Go Team! Baylor has rooting interest in Bellaire lacrosse program

Move over football, there’s a new game in town – lacrosse. OK, so maybe it won’t overtake football as Texas’ favorite sport but lacrosse is growing in popularity, and Baylor College of Medicine is doing its part to support the growth of the sport locally.

Ellen Walls and the Bellaire lacrosse team

Ellen Walls and the Bellaire lacrosse team

The sports medicine program in Baylor’s department of orthopedic surgery is providing athletic training and other sports health services to the girl’s lacrosse team at Houston Independent School District’s Bellaire High School. The team has another Baylor connection though – its coach, Ellen Walls, is a coordinator with the department of medicine pulmonary critical care and sleep programs.

Walls played lacrosse at Texas A&M, serving as team captain her junior and senior years, and after graduation found she wanted to stay involved in the sport through coaching. She’s been the coach at Bellaire High School since 2012.

“It’s a unique sport,” Walls says of her draw to it. “It combines elements of three sports – soccer, basketball and hockey. It’s a fast and exciting game.”

It is played on a football-size field with 12 players, including a goalie, using a stick (crosse), to pass a small rubber ball to one another and into the goal. Lacrosse was developed by Native Americans and may be the oldest sport in North America.

Despite its growing popularity statewide and here in Houston, lacrosse is not sanctioned by the University Interscholastic League, or UIL, which governs public school competitions in Texas. At Bellaire and other Texas high schools, it functions as a “club” sport with no school support, including athletic trainers, team physicians and even funding.

It’s an expensive sport and requires a specific skill set, and Walls knew she would need community support to grow the program at Bellaire and ensure her players’ safety.

She reached out to Baylor’s department of orthopedic surgery through Twitter and is now getting support in a variety of areas – most importantly in on-the-field sports medicine. It’s a perfect match, because leaders in orthopedic surgery are strengthening the sports medicine program at Baylor.

Dr. Theodore Shybut is an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Baylor specializing in sports medicine. He has been one of the leaders in developing the department’s sports medicine program.

“We are ultimately building a comprehensive, integrated, interdisciplinary sports medicine program,” Shybut said. “We will provide exceptional care for injured athletes of all levels and simultaneously collaborate with scientists at Baylor to drive translational research that enhances our clinical outcomes.”

At Bellaire High School, Sam Burton, an athletic trainer in the department of orthopedic surgery, works with the lacrosse team. She attends practices and also provides certified training during games. “It’s a high-speed, high-impact sport using sticks and balls, so there is a lot of opportunity for injury,” Burton said.

Foot, ankle and knee injuries are one concern, and concussions also can occur in lacrosse. It’s important to have professional trainers on hand to evaluate players who suffer an injury, Burton said. They can provide on-the-field care and refer athletes for appropriate follow-up treatment as needed. Physicians from the department of orthopedic surgery, the department of family and community medicine, and the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation are collaborating to develop a program to evaluate and treat athletes who have suffered concussions to ensure that they can resume their daily activities on and off the field safely.

“Our goal is not to be the biggest sports medicine program but to provide the best care. We will treat these young athletes as we would a professional athlete,” Burton said.

In addition to providing game and practice athletic training, the Baylor sports medicine program has been involved in other ways. Physicians and trainers conducted sports physicals for all student athletes, including members of the lacrosse team, before the school year started. They also held an information session for lacrosse athletes and families, even inviting middle school players. Baylor also has sponsored jerseys and helped provide equipment and supplies.

The sports medicine program in the department of orthopedic surgery is providing these services to other sports at Bellaire High School, as well as to other programs throughout the area, including Express Soccer Club, Redline Athletics, Nine Innovations gym and others.

Walls notes that the sports medicine program is having a big impact on the lacrosse program.

“I think it’s fantastic they are supporting us. Baylor’s sports medicine program will play a key role in growing the game at Bellaire High School. When parents see what a great organization we have, they’ll want their kids to play, and Baylor is big part of that.”