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Wednesday, September 27, 2023
<p>Ian and Lynn Millinoff coach the Gainesville Buchholz High girls' lacrosse team. The team rents a field at the Boys &amp; Girls Club of Alachua County for practices and games.</p>

Ian and Lynn Millinoff coach the Gainesville Buchholz High girls' lacrosse team. The team rents a field at the Boys & Girls Club of Alachua County for practices and games.

When 11- and 12-year-old lacrosse players run up and down the fields at Diamond Sports Park, Lynn Millinoff occasionally has to go from facilitator to active participant. 

But she doesn’t pick up a lacrosse stick and join in on the action.

She goes on animal control duty.

“There are some really tenacious moles that will literally pop up in the middle of a game,” Millinoff said. “The kids will be running along and they’ll just stop dead looking at this mole. And this mole is fearless.”

Millinoff, 54, who facilitates local middle school lacrosse leagues and coaches the Buchholz girls lacrosse team with her husband, Ian, has gotten used to taking such matters into her own hands.

“We go over, we cover the hole up, get the rake out, stamp it down and literally — within 10 minutes — you see the dirt start to fly.”

Unfortunately for the Millinoffs, Diamond Sports Park is one of the best facilities available to them.

In a little more than a decade, lacrosse grew from something that the people of Gainesville only knew as a northern sport to being a staple in local athletic programs, including a burgeoning middle school league.

However, at a time when interest is at an all-time high in the area, the kids are running out of places to play.

“We’re bursting at the seams for field space,” Millinoff said. “We’re begging and borrowing.”


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The Millinoffs want real toilets.

The Gainesville Buchholz High football field gets too worn down between spring football practice and other sports, so the girls’ lacrosse team practices and plays at the Boys & Girls Club in Northwest Gainesville.

The facility wasn’t suitable for use when the Bobcats began playing there.

“We repaired all the bleachers because you couldn’t even sit on them without falling through,” Lynn said. “We give them money that they buy fertilizer and grass seed and stuff like that. We buy loads of dirt to fill in the holes.”

Still, the field at the Boys & Girls Club has severe divots and dips and has several patches of dirt where there should be grass.

The girls must buy a temporary membership to the club to be able to use its fields, but the girls still don’t use the bathrooms in the main building. The team has to rent a Port-O-Potty. The players also don’t have easy access to a water fountain.

“I’m afraid to even say, but it’s kind of embarrassing when people come to play here,” said Michelle Crew, the president of the team’s booster club. “Because we go, and they have these beautiful fields, beautiful facilities and bathrooms. And they come here, and there is no place to change.”

The five area middle schools that form a league run by the Millinoffs have non-regulation fields that can be used for practices but not games. They are forced to use the Boys & Girls Club when they play in tournaments.

While they do their best to make sure the fields don’t get overused, holes eventually form. Ian often has to fill the holes with sand.

Olivia Iobst, a sophomore who plays for Buchholz, isn’t quite as angered by her team’s playing conditions as her coach.

“All fields have holes,” she said. “It’s just some may have a few more than others.”

Nicole White, a 20-year-old UF finance junior from Ponte Vedra, coaches the Gainesville girls and said her players battle ant hills and lose balls in tall grass. Even more concerning: their field at Gethsemane Lutheran Church at 34th Street and 39th Street poses a safety risk.

“We’ve had girls doing a warm-up lap who have just rolled an ankle because there are holes,” White said. “So it’s kind of difficult as a coach to tell them to not worry about that. But as a player, I know if I was running around you can’t not focus on not rolling your ankle.”

If nothing changes, the Millinoffs might have to find somewhere else to play middle school games next fall. Buchholz football might increase its use of the Boys & Girls Club fields for practice. The Millinoffs will also have to continue to turn away elementary schoolers who want to play.

“We are exceeding capacity on every field we go to,” Lynn said.

Lynn dreams of a multi-million dollar benefactor swooping in and sponsoring a new stadium for the local lacrosse teams. One with Astroturf fields, clean bathrooms with running water and bleachers. But now that is only a wish.

“That’s the ideal situation for all of Gainesville because the parks, they won’t share,” Lynn said. “Soccer has locked the parks up and there is nowhere else for anyone to go.”


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There are other fields in Gainesville that are open at times, but that does not guarantee the lacrosse teams use of them.

