Steve Stenersen on Unifying Lacrosse Leaders, Starting USA Lacrosse


On Saturday evening at the Grand Lodge in Cockeysville, Md., Steve Stenersen will be inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame as a truly great contributor.

Stenersen served as president and CEO of USA Lacrosse from the organization’s inception in 1998 until his retirement in 2021. He was elected for induction by the committee in 2021 but not publicly announced until after his retirement from USA Lacrosse due to his then-active position with the organization. 

A two-time national champion as a player at North Carolina, Stenersen served in a primary leadership role for the sport since being named executive director of The Lacrosse Foundation in 1984. In that role, he led the movement to create a unified national structure for lacrosse, ultimately resulting in the merger of eight national organizations to form USA Lacrosse. 

Over the last two-plus decades under his leadership, USA Lacrosse invested more than $400 million into the development and infrastructure of the sport, helping it to become one of the fastest-growing team sports in the country. 

Ahead of his induction into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, Stenersen joined USA Lacrosse’s Paul Ohanian via Zoom to discuss his life in lacrosse. Below is an excerpt of their conversation.







Paul Ohanian: Can you tell me more about the formation of USA Lacrosse?

Steve Stenersen: So, I appreciate that I was certainly part of the initial conversation about the prospect of consolidating resources to focus on national growth. And part of that was the unification of multiple organizations that had grown, to some degree, to compete with each other. They didn’t share resources, and certainly they didn’t share, necessarily, a similar vision. And in the early 90s, I staged an event at Princeton University that brought a cross section of individuals from the major lacrosse constituencies, men’s and women’s, together to kind of discuss this potential of forming one unified national organization. What would get in the way of that? What obstacles do we have to overcome in order to achieve that? And really from, I think it was the fall of '92, up until the formation of US Lacrosse, what is now USA Lacrosse, it took about five and a half to six years. And there was, at first, real doubt that such a unification could occur. There are fundamental differences between the men’s and women’s games, and certainly perspective differences of opinion between the leaders of each of those disciplines. The U.S. Women’s Lacrosse Association had been around for a long, long time and done great work. But thankfully, we had leaders within both the men’s and women’s games generally, but also each constituency specifically, that saw the wisdom in that potential. And a unified national governing body in lacrosse was not unique; other sports had unified national governing bodies for decades; decades and decades, for that matter. So, I think we were fortunate enough to have the right people involved, who believed in this kind of grand compromise, if you will, in the best interest of the sport, and we were successful.

Paul Ohanian: How did you become the initial president/CEO?

Steve Stenersen: I think that the USWLA and the Lacrosse Foundation were the only two organizations who really had staff. The other organizations had very dedicated volunteer leadership. But the decision was made early on, and understandably, that there would be a national search for the leader of US Lacrosse, and that was to remove any concerns about insider trading, or anyone being given an advantage over someone else. And a national search was conducted and facilitated, and I wanted to be considered. So, I threw my hat in the ring. And fortunately, I was selected. And so that’s how it worked. It was not unlike any other position. Nothing given. But a number of individuals, I understand, were interested in the role, and thankfully, I was selected.

Paul Ohanian: What were the early years and the early struggles like?

Steve Stenersen: The early years were challenging, because with any significant change like that, you’ve got a group of leaders who believe in it, who are engaged in the change, and lead to the formation of the organization. But you also had a group who never supported such a move. And there was definitely a lot of chatter around and skepticism in the decision to unify those organizations. And certainly individuals who were looking for opportunities to criticize the organization, the I-told-you-so moments. But we slowly overcame that. There are obviously learning curves and evolution curves with such an endeavor. And I think over time, we were able to erode that negative kind of perspective, those kind of folks sitting on the sidelines and looking to throw stones. I think the other challenge was not just with the constituencies, but also, it’s a big country. And so the organization being able to sell its vision to so many different pockets of lacrosse throughout the country. These were cities and towns where the sport, in some cases, had been played for decades and decades and leaders of the sport in those pockets throughout the country questioned why they needed US Lacrosse and why they should be a part of US Lacrosse. And so that was an early challenge as well. And of course, lacrosse is, some would say, the ultimate team sport and the philosophy of US Lacrosse, now USA Lacrosse is the same. I mean, we can accomplish far more together unifying resources and creating singular national strategy than we can trying to be leaders in small groups throughout the country. So that was the second challenge in moving the organization forward. And again, thankfully, over time, we gained the support of almost all such organizations throughout the country.

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