GROWTH OF THE GAME: Every Season is Lax Season!
By Nelson Coffin
In case you haven't noticed, lacrosse is not just a spring thing any more. While the expansion of the sport geographically, from hotbeds in Baltimore, Long Island and Syracuse to smaller pockets of enthusiasm for the old Indian game in Detroit, Denver, Houston, San Diego, Columbus, San Francisco and many other areas have been burgeoning for some time now, the seasonal boundaries of lacrosse are also being stretched at a record clip.
More and more college and high school teams each year participate in outside tourneys through Thanksgiving and some are coming indoors or even heading west for the remainder of the cold weather. Spectators and players have an array of choices this Fall and Winter. Take, for instance, fall in the Baltimore area, where a fan can get his or her lax jones satisfied by a variety of events designed to keep the serious stick aficionado hopping almost every weekend.
On the first Saturday of October defending NCAA Division I champion Syracuse and 13 other squads descended on McDonogh School in the Charm City suburb of Owings Mills for the Price Modern "Lacrosse for Leukemia" Fall Invitational Tournament. Loyola College, Towson, Johns Hopkins, UMBC, Georgetown, Cornell, Penn, Ohio State, Butler, Quinnipiac, Washington College and Team USA were the other participants in the soiree that doubled as a fund-raiser (admission was $10 per car) and a chance for fans to check out their favorite teams.
Two weeks later the Baltimore area boasts an embarrassment of riches for fall lax lovers. On Saturday (October 19) the Genesee Fall Lacrosse Tournament features 13 men's and women's squads going at it on Tom LaMonica's 300-acre spread, some 25 minutes north of Towson in the rural farmland of upper Baltimore County. If the site seems a bit remote, it's really not. The farm is close to I-83, allowing at least 3,000 fans to find their way to the inaugural edition of the tourney last year and more are expected this time around. For ten bucks a carload, fans can wander among the five fields to watch the action or shop at equipment booths, play a closest-to-the-pin or hole-in-one golf contest or peruse barbecue beef stands manned by local purveyors.
LaMonica, whose sons, Mike and Dan, were members of the last US Under-19 world championship squad, attended a similar fall ball get-together at Princeton a few years ago and decided to design his own version of the off-season crowd pleaser. I just thought it would be a lot of fun," said LaMonica. "I thought we'd be unique with a coed tournament. We tried to get both the men's and women's teams from all the schools, but this year they will just be from Towson, Mt. St. Mary's and UMBC."
LaMonica's profits will go mainly to the Grant-A-Wish Foundation, so he hopes a slew of lacrosse junkies will parade out to Parkton to see the men of Maryland, Mt. St. Mary's, Princeton, UMBC, Georgetown, Towson, Delaware and Penn State or the women of Towson, UMBC, Vanderbilt, the Mount and James Madison. "We're getting bigger," said LaMonica. "We've gone from four men's team to eight and four women's teams to five." The setting allows for a more intimate portrait of the teams and players, many of whom will be milling about between games. "Fall ball is just a lot more relaxed," LaMonica noted. "Coaches are available to meet people and lot of the players just socialize with each other while they're waiting to play again. It's going to be interesting." (For more information, 410-343-0101.) The action satrs at 9 and Maryland tips off against Princeton at about 11:30.
The following day, just north of the Baltimore City, St. Paul's School hosts a high-school extravaganza in which regional all-star squads from Syracuse, Rochester, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Washington, Delaware, northern Virginia and Tidewater will mix it up with several Baltimore area teams. St. Paul's Coach Mitch Whiteley will oversee the action on six fields billed as a fall-ball recruiting camp for the majority of players who have yet to sign for the college program of their choice. "This is for the kids that don't have anything sewn up yet," said Whiteley, knowing that the major D-I blue chippers have already been signed for the Class of '07. "They can see and be seen. We'll have 40 college coaches here. This will help some of the kids who might(otherwise) fall through the cracks. And some of the younger kids (underclassmen) can also be seen."
