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.

Ed Reich chuckled when he described the “football-style lacrosse” that occasionally still surfaces in youth boys’ lacrosse games around Pittsburgh.

“It can be a little less tactics, and a little more in-your-face,” said Reich, president of the Western Pennsylvania Youth Lacrosse Association. “But we’re moving away from that.”

If that move happens as fast as Reich’s move from baseball dad to youth lacrosse coach and leader, the Steel City soon may produce the caliber of players more commonly seen at the eastern terminus of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Already, signs abound.

The WPYLA, a school-based recreation lacrosse organization, has grown from 28 to 33 school districts in and around Pittsburgh since Reich became its president three years ago. Most of those districts field recreation programs in the 8U through 14U age divisions. Participation growth has been as high as 15 percent from year to year recently, Reich said, resulting in about 4,500 players under the WPYLA umbrella.

In advance of this season, the association asked any parent that would be on the sideline helping a team to become a US Lacrosse member-coach and complete the free SafeSport training and criminal background check that come along with membership in the sport’s national governing body.

“At the end of the day, it’s simply about the kids,” Reich said. “We’re not dictators. We just asked, ‘Would you want your own child out there with an unscreened coach?’ All of us that coach have kids. It just helps to make sure they’re out there with the right parent.”

For Reich, the parent part started all this about five years ago. His oldest son, Tyler, a lifelong baseball player, came to him and said he wanted to play lacrosse instead.

“I said, ‘Really? OK,’” Reich said. “He fell in love with the sport, and I got addicted to it.”

Reich took advantage of the US Lacrosse Mobile Coach app and related drills — “Those alone are worth the money,” he said — and ultimately earned US Lacrosse certification in all three levels of its Coach Development Program. He coaches in the Franklin Regional Youth Lacrosse program in Murrysville, Pa.

Alongside the growth of the WPYLA, which was founded in the early 1990s, has come growth of pay-to-play club organizations in the area. But unlike in some areas of the country, Reich said a clear, respectful calendar exists to help parents navigate their children’s lacrosse activities.

“We get them in mid-February, and then the club travel season starts around June 1,” Reich said. “No one does anything, club-wise, during the spring. It’s similar to the rules of the PIAA (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association), where you can’t play club if you’re playing high school.”

The relationship helps families with kids that aspire to play and test themselves in out-of-season tournaments and those with kids that enjoy the rec aspect of the traditional season.

Another win-win for lacrosse in a football town.