Lacrosse Invitational May 9-12 a Win for All

As an association that has hosted 23 collegiate national championships for more than 20 years, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) was quite excited when it officially added Competitive Cheer and Competitive Dance as our 24th and 25th national championships in 2016. Since those landmark decisions, sport growth in the NAIA has been absolutely booming. Men’s Volleyball was approved this month as our 26th national championship. Men’s and Women’s Bowling are not far behind, with a decision to make them numbers 27 and 28 one year from now in 2019. Even Women’s Wrestling, with 25 varsity programs, has established itself as an Invitational sport in our growing association.

While each of these sports has blazed its own trail into the NAIA in different ways, the one sport that excites our members with extra enthusiasm is lacrosse. Three years ago, our association adopted Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse as an Invitational Sport (requiring 25-plus institutions). As of this year, we have 37 women’s varsity programs and 32 men’s programs. Lacrosse is the single fastest growing sport in the United States, and that number will continue to grow as colleges and universities see the many benefits of adopting the sport on their campuses and youth are looking for places to continue their career as they further their education. In fact, lacrosse is on its way to becoming a NAIA National Championship sport.

When the West Michigan Sports Commission and Aquinas College bid to bring our 2018 and 2019 Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse National Invitational to Grand Rapids, it immediately seemed like a win for all sides.

  •  Win for the state and region - Michigan is a hotbed of lacrosse where many schools compete in the sport – in fact, seven Michigan colleges/universities have NAIA men’s lacrosse (Aquinas College, Concordia University, Lawrence Tech, Madonna University, University of Michigan-Dearborn, Siena Heights University and Cleary University) and six have NAIA women’s lacrosse (Aquinas College, Concordia University, Lawrence Tech, Madonna University, Siena Heights University and Cleary University).  In addition to this being the first NAIA Lacrosse Invitational in the state, this is the first national NAIA event in Michigan since 1989 when Midland hosted the NAIA Softball National Championship and Bay City hosted the NAIA Men’s Golf National Championship. It’s the first NAIA national event in West Michigan.
  • Win for Aquinas College – Aquinas provides an outstanding sports setting for NAIA student-athletes to compete at and determine a champion – and it puts the college on the map as the first time in its history to host a national collegiate tournament on campus.
  • Win for West Michigan Sports Commission and Grand Rapids – The WMSC has the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of an event and sport that is ripe for growth, while showcasing the city and its stellar sports venues to a group of young and eager future professionals. The NAIA can rely on the West Michigan Sports Commission and Aquinas College as its hosts to provide a great experience, while Grand Rapids will surely see a nice economic boost.
  • Win for NAIA – The NAIA gets to showcase some of the finest athletes it has to offer in a growing sport. This invitational is a great step not only to making it a full championship sport, but growing the sport and membership.
  • Win for area lacrosse fans – Local lacrosse fans can watch 16 top-rated participating teams from across the country over four days of competition, including the semifinals May 11 and championship games May 12 – right in your backyard.

Like I said, it’s a win-win.

As the NAIA Lacrosse world descends on Grand Rapids in a few short weeks, my hope is that your community will embrace and support our athletes in the same way I hope our student-athletes connect with and positively impact Grand Rapids. Come out and watch this exciting national competition May 9 through May 12. (See full schedule here.) Tickets are $10 for the day or $25 for a full tournament pass.

This year’s event is another step forward in the growth process for the sport, and we could not be more thrilled to have Grand Rapids, the West Michigan Sports Commission, and Aquinas College leading the charge.

Photos are of the 2017 NAIA Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse National Invitational in Greenville, South Carolina.

Dustin Wilke
Guest Blogger
Dustin Wilke is associate director of championships for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and championship director of the 2018 NAIA Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse National Invitational May 9-12, 2018 at Aquinas College.

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