It’s spring. That’s been the official word for more than a week now. But don’t let that stop the weather here in Boston from messing things up.
Did you know it actually snowed in some parts of Massachusetts this past week? True story. In Boston we’ve had to deal with rain while the weather has hovered around 40 degrees. My heat is still on.
But besides my gripes with the weather, my focus currently is shifting from the basketball and hockey seasons to spring sports. I’m turning my attention to high school baseball, softball and lacrosse. And as always, my mind will be on the Patriots. I’ll likely be working the NFL draft again from Gillette Stadium and I know everybody wants to know what kind of move Bill Belichick will make now that the free agency boom is over. (Just a thought: The Pats probably won’t draft a receiver.) And then there’s the opening of the MLB season. The Red Sox begin their quest for another World Series title on April 5. There’s also the Bruins and Celtics getting ready for the playoffs.
All things considered, there’s a lot to think about and mentally prepare for.
I write all this to say that of the things that my focus often fall to, high schools coverage often comes first, even it is of least importance. It remains in my peripherals partially because of both my professional responsibility and personal pride. But of all seasons, spring high school sports can be the most confounding.
Consider this: High school baseball and softball in Massachusetts had 23,209 kids participate last year, according to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association. (12,923 for just baseball.) That easily surpasses the singular juggernaut in every local district, which is football, as the second most engaged sport in the state. Football had 20,399 student-athletes last year to be fourth. Lacrosse netted 15,491 for fifth behind basketball at 22,518 which is third.
The most popular sport, again adding boys and girls together, is soccer: 26,809 kids participated last year in the state. From our coverage at the Globe, you wouldn’t know it.
(I should note here that I’m omitting the numbers for Indoor and Outdoor track & field as they occur in separate seasons and often carry the same students, thus making their actual figures hard to pin down. In all likelihood, those numbers would definitely shake up this Top 5.)
Our big thing at the Globe and Boston.com, as it is every year and for every newspaper around this country, is football because of its popularity. Nothing draws clicks in the fall like football. No soccer feature or extra game coverage can change that, despite being in the same season.
Conversely, the same can be said of hockey, which had 9,143 kids participate in the winter of 2010-11 — far behind the participation numbers of basketball. And yet, no basketball feature or game coverage could move the dial as our hockey coverage did.
This has been proven to me time and time again that despite the the size of engagement in a sport, its popularity here in Massachusetts is not as obvious. Parents may encourage their kids to play soccer and run track, but secretly they want to watch them and read about them playing football, hockey and lacrosse. Which brings me to the point of my writing this.
Why is lacrosse the king of spring? Without even a smidgen of understanding, I ventured to Boston three years ago thinking that baseball was the No. 1 sport in this state. What with the Red Sox and all it would seem that a foundation was likely in place for kids and parents to be drawn to to the sport at the high school level. I imagined fist fights in the stands over whose kid was the better pitcher.
Participation-wise, I haven’t been disappointed. But when the needle begins to measure the traffic for baseball/softball coverage, in direct comparison to football coverage, hockey coverage, and lax coverage, all logic flies out the window faster than a Dustin Pedroia laser bomb. It doesn’t even come close and there is no explanation worthy.
I’ve discussed this with some colleagues in the high school coverage bubble here and they too agree it’s a weird conundrum, one which I do not think there is an easy answer. But in the interim, the traffic patterns are encouraging coverage decisions that I would not normally make. While football may be behind soccer in participation, it by no means is behind because of shallow numbers. In fact, hockey and lacrosse are more easily relatable because they defy the engagement/popularity enigma that I’ve been puzzling.
Do I feed the insatiable taste for lacrosse stories and photos as our No. 1 sport of choice? Do I give the lax feature top billing over the baseball feature? Where does my time go? And so on, and so on.
This is a vexation I have that’s only applicable it seems to this state. And with each year living here, it’s easier to pin down which sport gets a certain amount of my attention. However, that doesn’t mean any of this makes any sense. And that doesn’t mean that everyone will be satisfied.