HOULTON, Maine — A new varsity sport is coming to Houlton Middle-High School this spring.
The RSU 29 board of directors on Monday unanimously approved adding boys and girls varsity lacrosse to spring sports, as a cooperative effort between Houlton, Hodgdon and Southern Aroostook schools.
The teams will be the only varsity lacrosse squads north of Bangor and will travel extensively. John Bapst/Hampden Academy and Lincoln Academy will be their two closest Class C opponents, and they may face Class B squads from Camden Hills and Brewer. The move comes as interest in the sport is skyrocketing in southern Aroostook County, where participation in the area’s club team grew from 18 to 115 players in five years.
“The growth of this sport is amazing,” said Ken Ervin, director of the Northern Maine Lacrosse Club. “The students who started with us at the beginning are now in high school. I think it would be great for these kids to have the pride of representing their school and community.”
Ervin requested that the sport become a full varsity offering. The club team, the Northern Maine Moose, have competed since the group’s inception in 2017.
The Maine Principals’ Association will need to approve the creation of the two varsity teams, which will compete in Class C. School boards in Hodgdon’s SAD 70 and RSU 50 of Dyer Brook will also be asked to approve the teams as there are players involved from both districts.
The varsity squads will be known as the Northern Maine Moose, rather than the Houlton Shiretowners, because the club already has jerseys bearing that name and logo.
The estimated cost to run the program, including transportation expenses, is $40,000, Ervin said.
The Northern Maine Lacrosse Club will bear 100 percent of the costs for the coming season. For both the 2023-24 and 2024-25 seasons, the club will split the costs 50-50 with RSU 29. After that, the district will assume all program costs.
The overall cost of the program is comparable to football and hockey as both of those teams also have extensive travel expenses, said RSU 29 Athletic Director Jon Solmon.
There are 23 boys and 16 girls that would comprise the two high school teams. Additional players could join once the spring season begins, he said.
The new spring sport should not have a negative effect on baseball, softball, tennis or track and field, because most of the students involved in lacrosse don’t compete in other varsity sports during the spring season, Solmon said.
All varsity games and practices will take place on the soccer field behind the high school. Previously, the Moose have practiced and held games at the Maliseet Sports Complex, where the high school football team holds its games.
The Northern Maine Lacrosse Club has featured players competing in three divisions: grades 3-5, grades 6-8 and grades 9-12. They will expand to include grades 1-2 this spring, Ervin said.
Houlton High School school currently offers baseball, softball, boys and girls tennis and track and field during the spring season.
“I have heard nothing but great things about lacrosse,” said board member Tammy Goetsch.