A one-year pilot program adding lacrosse as a sport at select public high schools was approved Tuesday by the Hillsborough County School Board.
Board members praised the efforts of lacrosse advocates who worked to offer the game to students while honoring the district's struggle with strapped budgets in an economy where athletics programs result in financial losses at almost every high school.
Scores of lacrosse supporters and students, many wearing team jerseys, applauded and cheered after the board's 7-0 favorable vote.
Under a contract between the board and the Hillsborough County Lacrosse Alliance, the alliance will cover most costs, including uniforms, helmets and other protective gear, plus goals, nets and 160 practice balls per school, per year.
Practice fields will be provided at the schools, if available, but the alliance must pay $3,000 annually for striping the fields and $500 for new sod at each field after the 13-game season.
The schools will provide so-called "soft costs" such as utilities, custodial services and an administrator for each game, under the agreement.
"This will make a difference to a lot of kids," said Jon Levy, associated with the Steinbrenner High School lacrosse team and the alliance.
A committee of school board members, district officials and representatives of the lacrosse community has met for months to discuss details of an equitable program.
The contract says participating high schools in the pilot program "may include" Alonso, Durant, Freedom, Newsome, Plant, Robinson, Steinbrenner and Wharton. Regardless of the number of participating schools, Jefferson and Tampa Bay Technical high schools will participate, addressing board concerns about not excluding boys and girls from low-income families.
Until lacrosse becomes a sanctioned varsity sport in January 2014, it will continue as a club sport, according to the agreement, which immediately grants the alliance campus access for recruiting and expanding its boys' and girls' teams.
Board member Doretha Edgecomb praised the committee for its work with the school district. "I don't think in my time on (the) board I have seen such a group come together to support and champion what it believes is the right thing to do for students in our school district," she said, "and I applaud you for that."
Other board members echoed her remarks. "This is what negotiation looks like, folks," said Chairwoman Candy Olson, calling it "something to be celebrated."
In coming years, she cautioned, the district might not be able to afford some of the sports it now offers.