This article appears in the May/June edition part of a series on community-based lacrosse leagues that are thriving despite the growing trend toward privatization in youth sports. Don’t get the mag? Join US Lacrosse to start your subscription.

When one of the challenges you face as someone involved in youth lacrosse is that the sport is “getting too big,” you know you are in a pretty good spot.

Such is the position in which Bobbi Villhauer finds herself. Villhauer is the executive director of the Metro Atlanta Youth Lacrosse Association, a recreation-level only program that features roughly 150 teams (boys and girls) and plays fall and spring seasons.

“Our geographical area is huge, and that is becoming an obstacle,” she says. “There are so many teams now, rec league teams do not want to travel more than 30 minutes for a game. We want to give everyone quality competition without the travel.”

This is a problem youth lacrosse likes to have. While select and travel teams have seen growth in the Atlanta area, rec-level participation has also seen steady growth over the past five years. Villhauer took over MAYLA in 2012, about three years after multiple leagues came together and the organization took its current form. The level of play and participation have been on a steady incline.

Villhauer says one of the keys to the success of her association is that it is membership-based, and the members have a significant voice in all changes throughout the organization. Teams must go through an application process, then be voted in by three-fourths of the members. Once a member, full voting rights for all rules and organizational changes are granted.

“It is very good for the environment,” Villhauer says. “Sometimes we can’t make quick changes, but the membership always knows what we are migrating toward.”

MAYLA used to feature both rec and select teams, but the Georgia Middle School Athletic Association took over the select portion, leaving MAYLA to be strictly rec. Villhauer says there has been good cooperation between the two leagues and players are never discouraged if they want to play in both.

“In the fall, we have baseball players coming out. In the spring, we have football players coming out. And if it works out to play in two leagues, we’re all for it,” Villhauer says.

The spring league is more competitive, while the fall is developmental. There is no team fee in the fall.

As with all traditional markets, finding officials and qualified coaches are two challenges MAYLA faces. There is a lot of turnover on the officials' side, with high school students moving on after reffing youth games each season. As far as the coaching goes, MAYLA offers full reimbursement for all coaches who go through the US Lacrosse Level 1 and 2 Coach Development Program courses to encourage the highest quality coaching at the rec level.

“We want to educate our coaches,” Villhauer says. “That is tremendously important.”

And while travel teams go to high-profile national tournaments and are perceived to be an eventual gateway to college lacrosse, the role of rec lacrosse is more local and team-based.

“If you do not have a rec-league feeder program at the high school level, your high school program is going to struggle, both on the girls’ and boys’ side,” Villhauer says. “The high school programs with these feeder systems fare much better.”