Jim Johnson caught the lacrosse bug as a student at Johns Hopkins in the 1960s, but it wasn’t until his family moved from the East Coast to Reno, Nev., four decades later that he found his true calling in the sport.

Johnson’s sons were students at Reno High School when they came home from class one day with a great idea that they just had to share with their dad. They wanted to start a lacrosse team at the school.

Go for it, Johnson, the supportive father, told his sons. Soon after, they returned with exciting news.

“They came back from school one day all fired up,” Johnson said. “They said, ‘Dad, we’ve got 30 kids interested in playing. Only, we’ve got a problem.’ And of course, the problem was they didn’t have a coach.”

Johnson decided to become the head coach for the newly formed Reno Huskies. Opponents were scarce. Lacrosse had not yet taken hold in the region. The Huskies repeatedly competed against the same teams during their inaugural season in 2006.

“We played the same guys over and over, and got beaten by them over and over again,” Johnson said. 

There were other obstacles, too. The Huskies did not have enough equipment. Johnson applied for and received a US Lacrosse First Stick Program grant, which provided enough gear — including sticks, gloves, helmets and padding — for 20 field players and one goalie.

The start-up Huskies also needed liability insurance coverage to play on the school’s field. US Lacrosse provided that, as well, through its membership platform.

Johnson didn’t realize it at the time, but simply fielding a lacrosse team at Reno High School would be a seminal moment for the sport in the Reno-Tahoe area. 

Kids from other schools began showing up at Huskies practices and asking if they could play for the team, even though they weren’t Reno students. Johnson happily obliged. Soon, they formed teams of their own.

“As early as the beginning of the league, we leveraged the programs US Lacrosse offers to grow the sport,” said Eric Peacock, treasurer for High Sierra Lacrosse, which oversees high school and youth lacrosse in the area.

As high school participation rose in the area, lacrosse enthusiasts, including Johnson, sought to establish youth programs to support that growth. A group in Truckee, Calif., a short drive from Reno, started raising money to help grow the game in their community and formed the non-profit Tahoe Truckee Lacrosse Association (TTLA).

To separate growth initiatives from game administration, the TTLA created the High Sierra Lacrosse League and rebranded its philanthropic arm as High Sierra Lacrosse Foundation.

Today, the High Sierra Lacrosse League consists of 69 boys’ and girls’ teams from 8U through high school, not including fall clinic, winter box and summer travel programs. Johnson, meanwhile, now serves as president of the High Sierra Lacrosse Foundation, which seeds the sport in communities that don’t currently have access to it.

In August, the foundation received a grant from US Lacrosse to host a TryLax clinic at Billinghurst Middle School in Reno. Eighty-three kids attended the clinic, nearly a third of whom registered for the ensuing fall ball session. The HSLF plans to apply for additional TryLax days to host in sister cities that do not have programs currently set up.

“They are a prime example of a community-based lacrosse organization that embodies all of the values of US Lacrosse,” said Lyn Porterfield, director of the Pacific and Mountain regions for US Lacrosse.  

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