KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It is the oldest team sport in North America, with a history that spans many centuries. Lacrosse has deep roots in Native American culture, particularly among the Haudenosaunee people, later called the Iroquois by the French. The game had strong religious significance and was initially played to resolve conflicts between different tribes and to honor the Creator. Other tribes had different names for it, but the Haudenosaunee called the game “Tewaarathon.” It was played with a small ball with wooden sticks curved at the end.
The sport of lacrosse that we know today got its name from French explorers who saw Native Americans playing the game in Quebec in the early 1600’s. The missionaries thought the sticks looked like a bishop’s hooked staff or crozier. The French term “la crosse” refers to the cross at the top of a crozier. This became the name used for the sport in French and English. Eventually, the sport became popular among North American college students in the 1800s, who enjoyed the fast-paced, physical nature of the game.
Today, lacrosse is played throughout North America, from youth club and high school levels to college and professional teams. A connection runs through the sport from its origin, with bonds of respect, sportsmanship, family, and tradition. In the Northland, this rich heritage is maintained by the Northland Spartans Lacrosse team, founded in 2006. Northland offers teams from first grade all the way through high school. A good number of coaches and players from Kearney and Liberty are involved with the program.
Steve Wujek has been President of Northland Lacrosse for the past nine years. He played for Mizzou Lacrosse in college.
“I really love the kind of culture we’ve created with Northland Lacrosse,” says Wujek. “We’ve got good coaches and good families. We are not a heavy travel club, but we play competitive teams in the area like Pembroke Hill, Brookside, Prairie Village, Mill Valley, Blue Valley, Rockhurst, and Lee’s Summit.”
“There are elements of almost every sport that I can think of in lacrosse,” says Wujek. “Eye coordination, speed, agility, and endurance. There is a level of physicality to it. The way the game is played is a lot like basketball, with ebb and flow; you’re going up and down the field instead of up and down the court. And when you set up in your offense, there are picks and screens just like basketball, because what you’re trying to create are mismatches. It is really a great off-season sport for football players.”
“The three pillars of our organization are character, competitiveness, and class,” says Wujek. “We instill that in everything we do, from the code of conduct and how we conduct ourselves as fans on the sideline during a game or players on the field. We do things as an organization to build a brotherhood with our members and our players, and to me, that’s special.”
The head coach of the high school team, Hunter Krenek, started playing Lacrosse in the sixth grade. Growing up in Denver, he was able to see pro games. He played lacrosse for Rockhurst University.
“One of the biggest keys to building the sport is the youth pipeline, getting kids to start early,” says Krenek. “There are not many people that I meet that try lacrosse that don’t just absolutely fall in love with it. I know we’ve had a lot of players not try it until 9th or 10th grade, and they are all wishing for the same thing – that they would have just started earlier. Hopefully, we keep building further and further on the youth level. Getting the players to start early, getting solid coaching at the youth level will help us build better Northland teams and grow the sport.”
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have been coached by great coaches and great men who put lacrosse second to being a good person,” says Krenek. “Lacrosse is a sport that’s got a lot of history and a lot of culture attached to it with Native American history, and that’s all about respect and reverence and honoring the game. And that is something that I try to pass on to the guys because it has impacted me.”
Liberty North senior Josh Pope started playing lacrosse in seventh grade. During the Spring season, he earned a place on the All-Metro team. His goal for next season is for the team to win a championship. They made the semi-finals this season. But he also wants to leave a good impact on the incoming youth.
“I always loved how fast-paced it is and how I’ve made so many friends on the team,” says Pope. “I always thought it was so different from every other sport, and I fell in love with it from the start. I definitely love being a part of Northland Lacrosse. It has taught me not just game skills but life lessons and life skills and things like that. It has had a huge impact on my life.” Pope is interested in playing in college and has already made some college visits. “I visited High Point University in North Carolina, and that was really cool. I did a camp up there and got to meet all the coaches. That was fun,” says Pope.
Collin Stout played his first year of lacrosse this past season. The fourth grader from Liberty likes football, basketball, and now lacrosse.
“There is a lot of passing, and it is fast-paced,” says Stout, who plays defense for the Spartans.
“The lacrosse community is amazing, and it’s like a big family, the Northland lacrosse team,” says Collin’s mother, Erin Stout. “The coaching staff that they’ve acquired is amazing. Past players and people are passionate about the sport. They’re passionate about teaching these kids the right way to play, and it’s not just about winning. It’s about skills and mental capacity, and it’s been a great experience for him.”
High school sophomore Charlie Herrman has been playing lacrosse since the first grade. He learned a lot from his dad, Todd Herrman, a youth head coach who played the game at Mizzou.
“I want to get over one hundred goals throughout my whole career,” says Charlie Herrman. “And then I want to play at a D1 one or D2 school.” In his freshman year, he scored thirty-nine goals, so he is well on his way to achieving his goals.
“I think the legacy I hope to leave is the love of the game,” says coach Todd Herrman. “I want them to love it as much as I do. That they learn life lessons from it. It’s one of those experiences they look back on and go, ‘That was awesome.’ I love encouraging kids.”
Chris Kliewer is the father of two sixth graders, Mackey and Drue, of Liberty, who play for the Northland team. This is their second year playing, though they have had sticks in their hands since they were little.
“One thing that I think is special about lacrosse is everybody is really committed to growing the game,” says Kliewer, “and honoring the game coming from the Native American ancestry. So I’ve been appreciative of that.”
Several things have happened in the Northland and Liberty that will help propel lacrosse forward in the coming years. The opening of the new Central Bank Sporting Park Complex, off 152 Highway, will allow Northland Lacrosse to host tournaments on all-weather fields. Northland Lacrosse successfully hosted a youth tournament this year. In addition, William Jewell College added men’s and women’s lacrosse in 2022. This will drive interest locally and allow more camps and clinics to help teach the sport.
Practices for the next season of Northland Lacrosse will start again in early January 2024, with games commencing in March. This uniquely North American sport, the fastest game on two feet, will grow tremendously in the coming years. Northland Lacrosse is a special organization with fantastic coaches that has a tremendous impact on our community—and provides great opportunities for young athletes.
This is an unedited user writing submission. The views, information, or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Best Version Media or its employees.