DELAWARE, Ohio — Although still not quite a mainstream sport, lacrosse has developed solid roots in central Ohio at the high-school and college levels.
Now, Major League Lacrosse will learn whether the pro game can find a niche here, as well.
MLL officially welcomed the Ohio Machine into the fold yesterday, naming Ted Garber the team’s coach and announcing that home games in 2012 and ’13 will be played in 9,100-seat Selby Field at Ohio Wesleyan University, beginning in May.
Professional lacrosse’s arrival in Ohio has been a long time coming, league commissioner David Gross said. Columbus played host to the first game on the MLL Summer Showcase Tour — the league’s traveling platform in 2000 to gain attention for its launch the following year — and the league championship game was played in Crew Stadium in 2002.
“Major League Lacrosse was really born here in Ohio,” Gross said. “So, ‘Why here?’ should be answered as ‘Why did it take us so long, why were we kicking the tires all these years, why didn’t we just plant the flag?’ ”
“The Ohio Machine is here because of an already large, passionate and rapidly growing lacrosse community throughout Ohio,” said John Algie, the Machine’s president and general manager.
Algie pointed to Ohio Wesleyan men’s and women’s lacrosse as Division III teams that have succeeded on the national level. The state’s robust high-school lacrosse programs are a plus, too, he said.
MLL is no stranger to struggles, though, with five teams folding in 2008 and 2009 because of financial issues. Regaining league stability will be important, and a team in Columbus should help, Garber said.
The addition of the Machine and the Charlotte Hounds in 2012 is a step toward the goal of a 16-team league by the end of the decade, Gross said.
Leading the Machine on the field, Garber will step into his second tenure as an MLL expansion team coach after heading Bridgeport (Conn.) in the league’s inaugural season. He has worked with several other professional teams as an assistant, as well as some college stops at New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
“Expansion is exciting,” Garber said. “There are a lot of players who don’t get a chance to play or get on the field with only (six) teams. And now with expansion, these guys are looking for their chance.”
Garber, currently the varsity lacrosse coach at the Loomis Chafee boarding school in Windsor, Conn., will soon begin scouting for Machine players for next year.
After the MLL championship game on Aug. 28, the Machine and the Hounds will have the top picks in both the player allocation draft — on a date to be determined — and the college draft in January.