After a fun-filled, fast-paced and inspiring weekend of youth lacrosse, the second annual Jr. NLL Tournament has come to an end. This year’s tournament has been deemed a great success by coaches, players and parents alike with eight of the nine NLL cities sending their Jr. clubs to compete at the Labor Day weekend event at Toronto Rock Athletic Centre (TRAC) in Oakville, Ontario.
“It’s been a great event with a number of teams here this weekend,” said NLL VP of Lacrosse Operations Brian Lemon. “It’s great for the kids from the NLL cities, for the parents to come together, as well as all our member clubs that are here to enjoy and grow the game at the grassroots level.”
Jamie Dawick, owner of the Toronto Rock who doubles in helping to coach the Jr. Rock, summed up the memorable tournament which returned to the Rock’s practice facility at TRAC for the second-straight year.
“This year, we have a lot more kids and for them to come here and put on their team’s jersey and represent the team they cheer for and where they’re from is just awesome,” Dawick said. “You also have NLL players and coaches here so it’s just an unbelievable experience for these kids that you wouldn’t get in any another sport. It is one of the most fun weekends and a nice way to finish off the year.”
In an exciting and competitive atmosphere, a sense of camaraderie between the young players and teams was clearly evident throughout the weekend. Many of these young players and their families travelled quite a distance to make it to the tournament and in doing so, it takes many resources to make that kind of trip possible.
“It’s certainly not easy, we flew into Cleveland and drove up which helped save on the cost a bit,” said Shawn Vita, who travelled to Ontario from the Greater Seattle area as one of the many parents in attendance. “We planned ahead and knew what the schedule was. This is the big end-cap for us so this is kind of our last hoorah of box lacrosse and our summer season.”
Vita, whose sons Dylan and Logan suited up for the PeeWee and Bantam Jr. Stealth, recognized the tremendous value of having young lacrosse players play box.
“Invaluable sport that greatly develops the kid’s skills,” Vita said about the indoor game. “Specifically their stick-handling abilities.”
Buffalo Bandits transition player Jay Thorimbert, who helped coach the Jr. Bandits along with teammate Ryan Benesch, couldn’t agree more as he believes that the Jr. NLL Tournament has a significant impact on young lacrosse players.
“It’s huge,” Thorimbert said. “The exposure to box lacrosse and especially what they learn is great. The more you get involved with the game, the more you get excited. The biggest thing about lacrosse is, unlike hockey, you don’t see kids playing pick-up out in the street. Lacrosse is tough so tournaments like this are really good. Getting sticks in the kids’ hands and getting them excited about the game.”
With the sole purpose of developing young players and immersing them into the world of box lacrosse, the competition at the Jr. NLL Tournament is consistently getting better.
“Every year, the kids get older, more mature and have a better understanding of the game,” Thorimbert said. “The talent here is fantastic and every team has a lot of skill, it’s outstanding.”
Many of the Jr. NLL coaches stress to their young players the importance and significance of wearing their favorite NLL team’s jersey and how they represent not only themselves but also their team when wearing it.
Jr. Bandits player Mitchell Kiebaln reflected on the significance of representing his hometown Buffalo Bandits.
“It feels good to wear my favorite team’s jersey,” Kiebaln said. “It’s like I have pride on my chest.”
With countless smiles on the young players’ faces throughout the weekend, Thorimbert explained that there’s one lesson every player can take away from their Jr. NLL experience this year and for years to come.
“Win or lose- as long as you are having fun and competing- that’s all that matters.”
The 21 clubs participating represented eight NLL teams with the Jr. Bandits, Jr. Mammoth, Jr. Rush, Jr. Swarm, Jr. Wings, Jr. Knighthawks, Jr. Rock & Jr. Stealth. Click here to check out our photo gallery featuring some of the best images from the event.
By Natasha Hall-Brodie for NLL.com