Lacrosse arrives in Highlands County

By JAKE HITT Correspondent

May 20, 2022

SEBRING — Families and players from across Florida spent last Saturday and Sunday in Sebring at the

Highlands County Sports Complex for a sport that’s rare to the county.


The city played host to the 2022 Sebring Lacrosse Showcase, another event brought to the county by

Visit Sebring and Airstream Ventures. The two-day event provided an opportunity for men’s high school

lacrosse players from around the state to work with, get feedback from and even be seen by 30 college

coaches.


It featured things like skills development, live-action scrimmages and informational sessions about

college recruitment.


This event was close to Airstream founder and chief executive officer Alan Verlander seeing as he was the athletic director at Jacksonville University when the Dolphins introduced men’s and women’s lacrosse programs. He went to Tom West, head coach at The Bolles School, and convinced him to move some of his events to Sebring, one being the showcase.


“We wanted to get this first one under our belt,” Verlander said. “The long term goal over the next 18 months is to bring five or six big events.”


For West and Verlander, the biggest attraction was the facility. The sports complex’s fields usually reserved for soccer and football activities were perfect for lacrosse. Verlander called them immaculate and mentioned the fact that at times they rarely are used.


Verlander said once he showed West the plans and images of the fields it was a done deal.


Along with the fields, West loved Sebring’s central location that made the showcase more accessible to players in the state. The big thing though was families had plenty of places to stay and restaurants to eat at.


Both he and Verlander spoke about families, players and coaches having nothing but nice things to say about their accommodations and the city itself. They brought up how some said they looked forward to coming back.


Verlander expects the showcase in conjunction with the cornhole tournament held in the same week to have a big impact for businesses in the city.


West said the showcase was really advantageous for in-state players because it’s nothing like events they would attend up north, where the sport is more prevalent.


The players didn’t just show up and play in front of college coaches in hopes they got noticed. They were coached by them, spent time with them and then had the opportunity to show what they could do in a game setting during scrimmages.


West likened it to being a big fish in a little pond.


“If you’re a kid that wants to play college lacrosse (if) you’re the best kid in Florida, you might not be the best kid in New York,” he said. “So it’s going to give you a really good opportunity to be seen by these coaches and finding that home for yourself.”


The coaches came from all over whether it was Jacksonville University, Bucknell University, Dartmouth College, University of Michigan, Florida Southern College or Muskingum University.


It might not be as big a sport compared to northern states but West has seen the sport grow in the state of Florida. Players continue to get better and better. Lee Roggenburg, who works for Florida Lacrosse News and was present at the event, saw the sport grow in the state as well.


“If you go back, let’s say 15 years, there was a handful of top programs in the state,” he said. “We are now at a point where, including some of the club programs, we’re over 500 programs in the state at the high school level (both) boys and girls. I can tell you that the girls are actually growing faster than the boys in the state.”


Roggenburg knew the area because he used to vacation from Long Island as a youth. He was so excited to find out a showcase was being held in Sebring and even hinted at Sebring High School potentially creating a program as well. West hopes holding his events in the town can help facilitate that as well.


And as Verlander stated, this is just the beginning. There are already events scheduled for July and September as Airstream looks to achieve that five to six event goal.