Atlanta Swarm: Pro lacrosse hits town

Professional lacrosse is coming to Atlanta.

The Georgia Swarm, an indoor lacrosse team that is relocating from Minnesota, formally introduced itself to the public in a press conference Thursday at Gwinnett Arena, the team’s new home facility. The Swarm, part of the nine-team National Lacrosse League, is believed to be Georgia’s first professional lacrosse team and one of the first in the Southeast.

“The sport has traditionally been seen as predominately northeastern and that’s changing,” NLL commissioner George Daniel said. “It’s been changing rapidly here and across the country.”

While the Swarm’s season doesn’t begin until January, about 300 people attended the press conference.

Afterwards coach Ed Comeau, hired this summer, and two players — Shayne Jackson and Kiel Matisz — signed autographs. All three are from Canada, where indoor lacrosse is popular, but Jackson has southern roots. The forward played his final two college seasons at Limestone College, a Division II program in Gaffney, S.C.

“I really missed playing in the South,” said Jackson, who led the Swarm in points last season. “I loved it here.”

Like Comeau and his teammates, Jackson supplements his playing income with another job and is hoping to coach high school lacrosse in the Atlanta area. But most of the Swarm personnel, including Comeau, live in Canada and will fly in Friday for Saturday or Sunday games.

“We all have a passion for lacrosse,” said Matisz, a defenseman. “I’m living my dream.”

Outdoor lacrosse’s popularity has been booming across America and the sport’s growth in Georgia has been steady. Seven colleges currently field NCAA programs and 88 high schools fielded lacrosse teams last spring, up from 38 just 10 years ago.

There is an existing professional outdoor league — Major League Lacrosse — where some of the Swarm players also play. The indoor game is played at a faster pace and on a smaller field. There’s a 30-second shot clock and teams usually attempt 40 to 50 shots per game, Comeau said.

Comeau, who has coached five NLL championship teams, is tasked with turning around the Swarm, which went 6-12 last season and didn’t make the playoffs. But he views the team’s arrival are more important than just wins and losses.

“We’ve got kids playing lacrosse now growing up idolizing guys on our team,” Comeau said. “It’s great for the youth to have that opportunity. Lacrosse doesn’t end when you finish playing college.”

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