Small country primaries in Dumfries and Galloway are taking team working to a new level to keep pop lacrosse going and feeding players into the full game, writes Roddy Mackenzie
Primary schools in Dumfries and Galloway which have small rolls and not enough pop lacrosse players to form their own teams are joining forces in a bid to secure the future of lacrosse locally.
In an innovative pilot scheme which could show the way forward for the rest of the country, the council will host a small schools cup tournament for the first time, which will allow small primaries to join forces to enter teams in regional competition.
Pop lacrosse is the abridged version of the game that is played indoors. It has been established for about 20 years and has led many schoolchildren on to the full field game.
At under-11 level, pop lacrosse teams have eight players (four girls and four boys), five of whom are on court at any given time in a gender ratio of 3:2.
The small schools cup came about by a chance remark at the start of the season, explains Rosemary Dickie, a part-time development officer for the sport in Dumfries and Galloway.
"Someone mentioned at a committee meeting that schools from rural areas could join forces in football to form teams. We started thinking that the same thing could happen in lacrosse. It took a lot of hard talking before we came up with a way forward.
"Now schools with three teachers or fewer can pick players from other schools in the area to form a team, as long as those players have not played at regional level.
"We now have eight teams entered in our under-11 event and, although I don't think we've brought in too much new blood, we've not lost anyone, which is what would have happened."
There are currently 23 primary schools affiliated in Dumfries and Galloway and eight have entered the regional tournament at Barony College on March 31 in their own right. There are also eight combined teams playing for the new small schools cup.
Regional qualifiers have already been held in Fife and Aberdeen and the winners of those will join with the winners of the Dumfries event to attend the national finals at the Meadowbank sports centre in Edinburgh on April 24.
Mrs Dickie, a peripatetic primary PE teacher, admits it is an important time for the game - throughout Scotland - as it seeks to become more inclusive and not just the preserve of private schools.
She knows that new interest is needed if the game is to thrive. "We're trying to get new people involved," she says. "We need young staff to come on board.
"At the start of the season, we were very low and were not sure which way to turn, but there are now some development officers in place and it's looking better."
The game took off in the region in the wake of the Lockerbie air disaster more than 16 year ago, when Syracuse University, a strong lacrosse-playing university in New York state, lost a number of students. The university sent over coaches and helped with equipment and the game became established in schools.
"It helped the sport big time, there's no doubt about that," recalls Mrs Dickie.
"One local player, Amanda McKie, who had started off playing pop lacrosse in Dumfries, went on to play for Scotland, which was unheard of in this area. At the time, it was usually girls from St Leonard's in St Andrews or St George's in Edinburgh who made up most of the Scotland team but here was a local girl making it who had come through from pop lacrosse."
The Scottish Lacrosse Association now has a full-time development officer.
Chip McClure is a member of Scotland's training squad for the world cup in Baltimore this summer. She took up her post in November, after it had been vacant for more than four months, and admits there is a lot of work to be done.
"We're not going backward but we're not going forward," she says. "It's difficult to keep the continuity with development officers because there are limited funds available, so you are only going to attract people who have just come out of university or who are committed to playing the game.
"In an ideal world, it would be great to get out to a lot of new schools, but a lot of our time and resources are spent just keeping the present level ticking over."
She is realistic that the sport is not going to get major funding at elite level and points out that every player who travels to the United States with Scotland's world cup squad in June has to find pound;2,000 to finance the trip.
"SportScotland has said there is not money available for elite performance but there could be some for development," she says.
"There is a lot of good work going on in the schools in field lacrosse but it is mainly in the private sector, like at Fettes, St Leonard's, St George's, Glenalmond and Loretto.
"Some, like Fettes and St George's, link into the Edinburgh clubs Thistle and Capital.
"But we are trying to get it more into the state schools.
"One area I'll be concentrating on is West Lothian and getting the game played more at Linlithgow Academy and its cluster of primary schools.
"The small schools cup in Dumfries and Galloway is one of the ways forward and we'll be looking to use that model in other rural communities."