Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sizzling In Baltimore

The uniforms were, uh, colorful. The sleeveless jerseys were black, with the word "Kentucky" centered in florescent orange with florescent green outlining. The numbers were gigantic, off to the right on the front, all white.

As for the shorts, well, they were black with checkerboard done in the florescent green and white.

What made these uniforms most interesting, though, wasn't their design or color scheme. Nope, it was the sport.

These were lacrosse uniforms, worn by youth lacrosse players from Kentucky. The competed this weekend at the Summer Sizzle, a tournament held in the heart of lacrosse country, Baltimore.

In the world of youth lacrosse, it doesn't get much better than the Summer Sizzle, which draws teams from all over the country to compete against the best teams in the Maryland area. There are eight divisions in the tournament, from high school down to U-11.

TigerBlog Jr.'s team, Twist, was one of the teams in the U-15B Division, which consists mostly of players who are heading into eighth grade. There is a U-15A Division, which is mostly kids who will be starting high school in the fall.

What was most extraordinary about this tournament was the fact that teams were there from all over the country.

There was a team from Nashville (the Groove). From Houston. From California. From Denver. Two from North Carolina, including a team from Winston-Salem. There were a few from Pittsburgh. There were a few from Virginia. And of course throughout the Northeast.

And of course, there was the team from Kentucky, who went 1-3-1 in its five round-robin games. After one of its games, TigerBlog overheard the coach say in his Kentuckian drawl: "If you throw and catch like that, you won't win a game in KIHN-tuh-kee, let alone up here."

And, in fairness to those who won, well, the eight divisions produced champions from the following areas: seven came from Maryland and one came from Long Island.

The 1992 Princeton men's lacrosse team won the first of the program's six NCAA championships. Of the 48 players on the roster, 20 were from New York and nine were from Maryland. Five more were from New Jersey, and three were from Northern Virginia or D.C.

There was one player from Michigan, and that was David Morrow, who stood out as a complete rarity back in those days. Morrow, of course, went on to become the national Division I Player of the Year and then the founder of Warrior Lacrosse, which was named for his high school, Brother Rice.

In 2001, when Princeton won its sixth championship, the roster consisted of 18 players from New York, nine from Maryland, four from Pennsylvania and three each from Virginia and Colorado. There was also one player from Michigan and one from Texas.

The most recent Princeton team had seven players from New York and eight from Maryland. It also had players from Illinois, California (two), Michigan and Montana, as well as six from Connecticut.

That the sport of lacrosse is growing is obvious. The Summer Sizzle was held on four locations, two for the youth and two for the high school.

Driving from the Maryland Fairgrounds to St. Paul's School at back, TB could see the hundreds of players, all in their wildly colorful uniforms (though not quite like Kentucky).

Of course, not that long ago, lacrosse didn't exist in most of these areas. And, as the number of Division I men's teams continues to remain in the area of about 60, the number of players per roster spot has skyrocketed.

This has put the pressure on the college coaches to find the talent, wherever it is.

And who knows? Maybe one day it will be coming from the kids from Kentucky. Oh wait. It already is; the recent high school All-America list includes three players from Kentucky, two of whom are headed to Division I schools (Providence and Dartmouth).

In fact, Hopkins has a player coming from Indiana. Other non-traditional states who have Division I players on their list: Tennessee, Ohio, Oregon, Maine, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota and even Idaho.

Still, that's not what any of this was about, at least not on the youth level. The players or parents who sit there and think in terms of college scholarships or college roster spots are missing out on the most obvious part of all of this.

TigerBlog Jr.'s team reached the U-15B final, winning all five of its round-robin games (against three teams from Maryland, one from Pittsburgh and one from New Jersey) before taking on a team from Philadelphia in the semifinals.

After that was a 6-4 loss to Hotstix, a team from outside of Baltimore.

TBJ's team had won two of its first three summer tournaments, one in New Jersey and one in Pennsylvania. To go to Baltimore and compete so well against the best teams from Maryland and around the country was probably more impressive, but it's hard for a bunch of U15ers to think in those terms sometimes.

Still, after the team lost, nobody threw their equipment or cried or stormed away angrily or any of that.

Besides, when they think back in years to come about how they spent their summers when they were adolescents, they're not going to remember the scores of the games. They're going to remember sitting around a table at a hotel buffet in their own florescent green shirts, about hanging out with friends they made playing a game they loved to play.

Will TBJ or any of his 20 teammates play in college? If they're really lucky, maybe one or two will play Division I, and that would be a lot.

Maybe a few more will play at other levels in college.

The rest will probably play at some point in high school before the maturation process begins to separate the very best.

Still, nothing's going to take away from the experiences that they've gotten to have. That's what the Summer Sizzle - and the rest of the tournaments - are really about.

And it doesn't matter where you're from, Baltimore, Pennsylvania or even Kentucky.

It's a great way to spend your summer.


Anonymous said...

Kudos! to you for this blog post and in recognizing that it isn't where you're from that necessarily makes a player sound or provides the most benefit from playing the game of lacrosse! While many "East Coasters" experience lacrosse as the natural sport progression growing up, other parts of the country are very new to the game - like Kentucky.

I am the coach of the Kentucky team you reference. The team in your blog is a U13 team. The majority of them have been playing for 2 years, +/- a year. That is about how long the middle schools have had organized programs here (although, there aren't many). High school programs in Kentucky, on average, have been around for about 8-10 years. There are only 22 teams in the whole state. In comparison, one of the teams we played this past weekend was celebrating their 50th anniversary as a club.

I've been involved with lacrosse for 20 years. However, I've only been in KY for a few years and can attest the sport is seeing an enormous growth here. Having the summer tournaments and opportunities for these boys to play and develop their skills outside of the regular season, and against their peers from other parts of the country, is invaluable. Although KY is not known as a hotbed for lacrosse, we are working to continue turning heads. While it may start with the uniforms, we expect the talent of the players and the records on the field to follow.

As long as we can continue playing in great tournaments and receive the warm welcomes we've experienced from teams, players, coaches & parents from all across the country, great things for the growth of the sport and the youngsters involved are inevitible. And, while 'Kentucky' and 'lacrosse' will probably never be synonymous I suspect in years to come it won't be as much of a surprise to see competitive teams and players emerging from the state. Until then, we'll gladly accept that the uniforms helped to draw the attention. I won't even hold it against you that I'm not originally from KIHN-tuh-kee and don't have a southern draw......ha!!

TigerBlog said...

It's great that you were able to see the post and reply, and it's great to hear that lacrosse is doing well in Kentucky. Looking back on the comment, perhaps it was a parent who said it rather than the coach, because it definitely sounded KIHN-tuh-kee-ian.

Good luck to the team in the future, and hopefully we'll see you again down the road.

Anonymous said...

Actually one of our speciality coaches is a native Kentuckian and definitely has a southern draw.
Benz is currently playing lacrosse as goalie for Eastern University,
St. Davids, Pa. We hope you start seeing KY everywhere
you see lacrosse! Oh, and thanks for mentioning us and taking notice! We will be back!!