If you build it, they will come.

That phrase, popularized by a 1989 movie that focused on a sport played with a bat and a ball, has new relevancy for the Rockingham Lacrosse Club based in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The club has no qualms about stealing a page from baseball’s playbook and creating its own field of dreams amidst the local cornfields.

With government restrictions limiting public field access in some communities to curtail the spread of COVID-19, kids across parts of the Mid-Atlantic region have been stymied in their hopes of returning to play. That has forced some lacrosse organizations to find creative options to help players resume lacrosse activity.

Rockingham program leader Jeffrey McKnight carved a small-sided field out of his property surrounded by cornfields.

“COVID added a new layer to accessing field space,” he said. “So we use the space that we can find.”

Rockingham ran two separate four-week sessions of summer ball, focusing on Speed Lacrosse and US Lacrosse’s new Flex 6 program. Current fall ball activities continued through the beginning of November.

“The kids get kind of excited when they have to chase down the balls in the corn,” McKnight said. “But at least we have an option for playing and training.”

Neither the rural backdrop nor the lingering threat of the pandemic have deterred players from showing up for the club’s “Lacrosse on the Farm” events. The club has grown from just over 30 players to about 80 players in just two years.

“They’re doing a great job in growing the game with both summer and fall playing opportunities,” said Andi O’Connor, regional director at US Lacrosse.

Baseball also had a helping hand in getting Blackhawk Lacrosse in Virginia’s Hanover County back on the field. Due to COVID-19, the club reimagined its traditional summer league and developed an alternative plan that offered its members weekly pick-up games. 

To overcome the imposed field restrictions, the club reached out to the local Little League organization and rented their outfield space for its small-sided games. Utilizing US Lacrosse’s Return to Play recommendations, Blackhawk was able to organize four age divisions for games from June to August.

“Using their outfields as lacrosse fields for our 3-v-3 games worked out very well,” Blackhawks president Shane Roberson said.

While creative alternatives are helping to get kids back on the field in some places, there are other areas in Virginia that are still facing obstacles. And in some cases, those obstacles pre-dated the pandemic.

In Charlottesville and across Albemarle County, youth soccer has traditionally had a strong presence, dating back for several decades. With more than 6,000 local players, the demand for soccer field space is always high, and further exacerbated by a shortage of public facilities. 

Youth sports like lacrosse and flag football are often forced to defer to soccer’s dominion. 

“It’s always an ongoing struggle to get field space,” said Brian Wilberger, director of the Seminole Lacrosse Club in Central Virginia. “We frequently have to adjust how we operate in order to secure field time.”

Wilberger said the demand for public facilities in Charlottesville has been even stronger this fall as multiple youth sports organizations return to play safely.

“We’re all trying to make up for lost seasons,” he said. “Unfortunately, there’s just a general lack of facilities. Our area is very underserved in rectangular field space.”

This fall, the Seminole club limited its activities to six Sunday afternoon sessions, providing players with instruction and small-sided games. For now, there’s no long-term solution to the field space issue.

“We have considered buying property and building fields, but that’s an expensive and time- consuming endeavor,” Wilberger said. “We’re in a pickle.”

As evidenced by similar examples throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, they’re not alone.

LOCALLY GROWN

Maryland 

The Maryland Lacrosse League successfully implemented US Lacrosse Return to Play guidelines for high school and adult players throughout the summer and fall. In just two years, the league has expanded from 200 players to 1,500, combining competition with social opportunities. They added a high school league this fall in Baltimore County.

Delaware 

Credit BPG Sports for an assist in getting high school lacrosse players back in action. Due to COVID-19, athletic directors across the state have been limiting activity on school fields to in-season sports. That has forced coaches to find alternative venues, which includes the new 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington. The 161,000-square-foot facility includes indoor and outdoor turf fields. “Finding space for high school players has not been difficult,” said Lee Powers, president of the Delaware Lacrosse Foundation. “There is all sorts of stuff going on at 76ers Fieldhouse.”

Virginia 

Following US Lacrosse Return to Play guidelines, McLean Box Lacrosse has been able to offer outdoor playing opportunities in Northern Virginia. More than 140 teams (about 2,000 players) participated in a six-week fall league. “We’re doing our due diligence to make it all work,” said executive director Bucky Morris. “The goal is having fun and at the same time staying safe.”