WHEELING - Participation in youth sports is at an all-time high with nearly 60 percent of 10-17-year-olds having played an organized team sport at one time or another, according to published reports.
In the ''old days,'' that generally meant baseball, basketball, football, track, swimming, and wrestling.
In a recent WALA matchup, goalie Drew Scatterday (29) moves to the right after a shot on goal goes wide. In the foreground is Luke Fahey (12).
Lacrosse, a game with Native American roots, is elbowing its way into mainstream at a rapid pace, with U.S. Lacrosse reporting more than 720,000 people played on organized teams in 2012, with more than half of those under the age of 15.
Each year, that number climbs by a large percentage - nearly 10 percent - while other sports, such as baseball and tackle football, are seeing similar-sized, if not bigger, dips in numbers. Lacrosse is the fastest-growing team sport in the country.
That growth is being mirrored in the Ohio Valley, with Chuck Scatterday leading the way.
Scatterday, a Wheeling native who left the area to attend WVU and eventually work at ESPN 25 years ago, saw the sport boom at stops in both in Connecticut and Charlotte, as well as its television niche. He was a coordinating producer at ESPNU when that station stepped up its coverage of lacrosse. As a result, his two sons, Seth and Drew, grew up around the sport.
When Scatterday returned home to take a job at West Liberty University, he learned there was no organized youth lacrosse to be found in the area.
''I got ahold of the three area high school coaches (Wheeling Park, Wheeling Central, and Linsly) and asked what do you do for a kid that's in middle school?'' Scatterday said. ''They said there was nothing. I said, 'so what do you do when a kid shows up at Wheeling Park or Central as a ninth grader saying they want to play?' They each said we give them a stick and they have at it.''
The closest thing Wheeling had to a feeder system were organized pickup games played in the field behind the Sheetz gas station in Woodsdale.
''I had to start something,'' Scatterday said.
To that end, Scatterday started WALA (Wheeling Area Lacrosse Association, similar to WAHA, without the history).
''Our mission statement is to teach kids of the Ohio Valley how to play lacrosse,'' Scatterday said.
And they're doing it.
After its third year, which ended last month, WALA had 52 players in its two age groups: U15 (7th-8th grade) and U13 (5th-6th). The numbers have climbed more than 60 percent since the first year.
Scatterday, who didn't start playing the game until he was an adult, got certified, then went to the local colleges - Bethany, West Liberty, and Wheeling Jesuit - seeking players to share knowledge.
''They have a high lacrosse IQ, and it's infectious,'' Scatterday said.
Scatterday doesn't encourage any kid to give up a sport they're already playing. It's just another outlet, and some have found they have an insatiable appetite for lacrosse.
''They often said what other sport can you get a stick and be allowed to hit someone - within the rules of the game?'' Scatterday said. ''It's actually allowable.''
Scatterday says hockey players tend to make the fastest transition to lacrosse, but soccer and basketball players can pick it up in a hurry because they understand motion and working without the ball. Wrestlers, too, have found success in the game.
Scatterday's clubs play home games at Triadelphia Middle School and the competition stretches from Western Pa. to Charleston.
Private donations and apparel sales have helped defray costs to play the sport, which requires its share of equipment.
That's generally the first question, but Scatterday - and many others - have shown they'll do whatever it takes to get a kid on the field if he or she wants to play.
''We try to keep it low-key, low-budget, but high-fun, high-reward,'' Scatterday said. ''And I think that resonates.''
Scatterday has found another benefit of lacrosse. Despite the sticks and the hitting, people affiliated with lacrosse are generally a friendly bunch.
''I like it because it just seems like the community around it is so positive,'' he said. ''I haven't incurred the underbelly that you don't really want to talk about it but you know is out there.''
There are 20 high school lacrosse teams in West Virginia - up six the last two years - nearly 150 in Ohio, and 250 in Pennsylvania.
The WALA belongs to West Virginia's Youth Lacrosse Association and Western Pennsylvania's Assciation.
They also put on clinics in the fall, usually two weekends in September and two in October.
''We wait until we get the Steelers schedule to plan them,'' Scatterday said with a smile.