One man with a passion for a mission can be a most powerful force. Such has been the case of Mike Sanderson and the future of lacrosse in Northwest Georgia.
Last October, area youth were introduced to the sport with a free camp and exhibition game at Harmon Field largely because of Sanderson, a marketing manager for Shaw Industries. Since that time, Sanderson has been steadily pushing the development of the game and the rebirth of the sport in Northwest Georgia, where Native Americans once played it in its original form.
Admittedly “not from around here,” Sanderson is a native of New York, but he has plenty of Southern fried sports enthusiasm as a graduate of the University of Alabama and a diehard Crimson Tide fan. All he wants is to expand the growth of his childhood sport in a region he has grown to love.
Most popular along the Eastern Seaboard, lacrosse is already thriving in metro Atlanta and Chattanooga. Sanderson feels that Dalton — located between the two — would be a perfect place for new growth. Others are agreeing.
Recently, U.S. Lacrosse awarded the Northwest Georgia Lacrosse Club a grant through its First Stick Program, which helps fund and encourage startup programs around the nation. The grant will purchase 25 sets of equipment — helmets, shoulder pads, sticks, elbow pads and gloves — as the group seeks to start a 13-and-under team this spring.
“Slowly but surely, we are getting the word out on lacrosse,” Sanderson said. “We have some momentum going.”
Sanderson’s biggest challenge is education. Lacrosse is not a sport most Southerners grew up with, and he knows it will take word of mouth and teaching people about the game to accomplish his mission. It’s the same approach that helped soccer and fastpitch softball take hold in Georgia.
“I grew up with lacrosse, and I can teach my kids,” Sanderson said. “The parents around here grew up with football or baseball or golf or tennis, and they don’t know how to teach it. They have to learn a new sport, just like the kids do.”
Sanderson has found the community receptive, but he has had to work at not trying to move too quickly at the risk of being unable to keep up with demand.
“It is more of a marathon than a sprint,” he said. “We have to get some good grass roots, and then the kids will take it over and spread the sport amongst themselves.”
Sanderson said he has found a willing ally in Steve Card, director of the Dalton Parks and Recreation Department. Registration for the planned team is under way on both the NWGLax website (NWGLax.com) and the DRPD site (mydprd.com).
“I can’t speak any higher praise to Steve Card and the Dalton Parks and Recreation Department,” Sanderson said. “Lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in America, and one of the safest sports you can play, and they have been very receptive of what we are trying to build.”
The 13U team is looking for 25 players to compete against teams in Chattanooga and Atlanta with the possibility of hosting a region tournament for teams from across the Southeast on recreation department facilities sometime in the next year. With a core group of middle schoolers, Sanderson’s dream is to see the sport grow and possibly introduce it to the high schools in the following years. The GHSA awards a state championship in both boys and girls lacrosse.
“How often do you get to start a sport in a community?” Sanderson asked. “This could be something special to be a part of.”
And here’s a look at what else is going on:
• The Chattanooga Lookouts are headed for the postseason, and that means the Southern League playoffs are coming to AT&T Field.
After clinching the second-half North Division title for the second straight season, the Lookouts will take on the Jackson Generals in a best-of-five series this week. Games 1 and 2 are set for Thursday and Friday at Pringles Park in Jackson, Tenn., but the remainder of the series will be played in Chattanooga.
That portion of the series will start with Game 3 at 7:15 p.m. Saturday at AT&T Field, with postgame fireworks scheduled. If necessary, Games 4 and 5 would be Sunday and Monday.
To purchase tickets, visit lookouts.com, call (423) 267-4849 or go by the box office at the stadium.
• Once again, some of the country’s best college golfers will be right in your backyard.
The 24th edition of the Carpet Capital Collegiate Classic begins Friday at The Farm Golf Club in Rocky Face. The 54-hole tournament will continue Saturday and Sunday, and the public is welcome to attend this free event, which more than likely will include a future PGA Tour star or two.
History says so, anyway — the tournament’s alumni roster on The Farm’s website includes, among others, 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, who played for Wake Forest at the tournament in 2004 and 2006.
After having smaller fields the past few years, the number of teams has grown a bit again for 2012. On board for this week’s event are Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, host Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State, LSU, Middle Tennessee State, North Carolina, North Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Texas and Wake Forest.
We’ll have more on the tournament later this week.
Chris Whitfield is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at email@example.com