Warrior, Bacharach Raisin and Inside Lacrosse Magazine are sponsoring the gala. It will cost only a couple of dollars to park. Admission is free. A similar showcase for girls is slated for the same Brooklandville site a week later. "We're trying to do it first class and we held it on Sunday because some of the guys play fall sports," said Whiteley. "This way they won't miss any time with that other sport." (For more information, 410-825-4400 to reach Mitch Whiteley).
Far away and pushing the schedule into mid winter is Mickey-Miles Felton. His Arizona Holiday Lacrosse Camp will be held in Tucson between Christmas and New Year's Eve. A camp, the recently retired and longtime University of Arizona Coach emphasized, is much different from a tournament featuring experienced stick handlers but spectators are welcome just the same. His camp will be instructional, stressing fundamentals for high school and college players. "It will be a teaching camp," said Felton, who coached the California All-Stars at the Olympics in 1984 at Los Angeles as part of a demonstration. "It will be strong on basics. It's for guys who maybe want to come out and get some preseason work or for anybody who just wants to play."
Felton always yearned to host such a gathering. But camps are typically summertime events, which would not work particularly well in the desert heat. "Then one day I was thinking what we needed out here in the West was a clinic in the winter," said the Great Neck, Long Island native.
"When I first got here, all the players were from New York or Maryland. I felt the local players out here needed a camp experience. They were way behind the kids in the East and they needed some focused coaching. They needed more individual instruction", Felton continues. That was 13 years ago and the camp, held in the more temperate winter, is still going strong. Local interest is following suit. Arizona now has 31 programs in public schools, up from four in 1997. Felton has called on coaches from top coaches from collegiate club teams, such as Jason Lamb from BrighamYoung and Arizona's Adam Hopkins, to help teach at the camp. (For more information, 1-800-293-1400).
The Edge Clinic, the National Lacrosse League's first venture into hosting an instructional event, will open in Portland (Oregon, not Maine), despite the fact that the 12-team NLL does not have a franchise there. Which is exactly the idea. "We're targeting non-NLL cities to spread the word about our product," said Ryan Wellner, NLL Director of Growth and Development.
Blairstown, New Jersey, Dallas, DesMoines, Minneapolis and Salt lake are other projected sites for getting the Edge. Popular NLL stars Kevin Finneran and Tom Ryan will run the Portland party. NLL standouts will provide instruction at all the Edge events. The NLL will run ads in the local papers and television of the target cities while also using contacts through USLacrosse to help shepherd youth league players to the day-long drill that will cost just $75 for kids from 7-17. Proceeds will help fund the NLL's Grass Roots program, a skills competition held at halftime of games similar to the NFL's Punt, Pass and Kick promotion, Wellner noted. And, of course, the NLL season starts on Friday, December 27 as Albany hosts Toronto and New York visits Columbus.
The Major Lacrosse League is also doing a fall camp tour, despite a recent setback in the Washington, D.C. area. The MLL's Titan Tour event scheduled to be held at St. Stephens and St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Va. on October 26 and 27 was postponed due to the dangerous situation brought about by the Beltway sniper. The Titan Tour is still scheduled to visit non-MLL cities Denver (November 2-3), Atlanta (November 16-17), Orlando (November 16-17), Dallas (December 7-8), San Diego (December 14-15) and San Francisco (December 21-22).
So whether you're a fan or a player in college or high school, fall lax opportunities abound. You might spend the holiday season at the TurkeyShoot Tournament in Ithaca, the Turkey Shoot-out Tournament in Oakton, VA or the Womens' TurkeyShoot in Annapolis, MD. You could be a player in the Pumpkinhead Tournament in Bethesda, MD or the Syracuse Pumpkin Stick-Out in Syracuse, NY but you're probably playing somewhere this fall!
Photos by John Strohsacker, Tom Paulius and Harry Mazaheri are of the Lacrosse for Leukemia Tournament, The Fall Tournament at Northwestern and Lax Vegas.
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