According to Alachua County Codes, any fields that were built for a sport should be used primarily for that sport. The fields that can accommodate soccer and lacrosse include Forest Park, Kanapaha Veterans Park and Squirrel Ridge Park.

The Gainesville Soccer Alliance paid $500,000 to construct the facilities at Jonesville Park, so it has control over their use. Each of the other fields is primarily used by a soccer club that has to mow the grass and deal with the county to schedule the field’s alternate uses. 

As part of those agreements, the soccer clubs are supposed to ensure the fields are not overused.

“You can’t schedule it so heavily that it destroys the fields,” said Robert Avery, the Director of Parks for Alachua County for the last 28 years. “Help us, you know, give the fields time to rest, relax. And that’s difficult in a public area.”

Lynn is not happy because she can’t convince the soccer club that schedules the use of Kanapaha Park  — Leg-A-Z Soccer Academy — to let any lacrosse teams practice there.

Leg-A-Z’s coaching coordinator, Basil Benjamin, said his club has nothing against lacrosse, but it has already delegated its extra field time to a Mexican soccer league, a flag football league and to the Gainesville Regional Soccer League.

Lynn and Ian inquired about reserving a non-field area of Kanapaha that consisted of overgrown grass and is often used for parking. While the soccer teams are able to use the actual athletic fields whenever they choose, the Millinoffs were told that they could use the overgrown parking area but not reserve it. 

Avery said if he allowed the area to be reserved, it would cease to be a general admission park.

“A lot of people like to go there and throw a blanket there and sit and read a book under the trees,” Avery said. “Kind of more general solitude.”

Both Diamond Sports Complex and Easton Sports Complex in Newberry are options for the Millinoff’s lacrosse leagues. Their middle school leagues will play at Easton this spring. However, neither has more than one field, so they aren’t conducive to holding tournaments for more than a small fraction of their 330 middle school kids. 

The fields are also inconvenient for children who go to Howard Bishop and Lincoln middle schools on the east side of town.

“It’s another 20 minutes for them added onto that trip,” Lynn said. “For a little middle school game, they’ll go, ‘Meh, not worth it. I’m just going to put my kid in soccer. It’s right here at school.’”

Benjamin, who has coached soccer at the club and high school levels in Gainesville for nearly two decades, has nothing against lacrosse as a sport. He sees the growth of any sport at a youth level as a process that takes time. 

Benjamin said soccer went through a similar process in the mid-‘90s, and it’s something the lacrosse teams will have to continue to fight through.

“Those guys have to pay their dues,” he said.


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There is a possible solution to the Millinoffs’ problem. Making it happen is the difficult part.

According to Avery, there is no land owned by Alachua County that doesn’t already serve some purpose. However, there are areas that could be turned into facilities to better serve youth sports.

For the county to fund such a project, the Millinoffs would need to show Avery proof of lacrosse’s significant, sustained growth.

“If you come up with numbers, that says here’s how many participants, clubs, leagues, teams, something like that would be interesting to know,” Avery said. “Because that would have somewhat of an influence on where this might lead.”

Avery declined to give a number of lacrosse players there would have to be for action to be taken, but said he would analyze the information once he has it to make a decision.

“It’s everybody’s taxes that need to be the bigger bang for their buck,” Avery said.

Avery and Benjamin both mentioned the Alachua County Fairgrounds as an option.

The Fairgrounds, which are 96 acres, are big enough to hold several playing fields, but work would have to be done. The parking lights that currently run straight through the land would need to be relocated to form a new parking area adjacent to the fields. 

“That land is just sitting idle,” Benjamin said.

“That is somewhere they could go and knock some trees down, level the land, put irrigation in and do something special. There are opportunities out there. Do they have the money or the will? I don’t know.”

Before the county would consider spending the money to clear the necessary trees and irrigate and level the land, it would have to receive a proposal from someone. Lynn said she and Ian are willing to talk to Avery again, and Avery said he would listen.

Until the Millinoffs find the time to approach Avery, they’ll continue to use whatever space they have. And if nothing comes of the Fairgrounds or one of the parks that has room for improvement, lacrosse won’t get any room to grow.

“Basically, what we have is what we got,” Avery said. “Unless someone donates a bunch of property to us, we’re at a standstill.”

Contact Josh Jurnovoy at

Ian and Lynn Millinoff coach the Gainesville Buchholz High girls' lacrosse team. The team rents a field at the Boys & Girls Club of Alachua County for practices and games.

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