Student-athletes at Belleville East and Belleville West have a relatively new sports option.
Belleville Township District 201 has a boys and girls lacrosse team for a second straight year. Both teams have players from East and West.
The girls team is coached by Jimmy Greene, the former men’s coach at St. Louis University, while the boys team is led by Zac Bilyeu of Collinsville.
Lacrosse is being played as a club sport and the teams are not associated with the Illinois High School Association. O’Fallon has a boys and girls team that are members of the IHSA. The Belleville teams are not permitted to play O’Fallon until joining the IHSA.
Greene said his girls team is comprised of 24 players.
“The majority of the team is Belleville West, and I’ve got quite a few players from Belleville East and I’ve actually got one player from Edwardsville High School,” Greene said. “We had to cut seven or eight from the tryouts. We just don’t have the coaches to hold two teams, otherwise we would have two. There’s just not enough coaches to go around.”
Fortunately, there are plenty of players, with a wide range of experience and skill levels.
“About two-thirds of them have never played lacrosse,” Greene said. “Two of the girls have played six years – three with boys, three with girls – and I’ve got another young lady who’s played three or four years. From there, I’ve got maybe five of them who have played close to two years, and that’s it. There will be a lot of teaching, a lot of coaching.”
The teams play home games at Belleville West. The girls team is named the BTHS Pride. Schedules, rosters and other information can be found on the teams’ website.
What is lacrosse?
The roots of lacrosse are traced to as early as 1100 when it was played by Native Americans and Plains Indians. The game was later modified by European immigrants.
It was an Olympic sport in 1904 and 1908, but was dropped and has not returned, although there is momentum building to reintroduce it by at least 2024.
“The Native Americans were the founders of the sport, and they used it to train warriors,” Greene said. “They would have a rock (a ball made of wood or deerskin stuffed with hair) that went from Point A to Point B. They had warriors that were skilled at playing the game.”
If you take football, hockey, basketball and soccer and combine those four sports into one sport, you have lacrosse. That’s the only way to describe it. They call the sport the fastest sport on two feet. There’s not another sport as fast as this one.
Belleville lacrosse coach Jimmy Greene
These days, lacrosse is played on a field that measures between 110 yards and 120 yards in length and between 53 yards and 70 yards wide. Goals are 80 yards apart, with between 10 yards and 20 yards behind each goal. Each team has 12 players, including a goalie. Other positions are attacker, midfielder and defender.
The object is for players to “cradle” the ball in the netting at the end of their stick and shoot the ball, made of dense rubber, into the opponent’s goal. The ball is slightly smaller than a tennis ball. Sticks are between 35 1/2 inches to 43 1/4 inches long.
There is a “restraining line” 30 yards on top of each goal. Only seven attacking players are allowed inside the restraining line, which helps prevent congestion in front of the goal. Eight defenders are permitted in the same space.
A goalie plays inside a circle, and players are not allowed within the circle.
Girls play two 25-minute halves; boys typically play four 12-minute quarters. The clock stops for timeouts, after each goal and after any whistle in the last two minutes of each half. If a team has at least a four-goal lead, the clock continues to run after a goal.
Fouls are called for illegal body checking, slashing, tripping, unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct. There are other violations.
Players in girls lacrosse wear goggles and must use a mouthpiece, while the goalie wears a helmet and pads. In boys lacrosse, players wear helmets and pads.
“If you take football, hockey, basketball and soccer and combine those four sports into one sport, you have lacrosse. That’s the only way to describe it,” said Greene, 54, a Miami native. “They call the sport the fastest sport on two feet. There’s not another sport as fast as this one. They say hockey, but they’re on skates. You really don’t have that cardio work as much.
“The average play in football is six seconds. With lacrosse, that ball stays in play. As long as (players are) cradling it and running up and down the field, it will stay in play. In soccer, you’re simply using your feet. You’ve got a ball you can head ... All we use is a solid rubber ball. The word that a lot of us use is a rock, because it is as hard as a rock.”
Despite the fast pace and frequent contact between players in lacrosse, Greene lauded officials for maintaining control of the game. Players, too, Greene said, are disciplined.
“It takes a lot of discipline to control yourself. Emotions run very high on the field,” Greene said. “You have talking competitors. In guys lacrosse, you have a ton of contact. You can check hard. The girls, you can’t do that. There’s checking, but it’s very minimal. There’s no body checking. You can check your stick to the other lady’s stick, but there are specific rules on how you’re able to hit that stick. You can’t hit their hands.
