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Thank you for the question! I am not an athletic director, thought I suspect I was handed your question by DCSchoolHub because I used to serve as head lacrosse coach at St. Albans School and am still involved as a youth coach at the club level (middle school).
The Washington, DC region is a hotbed for sports such as lacrosse, basketball, and swimming. Some of our area schools are among the best in the country in those sports (and this includes both boys’ and girls’ teams). That, of course, produces college scholarships, which can influence both the culture at certain high schools and the parental culture.
As you and your son prepare to enter into that world and consider options, I would suggest the following approach:
• It is fine to read and even be informed by stories and posts you read about school culture, but I would not base your search on them.
• Take a look for yourself—and have your son look—at the two high schools you mention. The phrase “lacrosse culture,” used by many, often has pejorative connotations. I would see for yourself what that “culture” is, by both visiting the school, speaking with the coaches, and also talking to parents. I suspect they will be able to speak with greater clarity and nuance than chat room posters. There are also many redeeming aspects about the “lacrosse culture” that people should not lose sight of!
• Your son may already know student-athletes at those schools (and that may be a big draw for him). He can use that as an opportunity to ask them questions about their experience. If you look at schools where he doesn’t know anyone, the admissions office or even athletic department may be able to put him in contact with other students, particularly lacrosse players.
If you ask 10 people in the area about schools, especially those skilled at lacrosse, and which one to send your son to, you may get 10 different responses. We all have our biases. I certainly would not assume that a school/sports program has a certain culture just because it has been successful.
The Interstate Athletic Conference (IAC), featuring Georgetown Prep, Landon, St. Albans, Episcopal, St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes, and Bullis, is among the strongest in the country in the sport of lacrosse, and the schools also have academic rigor. It was a source of pride during my time at St. Albans when, in the midst of a sporting event, another school unveiled a banner that read: “St. Albans = Nerds.”
The Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) also has a fine reputation both with athletics, including lacrosse, and with academics. Its member schools include Gonzaga, DeMatha, St. John’s, Good Counsel, Paul VI, St. Mary’s Ryken, Bishop O’Connell, and St. John’s, among others.
A conference that I feel is underrated in reference to the scholarship-athletic balance is the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAC). These schools may be known more for their academics, but the conference consistently sends players on to play high-level college lacrosse each year. MAC schools include Potomac, St. Andrew’s Episcopal, Sidwell Friends, Flint Hill, and Maret,
Because the school where I currently work sends its graduates on to many of these schools, I don’t want to come out in favor of any one school over another. Plus, many of the people I used to coach against still work at those schools, and I need to maintain my friendships!
The good news is that you have many great options—which, I realize, also makes your and your son’s job that much harder.
(Malcolm Lester is the Head of School of Grace Episcopal Day School in Kensington, Maryland, serving students from age 3 through fifth grade. A 2013 inductee into the US Lacrosse Potomac Chapter Hall of Fame and the 2007 Washington Post All-Met “Coach of the Year,” Malcolm was head lacrosse coach at St. Albans School from 1991-2012).