Randy Grube was looking for recreational activities for his son when he saw a pamphlet for a youth sports program.
“What‚Äôs this lacrosse thing?” he recalled thinking.
Intrigued, Grube rented gear and enrolled his son in the Pacific Palisades-based group. But, all the while, he lamented the fact that lacrosse didn‚Äôt have a presence in Santa Monica.
Well, that was then.
Over the last several years, thanks in part to Grube‚Äôs efforts, youth lacrosse has become a vibrant and still-growing sport in the beachside city. And it‚Äôs all part of a developing West Coast love affair with a fast-paced sport that has long been popular on the East Coast.
“The growth in L.A. is just happening now,” said Grube, the co-founder of the nonprofit Santa Monica Dragons lacrosse program. “We‚Äôre still behind.”
Participation in lacrosse has spiked dramatically across the country over the last 13 years, according to data from U.S. Lacrosse, the sport‚Äôs national governing body. There were nearly 773,000 players registered nationwide last year, up more than 200 percent from the 253,901 counted when U.S. Lacrosse began tracking involvement annually in 2001.
The rapid expansion of the sport is mirrored locally by the flourishing Santa Monica Dragons program, which is officially known as the Academy of Lacrosse.
Hoping to get youth lacrosse off the ground in Santa Monica, Grube first approached the leaders of Santa Monica High‚Äôs lacrosse club program about building up its youth ranks.
“It was very interesting,” he said. “You learn a lot about how to teach kids, and you start developing a unique approach. We felt we were giving the kids a good-quality experience.”
A year into it, though, Grube evaluated the situation and decided that the gulfs in the various coaching philosophies were too large for him to continue working under the Vikings‚Äô umbrella.
So he convinced other families to join what is now the Santa Monica Dragons, which he established in 2012.
“We thought we could do a better job if we did it on our own,” he said. “We didn‚Äôt have a relationship with the City for field space, and we were going to have to scramble. It was a risk.”
Starting with 14 players, Grube‚Äôs program now features about 200 at a variety of ages and skill levels.
The organization initially leaned towards high levels of competition, performing well at several tournaments beyond the region and state.
But it has since expanded to offer clinics and activities for less-experienced players, developing a Lacrosse 101 program held at Grant Elementary School that offers instruction for boys and girls in the basic skills of catching, throwing and cradling.
As far as Grube is concerned, the training can have promising results.
Indeed, the rise of lacrosse in the area is reflected in the coaching staffs at two private schools in the region. Erik Krum, the Dragons athletic director, was recently named the head coach of the lacrosse program at Harvard-Westlake. Meghan Toomey, a Dragons coach who played collegiate lacrosse, is now the head lacrosse coach at Marlborough School.
Grube said the coaches‚Äô work beyond the Dragons program improves continuity and gives players opportunities to excel beyond high school.
“If, say, you go to Marlborough and you play lacrosse, you have a decent shot of getting into college,” Grube said. “It‚Äôs a way for the school to help their reputation, and it helps them help their kids. It gives the kids more tools.”
For more information, visit www.santamonicadragons.org or email Grube at firstname.lastname@example.org.