When most people think of spring sports, lacrosse isn't the first thing that comes to mind.

That's not the case, though, for four club teams in the Tucson area.

On a recent afternoon members of the blue-and-white-jerseyed Foothills Lacrosse Club raced across the field at Orange Grove Middle School, 1911 E. Orange Grove Road, with coaches shouting encouragment.

Lacrosse, an old Native- American pastime, is a sport similar to soccer in which the players use two different sized sticks, short or long, to throw a small round ball into a goal.

Foothills Lacrosse started its junior varsity team seven years ago and a year later developed its varsity team.

About 40 players make up a club team. Right now some girls play at the JV level, but none at the varsity level.

The other clubs here are Oro Valley Lacrosse, Tanque Verde Lacrosse and Salpointe Lacrosse.

A "club sport" is a team that does not represent a specific school, but allows students to play a specific sport, for a fee, that's generally not offered as a school sport.

The season begins for high school varsity lacrosse teams in February and ends in May. Before the season starts, the Foothills club's account is at $0, so there is a nonstop need for fundraising.

Foothills Lacrosse primarily earns its money through donations and T-shirt sales.

Foothills Lacrosse Club president Eric Bockisch said the nonprofit organization tries to charge as little as possible. It's a challenge to raise enough money for new goals, balls, rent for the practice field and liability insurance.

Donations are critical, said Russ Stowers, a Foothills Lacrosse board member.

"We depend on contributions from businesses and individuals," he said.

Fees vary by level and range from $200 to $500 for the varsity club at Foothills Lacrosse. The real cost is closer to $700 per student - the difference is made up through donations and fundraising.

Coaches are only paid for mileage.

"It's not a moneymaking business. They do it for the love of sports," Bockisch said.

Stowers said lacrosse is the fastest-growing sport for youth in the U.S. ESPN is now showing college tournament games, expanding the sport's popularity and giving it a "cool factor," Stowers said.

Lacrosse is a crossover sport for many athletes, Stowers said. Soccer players' running skills and endurance translate well to lacrosse. Football players' strength and toughness help them on the lacrosse field.

"It takes some skill," Bockisch said. "It's not easy."

Like many athletes, it is important for lacrosse players to be in shape and have good hand-eye coordination.

"It's a very physical sport. I fell in love with it because of that," said Matt Lai, a varsity player and senior at Catalina Foothills High School.

Bockisch said it takes about a week for newcomers to learn lacrosse throwing and catching techniques. It takes consistent practice to master them.

"If you want to play, you really want to be devoted to the sport," said Kurt Veitch, who has been the Foothills team's program director and head coach for seven years.

Veitch, 50, played lacrosse from ages 15 to 41. He oversees the junior varsity and varsity lacrosse teams for Foothills Lacrosse and spent two years coaching the Tanque Verde team.

Since lacrosse is a relatively little-played sport in the region, most players have never tried lacrosse when they go to a practice for the first time, said Stowers.

"We want more kids playing lacrosse," he said. "If you enjoy sports, you'll enjoy lacrosse."

Tucson lacrosse club teams

• Foothills Lacrosse Club, for boys grades 3 through 12. Call 245-3010 or go to www.tucsonfoothillslax.com online.

• Tanque Verde Lacrosse for boys grades 3 through 12. Call 631-0073 or go to www.tvbobcatlacrosse.org online

• Oro Valley Lacrosse. Call 333-7990 or go to www.orovalleylacrosse.org

• Salpointe Lacrosse. Go to www.salpointe.org online.

Ashley Powell is a University of Arizona student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at 573-4117 or starapprentice@azstarnet.com