Lacrosse is a game that creates a sense of unity and has always contained the power to bring a community together. From the first medicine game to modern-day NLL games spanning North America, when players pick up their sticks and prepare to compete, crowds gather, mothers and fathers come to watch their sons and daughters, friends come to see the action and any passer-by will stop to watch the fastest game on two feet. The beauty of lacrosse is its ability to bring people together for a few hours to enjoy the energy and spectacular nature this game has to offer. Each team working together for a common goal, their spectators, friends, and families doing the same – once the game has ended, blood and sweat is often sacrificed – in return respect is earned.
Before the NLL games were played in front of thousands, before the NCAA Final Four on Memorial Day weekend was broadcast in every home across America, lacrosse was believed to be a gift from the Creator for each young boy to try in the Haudenosaunee community. Often a father would fashion a hickory stick and place it in his child’s crib, it would be their first toy. Naturally, the game would be of interest, as it is the child’s only thing to play with. As the child grew, so did the size of the stick, often allowing for skills to be developed alongside their physical growth. Traditionally, only men played the game so boys would bring their sticks everywhere with them to continue honing their skills. Their father, uncle, older brothers would teach them the game, naturally, the young boy would aspire to be like the older men in his life and often watch intently, learn and practice.
While throughout Haudenosaunee communities several families still put a hickory stick in their son’s crib and hold onto these traditions, the game has expanded and included non-Haudenosaunee players as the vast majority. More and more of today’s players are aware of the Native American roots that lacrosse has, the beauty is that whether you understand that or not, lacrosse will teach you the same life lessons, that it taught the first people who played.
If you’re not born with a stick in your crib or any knowledge about the history of lacrosse, but have become a player or are interested in the sport you can typically find resources to educate yourself on the meaning of the game. Often you need not look further than where the last game was played. The sense of community lacrosse creates has a unique way of creating the opportunity for seasoned veterans and expert level players to share a story with a young fan or a player just starting. From coaches, NLL players, college lacrosse alumni, men’s league heroes, and weekend warriors, lacrosse players often become nostalgic when they see a young player with a stick and share some advice they’ve learned. Each story, lesson, or word of advice shared helps to grow the game. The ones who’ve played long enough to see reminisce about their prime understand this.
Being a professional in the sport and understanding the importance of growing the game makes athletes want to give back, share and teach. Organizations like the NLL create ample opportunities for their athletes to leverage to share the game and what it has done for them.
From becoming a professional player in the NLL with the New England Black Wolves in 2015, I spent my off-season and summers with some of the world’s best lacrosse players, learning and sharing the game with the youth at various players development camps through the United States. Understanding the history of lacrosse, we developed a program to teach that history, develop skills and provide expert advice while hoping to inspire a love for the game. Oftentimes their coaches may have been saying the same thing all season, yet when a young lacrosse player hears it from a professional it must sound different. Throughout coaching, I’ve come across so many gifted players, an abundance of young athletes who are inspired to play, and several players who I’m lucky enough to see develop, go off to play college lacrosse, and even further. When young players mention they want to play like me, I often joke with them asking if they’re sure about that, but it always fills me with joy to hear that I have inspired them to take their game to the next level.
The future of the game is bright. As lacrosse seasons begin to open up and players young and old pick up their sticks, the game will be given new life. Throughout the world veteran players are giving back to their communities, sharing what they’ve learned from the game and passing it on to the next generations. The coronavirus pandemic’s worst seems to be behind us. The cancellation of last NLL season was hard for the players, fans, and organizations. Before the pandemic, during the pandemic, and well after the pandemic, amazing athlete ambassadors like Kevin Crowley, Josh Byrne, and Blaze Riorden worked to grow the game using their platform to grow the game for future generations. Josh “Flash” Byrne works with Buffalo Bandits’ captain Dhane Smith to give back through coaching the youth of Buffalo. Through organizations like Kevin Crowley’s Fusion Lacrosse, youth lacrosse players are given expert level lacrosse knowledge from one of the best in the world. Kevin, an NLL all-star for several years, has been giving back since being drafted in the NLL in 2011. Now Fusion Lacrosse can be found throughout the east coast of the United States with teams in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the homeland of Kevin Crowley in British Columbia.
Legends of the game like Tracey Kelusky have dedicated their lives to the growth of the game. Who better to learn from than one of the best to ever do it. Tracey Kelusky is a NLL Hall of Famer and now the head coach for the Panther City LC in Fort Worth, TX. “TK” was one of the more fierce and fiery athletes to grace the game. From his rookie season in 2001 being named “Rookie of the Year” to his reign as a captain of the Calgary Roughnecks leading his team to two NLL Championships in 2005 and 2009. While “TK” is not coaching the NLL pros in Fort Worth, he is managing, growing, and coaching Evolve Elite Lacrosse with lacrosse legend John Grant Jr. Evolve Elite Lacrosse is the elite youth lacrosse program in Canada. Receiving training from two of the games’ best, proven champions and ambassadors for the game is truly an invaluable experience for the future of the game.
From the beginning of lacrosse, older more seasoned veterans would share their knowledge with the younger players on their team, their children, and their children’s friends. Today through social media, technological advances, and access to information more than ever lacrosse players are giving back. In professional lacrosse, unlike other professional sports, most NLL players feel a responsibility to give back, share the game, and ultimately grow the game. Lacrosse builds a sense of community and even today the ripple effects of the community will benefit future generations. The future for lacrosse is bright when the games’ biggest stars make it their life mission to give back, grow the game, and share it with those willing to learn. Before we know it, these players will be picking up their sticks to go to battle December 3-4 for the NLL’s Faceoff Weekend. Friends, family, and fans will pack the arenas across North America, rooting for their favorite players and teams. Blood and sweat will be sacrificed, respect will be earned and our community will be ever-growing.