The Oregon Trail: Lacrosse's Climb Toward State Sanctioning

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High school boys’ lacrosse in Oregon may not yet have reached the holy grail — state sanctioning by the Oregon School Activities Association — but rest assured it’s in good hands. 

Led by current commissioner Paul Schlesinger and his band of brothers, many of whom trace their personal connections back to high school nearly 50 years ago, the Oregon High School Lacrosse Association continues to thrive as the boys’ lacrosse governing body in the state.

With 48 current boys’ teams, the OHSLA is poised to take the next step in its evolution by petitioning the OSAA for emerging program status. If approved, boys’ lacrosse and potentially girls’ lacrosse would begin a two-year evaluation period that could lead to sanctioning.

The fact that the OHSLA has reached this point after teetering on shaky ground just a few years ago can be attributed in large part to Schlesinger’s leadership. 

After semi-retiring in 2012, Schlesinger, who spent nearly 20 years as an assistant coach at Lakeridge High School, was asked by a few of his longtime lacrosse cohorts to fill a vacancy as assistant commissioner of the OHSLA. He accepted, coordinating schedules, funding and postseason play.

Midway through the 2015 season, the commissioner resigned and Schlesinger temporarily accepted the post. He’s still in the role.  

“Boys’ lacrosse could easily have taken a downturn when we lost our commissioner, but Paul took it on and led us through a key period,” said Kris Van Hatcher, who was the athletic director at Oregon Episcopal School for 41 years.

As native Oregonians, Van Hatcher’s connection with Schlesinger dates back to their days as high school teammates in the late 1960s at Bishop Dagwell Hall. They were on the school’s start-up club team that used to compete against a local men’s club squad and the team at the University of Oregon.

“The men’s team would take pity on us, but the college guys would beat us up pretty good,” Van Hatcher said. 

After college, many of those high schoolers returned and infused new life into the fledgling Portland Lacrosse Club. Schlesinger became a mainstay, as did Van Hatcher and others, like Curt Sheinin, Bill Lake and Mark Flood, who made their imprint on Oregon lacrosse for the next several decades.

“Paul was the kind of guy you wanted to have as a teammate,” Van Hatcher said. “He’s kind of a character, but he was a really important part of that group. He made it fun.”

In its heyday, the PLC became the host for an annual post-collegiate tournament in the Pacific Northwest that took on legendary status. The club members would organize the event that included teams from California to Canada. Schlesinger took on the self-appointed role of T-shirt artist, building on the theme of “Beyond Macho” with unique annual designs.

“We would play three games on a weekend, then wake up Monday morning with aches and pains and hobble to work,” said Schlesinger, who was inducted into the Oregon Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2017. 

Many of the PLC members took on roles as coaches with new high school teams throughout the state. In 1993, Sheinin asked Schlesinger to join him as an assistant at Lakeridge, a role he held until in 2012. The plan at that point was to become a spectator and to start enjoying games from the bleachers. Little did he realize at the time, it just made him easy pickings for the new position with the OHSLA.

“You make friendships in this sport, and once the playing days are over, those friendships remain,” Schlesinger said. “The camaraderie of the sport pulled me in.”

The OHSLA now fields 48 teams across eight conferences, along with nearly 50 JV teams. The postseason tournament also has become financially stable, an asset that could help with eventual OSAA sanctioning.

“For the 2019 championships, we had a full stadium packed to the rafters with people watching this sport,” Schlesinger said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

With roots and friendships that date back over five decades, high school boys’ lacrosse in Oregon continues to forge ahead.

“It’s really a labor of love for Paul and the rest of us to keep growing the sport,” Van Hatcher said.

LOCALLY GROWN: Pacific Northwest


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