A condensed version of this story appeared in the Midwest edition of the April issue of US Lacrosse Magazine. Don't get the print edition? Don't get the mag? Become a US Lacrosse member today.

Joe Malone and Victor Paini, board members for the Canal Winchester Lacrosse Association (CWLA) in Ohio, often share a timeline of the CWLA’s development with potential supporters. The chart is marked with important milestones over the short history of the organization.

Optimistically, the timeline also includes multiple entries for future years, projecting growth milestones and accomplishments. The final entry is noted for 2024 and states, “Win first OCC title.” That’s a reference to the Ohio Capital Conference, which governs play for public high schools across multiple counties in the suburbs around Columbus.

Given the fact that Canal Winchester High School doesn’t even have a varsity team yet, celebrating a championship just a few short years from now could be a tall order. But don’t bet against these guys. With all that the CWLA has accomplished since its inception in 2017, it will be no surprise if that 2024 projection comes to fruition. 

“The mission of CWLA has always been to see lacrosse become a varsity level sport for both boys’ and girls’ teams,” Paini said. “We’re truly excited about the future of our program and can’t wait to see where these athletes take us.”

One look at the milestones already achieved is enough to understand the cause of the optimism.

Malone and Paini were among the small number of enthusiasts who initially met in 2017 around a kitchen table to plan the creation of the CWLA. The new program was designed to provide playing opportunities for middle school and high school boys and girls, many of whom had received their introduction to lacrosse over the previous two years through the city’s fledgling recreation program.

That rec program, geared for students in grades 1-6, started with just 12 players for the first clinic in 2015. Partnerships with US Lacrosse through the years brought needed support to fuel the expansion of the rec program and the CWLA.

Following the initial USL Learn to Play clinic in 2015, a US Lacrosse First Stick Grant in 2018 provided additional equipment and resources. Two TryLax clinics in 2019 introduced the game to additional players and sent them all home with a stick in hand. Certification for coaches is coordinated through USL’s Coach Development Program.

“We would not be where we are today without the help of US Lacrosse,” said Paini, who serves as an assistant coach for the middle school boys’ team as well as lacrosse commissioner for the rec program. “It’s been a game-changer for us.”

The growth in participation has been easy to plot. From the original group of 12 kids, it grew to 45 boys and girls the following year. The climb continued from 73 participants in 2017 to nearly 100 in 2019. The numbers are expected to jump significantly again in 2020 with the planned addition of a separate girls’ youth program (co-ed since 2016).

Now entering its third year, the middle school boys’ club team now has official school sponsorship, approved through the school board in February. The school board also approved a boys’ high school club team for this spring, which would play a JV schedule. The plan is for Canal Winchester High School to elevate the squad to a fully supported varsity program by 2022.

“We are continuing to build from the bottom up,” Paini said. “We’re further ahead than we thought we might be at this point in regard to school support and interest in girls’ teams, but there’s still a lot of work to do. Fortunately, the city, the schools and US Lacrosse have been great partners with us, too.”