Lacrosse in the Czech Republic &
the Aleš Hrebeský Memorial Box Tournament
By JOHN HETZEL
It is Mankind's innate instinct to link the past to the present to the future as if documenting and chronologizing our time on earth could give us some insight into the purpose of our being here to begin with. The pictures and songs, stories and games of yesteryear enrich our present and enable us to accept and help shape our futures. Noone knows exactly where or when lacrosse was originated but the first players were Native Americans who believed the sport was a gift from the Creator. They gave the game its diverse tradition of songs, rituals, and folklore that linked man to man, society to society, and man to the natural world around him. Lacrosse is more than just a sport, it is living history that has enriched the lives of generations of players and supporters, from its roots in Native American society and beyond to players around the world today.
The Native American medicine man, a tribe's doctor and high priest, usually led his lacrosse team's preparations; the beating drums, songs, incantations, physical training, plus playing attire and even scarification, typically associated with lacrosse mirrored warfare ceremonials and show how central the sport was to Indian culture. Leaders would stage lacrosse games for various reasons, such as to heal the ill, change the weather, or settle a border dispute with another tribe. The game brought tribes together and allowed communication by which they avoided misunderstandings and averted unnecessary war. Also, lacrosse gave players spiritual insight into the natural world, from the fashioning of wooden sticks and their sacred dipping in "medicine" water before and sometimes during games, to players' attaching some piece of an animal to themselves before a game which they believed would give them its desired characteristics, such as speed or long-windedness, etc. The sport so vital to Indian societies continues to spread across the globe today and has developed into one of the world's most exciting spectator sports without straying far from its original purpose.
American university students began playing lacrosse in the late 1800s, and the game gradually spread to England, Australia, and New Zealand. Lacrosse was an Olympic sport in 1904 and 1908 and an exhibition sport at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932. The sport currently enjoys its most popular status ever, with two successful professional leagues in North America, and two new countries represented in the International Lacrosse Federation (ILF)--South Korea and Argentina, which join the eleven existing member countries competing in the World Lacrosse games next year in Perth, Australia: Iroquois Nationals, USA, Canada, Australia, England, Scotland, Wales, Japan, Germany, Sweden and the Czech Republic.
The Czechs have a colorful lacrosse history and idolize the Native Americans who founded the game. With war drums beating in Europe in the mid-1930s, Czech Boy Scout groups found pictures of Indian lacrosse in their woodcraft manuals and the magazine National Geographic. They made their own sticks, wrote rules, and began playing "Czech-lacrosse" on their camping trips, a one-handed version of lacrosse very similiar to the original Indian game. Despite a long lull of inactivity during the second world war, and the first half of the Soviet occupation of what used to be Czechoslovakia, the Czechs never forgot the game and, though officially banned under communism, returned to action in 1966 when scouting "clans" started the annual tournament which spawned the Czech-Lacrosse league that still exists today. The small hooped stick of this sport, held with one hand and so like the Indian lacrosse of former times, bears no resemblance to the sticks of modern lacrosse, usually held with both hands, and its two versions,box and field, sports the Czechs hardly knew existed from their isolated position behind the Iron Curtain.
With "perestrojka" and the relaxing of border control in the mid 80s, two modern sticks and a copy of the rules of box lacrosse, a six on six game played in a hockey rink , made it to the Czech Republic where this new, international version of the sport was quickly accepted by many veteran Czech lacrosse players. In the spirit of laxmen of old, the Czechs made copies after the Brine sticks out of plastic, wood, and even metal. Though spirits were dampened when the home-made sticks didn't stand up to the rigors of the game, the Czechs were again encouraged from the West with the arrival of the Quebecois, Pierre Fillion, who visited in 1986 promoting "intercrosse", a non-contact, light version of lacrosse, popular with kids and the most widely-played form of the sport today. Fillion saw that the Czechs were also interested in playing box lacrosse and promised to return. He did so the following year with some friends and sixty wooden box lacrosse sticks which he left for the Czechs. A year later in 1987, the Czechs held their first box tournament, from which the teams went on to form the league that exists today. In 1988, the Czechs began to play field lacrosse, the official ILF version of the game, played on a soccer-sized pitch with ten a side, and in 1994, team Czech participated in its first-ever International Field Lacrosse Championship, in Manchester,UK.
