High School, Holy Cross School and Isidore Newman School, all in New Orleans, he says.
Lacrosse as a club sports team had begun to take hold at Jesuit prior to 2005, but it really took off after Hurricane Katrina hit and displaced students up and down the east coast, where the sport is more popular, says Rob Weiss, Jesuit’s competitive club sports director. Today, Jesuit has three club lacrosse teams for varying ages and abilities, with as many as 85 students, he says.
Club sports at Jesuit also include rugby and sailing, but are subject to change depending on student interests. For example, the school offered an in-line hockey club team a few years ago, but interest in the sport has faded, Weiss says. Club sports compete against other schools, but they’re not sanctioned by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, he says.
Jesuit also offers a club bowling team that allows students the chance to compete and serves as a transition to try out for the school’s varsity bowling team, he says. Club sports provide an outlet for skills and talents that may not be represented by traditional varsity sports offered at the school, Weiss says. “It’s just an opportunity for kids to represent a team, wear the name of their school on their chest and be part of a group,” he says. “It’s good exercise. It’s a good use of your energy and talents to be out there, and doing it with teammates makes it even more worth it.”
School activity clubs like ping pong, disc golf, fencing and fishing are also growing in popularity at local schools. And, another sport, once primarily taken up by boys, is picking up players at a local girl’s school. With this summer’s construction of a 4,000-square-foot turf putting and chipping green at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, women’s golf has become a flagship program of the school’s athletic department, says Sarah Reiss, athletics director and head volleyball coach at the Uptown school.
Each student taking middle school P.E. learns the sport of golf, and the school also offers a varsity golf team that has placed second in the state for the past two years, Reiss says. “Having the putting and chipping green on campus allows them to get a real taste for the sport,” she says. The students will “reap the dividends of having this skill set for the rest of their lives.”
Bowling also helps develop skills its participants will use over a lifetime, says Frank Rubi, bowling coach for Archbishop Chapelle High School in Metairie. The team, currently made up of eight students, learns bowling strategies and how to score during the fall pre-season, then practices twice a week and bowls competitively two other days during the spring, he says.
The team competes against other varsity teams in the High School Girls Metro League and practices at the AMF All Star Lanes in Kenner, Rubi says. The sport builds confidence, and teaches responsibility and integrity, plus serves as a way for girls who may not see much playing time in other sports to participate in athletics, he says. “Not all of them are going to be six footers who play basketball,” he says.
To read our article on the Importance of Team Sports, click here