The Allstate Sugar Bowl, one of the premier events on the annual college football schedule, is also serving as a catalyst for growing the game of lacrosse across Louisiana.

As part of its mission to support the local community, the Sugar Bowl Committee annually invests over $1.6 million into the hosting and sponsorship of sporting events, awards and clinics. Since 2007, some of that money has been earmarked for the Allstate Sugar Bowl Lacrosse Classic, a tournament for youth and high school teams.

Beginning in 2016, the Louisiana Chapter of US Lacrosse assumed the responsibility of hosting and coordinating the event, previously managed by the Friends of New Orleans Lacrosse. The 2017 Classic, played on January 28-29, featured 48 teams and over 800 players across eight divisions of play.

The chapter’s seven-person board of directors handles all aspects of planning and running the event, which seeks to help grow the game across the Gulf South Region. One decision made in 2015 was to move the Classic from New Orleans to Hammond, located about 45 miles east of Baton Rouge. Games were played at the Chappapeela Sports Park, with teams representing 10 different cities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama participating in 2017.

“Last year, there was a steep learning curve for our first time hosting this tournament,” said Heidi Meibaum, president of the Louisiana Chapter of US Lacrosse. “This year was a little easier.”

St. Paul’s High School, from Covington, Louisiana, won both the boys’ varsity and junior varsity divisions this year, while Northshore (La.) captured the inaugural girls’ varsity championship. (See full results)

“I had the privilege of attending this year’s Classic and it was truly a wonderful family atmosphere,” said Arielle Insel, manager for membership and regional development at US Lacrosse. “I saw families and friends cheering on the kids, taking pictures, and supporting the players, coaches and officials very positively. Seeing how much those kids were enjoying the game of lacrosse made the trip worthwhile. The Louisiana Chapter’s leaders and volunteers did a great job of hosting this event.”

Meibaum noted that the growth of the tournament reflects the growth of the game throughout the state. The first Allstate Sugar Bowl Lacrosse Classic in 2007 started with just eight participating teams.

Part of the chapter’s motivation in taking responsibility for the tournament is to provide a stronger US Lacrosse profile as the sport grows.

“We want US Lacrosse to be featured,” Meibaum said. “Having a successful event this year really helped our visibility in the region. We’ve received a lot of very positive feedback.”

“The market in Louisiana is strong,” she added. “This event is getting bigger every year, and of course, it’s great for lacrosse to be associated with the Allstate Sugar Bowl.”

That sentiment was echoed by Paul Hoolahan, chief executive officer of the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

“Part of our charter mission is to have an economic impact through sports, and we’re constantly looking for opportunities to help kids participate in competition,” Hoolahan said. “We like to start events and to help them grow. That’s something that we’re proud of doing. The growth of lacrosse in this area has been great. We hope that we’re becoming a hot bed.”