The Czech leagues, comprised mainly of the three Prague rivals, Malesice, Jizni Mesto, and Radotín, and the famous beer town, Pilsen, compete year-round, facing-off with field lacrosse in the spring, box in the fall, and even intercrosse through the winter. Radotin, a suburb on the western outskirt of Prague, began playing the Czech-lacrosse in 1980, when the player, Vladimír Kner married and moved to town with his club "Custodes." Radotin played Czech-lacrosse until 1987 when the club, now with its current name, "Lacrosse Club Custodes Radotin", switched over to international box and field lacrosse. LCC Radotin has won the Czech Box Lacrosse League title four times, and currently holds the Czech Field Lacrosse League title. The town is proud to welcome guests to its newly renovated astro-turf box lacrosse stadium, the only facility of its kind outside of North America, and site of the 2001 Aleš Hrebeský Memorial Box Tournament.
LCC Radotín has held the Memorial since the tragic passing of friend and teammate Aleš Hrebeský in 1992. Despite being out of the hospital and seemingly beyond danger a week after an out-of-control car had jumped the curb and struck his leg, the popular young man and promising player was called up to play the big lacrosse game in the sky. In the spirit of the game's Native American founders, who sometimes held games as part of a funeral or mourning rite, the Memorial is LCC's way of trying to heal the pain left by the loss of its close friend. The Memorial has become the unofficial start of the European lacrosse season. With the increasing competition, LCC will be all-out to defend the title that it has held for the Memorial's entire eight year history. They are, however, always mindful that the lacrosse legacy is far more significant than any score or tournament victory.
The 2001 Memorial has become a truly intriguing and global event with a final entrant admitted to the tournament draw this weekend, Team TOKYO, from Japan. TOKYO's visit will be a historic one-they'll be the first Japanese men's team to ever compete in the Czech Republic, and the first Japanese team to ever play the sport of box lacrosse. In addition to the Japanese, Bundes League champions, VFK Berlin, and their Bavarian rivals, LC Passau, will be invading from neighboring Germany. All the Czech teams will be on hand including 2000 Box League Champs, LC Jizni Mesto, LCC Radotin, TJ Malesice, LC Plzen and LC Pardubice. Rounding out the field are the Rebels, all the way from the USA . The Rebels' manager, Bill Curtis, of Rebel Lacrosse Wear, is sponsoring tournament prizes including caps and t-shirts for the champions and runner-ups. Individual awards include a new STX Eclipse for the best goalie, a new STX head for the tournament MVP, plus other participants will win prize awards such as stickers, shafts, rib pads, and stringing kits.
The Rebels will jump right into action playing an exhibition match with host club Radotin the thursday afternoon they arrive, then giving clinics for kids on friday. Tournament play begins friday too, with a clash of Prague rivals, Malesice and Jizni Mesto (Southtown), followed by an official Radotin welcome to the teams visiting from abroad. Saturday will feature tournament play, and the official ceremony to re-open the freshly renovated stadium as well as a mini-football and a youth- lacrosse tournament. Saturday evening will feature a party for the teams to greet the Czech Media. Sunday will be a full day of box lacrosse action, featuring the last round of group play, playoffs, and final, followed by the awards presentation and the closing party.
LCC is proud to be hosting the tournament this year on Marh 23-26, and E-Lacrosse will continue coverage throughout the event!
This piece is written with the authorised assistance of noted lacrosse historian, Dr. Thomas Vennum, whose web site is a great source of lacrosse info and the folklore tradition: www.tvennum.com
Czech Lacrosse info is extracted from Ivan Machasek's comprehensive short history on the subject.
For more information about Czech lacrosse see www.lacrosse.cz.
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