“So for the most part, it’s pretty well controlled.”
A growing sport
Lacrosse seems to be a sport that is becoming more popular.
Among the girls and/or boys lacrosse-playing schools in St. Louis are Ladue, Duchesne, Webster Groves, Pattonville, Kirkwood, Ladue, Clayton, John Burroughs, Parkway West, Parkway Central, MICDS, St. Joseph’s and Lafayette, Hazelwood Central, Seckman, Priory, DeSmet, Vianney, Northwest, Francis Howell and Cor Jesu.
The Belleville teams are allowed to play opponents from Missouri.
Locally, McKendree University began a women’s lacrosse team in 2013. Lindenwood-Belleville has had a men’s lacrosse team since 2012 and began a women’s lacrosse team in 2013.
“We are a club team,” Greene said. “Belleville West gives us a field to use and lets us use the stadium when it’s available. They’re very supportive of the sport. They take care of us.
“We’re playing Clayton, Cor Jesu, Parkway Central, Francis Howell, St. Dominic ... We’re playing a lot of teams. Except for Bloomington, they’re all Missouri high schools.”
Greene said he took the coaching position in Belleville after the deadline expired to apply for membership in the IHSA. He believes IHSA membership will happen in the near future.
Greene is certified to coach in the IHSA, although he said this will be his only season as the head coach. His daughter, Jennifer, is a junior who plays for O’Fallon, and Greene said he is helping her arrange her plans for college. Jennifer plans to play lacrosse in college.
Some girls on the BTHS Pride have plans to continue with lacrosse.
“I want to play in college,” said midfielder Morgan McGinnis, a junior at Belleville East who has been playing lacrosse for two years. “I’ll have to work at it, but it can be done. You have to try hard every day in practice and work off the field, too.”
McGinnis also plays hockey and golf and said hockey and lacrosse are her favorites.
There’s a bunch of girls coming out now. The word is getting out; it’s spreading. I’m going to keep playing.
Belleville West junior and lacrosse player Lexi Morris
Lexi Morris, a junior at Belleville West, is a defender with the Pride who also has played lacrosse for two years. Morris became interested in the sport after meeting former McKendree coach Brittany Poist, who was a member of the University of Maryland’s Division I national-championship team in 2010.
“She gave me her stick and I practiced with her throughout last summer,” Morris said. “I really like defending. You’re literally running up and down the field the whole game. Especially the attackers and middies (midfielders), they for sure run over a mile (a game).”
Morris sees a bright future for lacrosse.
I used to play soccer. I really like running and the contact of it. It’s a lot faster than soccer.
Belleville West sophomore Ashley Munoz
“There’s a bunch of girls coming out now. The word is getting out; it’s spreading,” she said, adding that she has received scholarship offers from Lindenwood-Belleville and Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo. “I’m going to keep playing.”
Ashley Munoz is a midfielder and attacker for the Pride and a sophomore at Belleville West. Like McGinnis and Morris, Munoz began playing lacrosse two years ago.
“I used to play soccer,” she said. “I really like running and the contact of (lacrosse). It’s a lot faster than soccer. I hope to play in college. I play for the O’Fallon Outlaws in the summer. We play in a lot of tournaments and get seen by a lot of college scouts. There’s a lot of scholarships opening up because it is such a growing sport.”
Speed, endurance, athleticism
Greene said the girls who play lacrosse have at least one thing in common.
“What I can tell you is the girls that have been attracted to this sport are very athletic,” Greene said. “They want to be engaged with a very fast-paced, moving sport. That’s what I’m seeing: athletic talent coming out and wanting to play a sport. ... It’s one of those sports when you get out there and get involved with it, you don’t even have to know what the game is, you wind up falling in love with it.”
Greene said lacrosse is a sport spectators can quickly learn to understand and enjoy.
“Within a couple of games, you’ll pick right up on it,” Greene said.
For fans who want to learn more about the game, Greene strongly recommends the book “Lacrosse for Dummies,” which provides answers for all questions about the sport.
Greene said the No. 1 obstacle to the long-term health of lacrosse in Belleville, and perhaps other metro-east communities, is a shortage of qualified coaches.
“We’re trying to get coaches to help run the sport,” Greene said. “One of the dads has a daughter who’s a sophomore, and I’m coaching him to be the coach next season because he’ll be taking over the team. I’ll come back and help as he needs to be helped, but I’ve got a lot of college stuff I have to get under way with my daughter.”
David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665