Duke Rape Allegations Challenge Booming Sport

"I think star athletes can feel that they are above everything else, that they are not going to be held to the same standards as everyone else," said Prof. Richard Lapchick of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.

It is clear, however, that most student athletes don't commit crimes and do benefit from team activities, which often are cited for building character and leadership skills.

"I don't believe that the issues [at Duke] are at all indicative of the college game. These circumstances are contrary to the culture of the sport," said Steve Stenersen, executive director of U.S. Lacrosse, the national association of Lacrosse teams. He notes that lacrosse players have the highest graduation rates of any NCAA sport.

The Lacrosse community is already concerned that the allegations of rape against the Duke team may have tarnished the image of a sport that is still developing its place in collegiate sports.

"We are very concerned about the circumstances at Duke and how it reflects on our game generally. We're hopeful that an incident like this won't create a situation where the entire sport is judged with the same broad brush," said Stenersen.

"People are going to quickly associate lacrosse as being a bunch of thugs. That is not good. You don't want to see that happened, don't want that to be associated with any sport," said Tom Gravante, the coach of Mt. St. Mary's lacrosse team. "We don't want this to be associated with men's lacrosse. Hopefully, there was some poor judgment, that's it."

Gravante is also quick to point out the many benefits of playing sports.

As my coach taught me, it's not so much about the wins and losses," he said. "It's about what character you developed to help you be successful in life. It is a way to prepare you for the rest of your life."

Growing Fast and Widening Its Appeal

Although Lacrosse is considered to be America's first sport and originated with Native Americans, it is now often seen as a sport for the wealthy.

"Originally, it was a poor man's sport," said Zaichkowsky. Its long pedigree may have reinforced its image as a snobbish sport.

But unlike sports like basketball and baseball, Lacrosse gear costs hundreds of dollars per player for shoulder pads, arm pads, gloves, and a stick.

"Lacrosse isn't soccer," said Stenersen. "There is equipment required that has a cost associated with it. Not everybody can afford that."

Stenersen's organization is working to spread the sport to new, diverse communities, but he admits it has a ways to go in appealing to the masses.

U.S. Lacrosse say that today it is one of the fastest growing team sports in the United States and has grown faster than any other sport at the high school level over the last 10 years, with more than 130,000 high school players.

At the NCAA level, Lacrosse is also the fastest-growing sport over the last five years with more than 500 college club programs.

"Eight years ago Notre Dame [University] didn't have a team. California has teams, Texas has teams now," said Brian Reilly, head coach at the Manasquan River Lacrosse Club. "It's now nationwide."

His New Jersey community's team has grown to over 200 youths and started a girls' program last year.

"Baseball teams are seeing a reduction in their enrollment because Lacrosse is growing," said Reilly. "It has become very competitive."

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