The Wings and Captain Blaze Riorden Are All About Giving Back
February 9, 2024By: Jon Rapoport
The sprawling Philadelphia metropolitan area is home to more than 6.2 million residents, stretching across parts of southeastern Pennsylvania, south New Jersey, northern Delaware and northern Maryland. Set amongst this four-state backdrop exists one of the epicenters of U.S. domestic lacrosse. From the professional ranks, down to the college, high school and youth levels, field and increasingly box lacrosse represents a significant fabric of the local sports environment.
The Philadelphia Wings stand at the forefront of this ecosystem. They are using the platform provided by pro sports to build a network of connectivity between those players who are already great and those working to become great.
Bari Pasternack, Wings’ Director, Lacrosse & Community Operations, offered further insight into the franchise’s civic-minded philosophy.
“Through our range of youth programs and community partnerships, the Wings are committed to growing the game year-round by generating opportunities for players at all levels to play the game of lacrosse,” explained Pasternack.
The director later added, “We are proud to offer a range of programs that foster directly transferrable skills across formats of the game, from the Junior Wings Girls Middle School Team, currently in their inaugural season; Wings Academy for pre-professional development; Sticks for Students to help grow the game in schools; and summer programming in various cities bringing lacrosse directly to our fans.”
While Pasternack and the front office continue to chart a course regarding how the club interacts with the public, a point man in uniform has rolled up his sleeves and taken it upon himself to cultivate talent and interest in the sport he loves.
Serving as the Wings’ captain both on the field and in the community, forward Blaze Riorden has dedicated his life to growing the presence of box lacrosse within his adopted home area, a place towards which he feels an ever-growing sense of affinity.
“Philadelphia is part of the upper echelon, a lacrosse hotbed,” proclaimed Riorden. “The Philly style is a lot like the city itself, hard-nosed kids who play tough and they have access to great coaches. Guys who’ve played at the professional level or coached for 25-plus years in high school. This is the environment they grow up in. The knowledge and toughness make for a great lacrosse player. As coaches, we are fortunate to have hungry kids willing to learn the game at a young age.”
Riorden’s involvement in youth lacrosse centers around his BR10 program, a five-team box lacrosse club based out of the Virtua Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey. The dual lacrosse/hockey complex, which sits 14 miles east of Wells Fargo Center, is the professional practice facility for both the Wings and the NHL’s Flyers. The Wings’ captain oversees five teams from grades 5-10 and a senior high school team. When the time comes to don the coaching gear, it is all about learning how to play the game the right way.
“I take pride in teaching authentic box lacrosse, including cross-checking. All the kids are required to wear the proper pads. I base my approach on the time I spent on the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation as an 18-year-old kid, embarking on box lacrosse. Having to show up to practice ready to play or you’re going to get cross-checked. I think box lacrosse is a great teacher for young kids,” opined the University of Albany alum.
“To this day, all my best friends are guys I grew up playing lacrosse with and the bonds that we’ve built. One of my main focuses is building those connections within my club.”
The latest Wings/Blaze youth lacrosse initiative comes in the name of the Greater Philadelphia College Box Lacrosse League. The GPCBLL is dedicated to growing the box game among collegiate players in the area. Riorden is intimately involved with every aspect of the effort including team names, logos, game/practice sites, communications and even working as a coach and GM for one of the soon-to-be-announced squads. The 29-year-old relishes the opportunity, to the point that he negotiated language in his four-year contract that stipulates his ability to contribute time to the community.
“I’ve left a footprint with my BR10 program, having a stable of youth box lacrosse players in the area. A lot of my efforts go towards growing box lacrosse in the Philadelphia and New Jersey area. When Wings’ President Marc Zamarin said that the team wanted to start a collegiate league, I said that was a no-brainer with the number of colleges and kids that play lacrosse in this area,” recalled Riorden.
The Fairport, New York native’s love for lacrosse began early, thanks to direction from his dad and the opportunity to rub elbows with a famous Rochester Knighthawk. The game has been in Blaze’s blood for as long as he can remember.
“One of the game’s most legendary players, Tim Soudan, graduated from Fairport High School. At a young age, I was introduced to the sport through my dad, who coached me through much of my youth. In high school, I was lucky enough to be coached by Mike Torrelli. My best friends played football and lacrosse. We played football because we had to, but we played lacrosse because we loved it. Our lives growing up revolved around lacrosse,” shared Riorden.
The Riorden family’s connection to Soudan allowed for frequent attendance at games, and many visits to the home locker room. These experiences led a young Blaze Riorden to want nothing more than to become a professional lacrosse player. Remarkably, he can check that box twice due to his combined NLL and PLL status.
Riorden’s devotion to the game goes further than just BR10 and the new GPCBLL. He has professional relationships with the Players Academy (in-person & at-home training), Net Nation (camps), APEX (college recruiting events), Unequal Technologies (lacrosse protective gear), Stringking and Powell Lacrosse (lacrosse equipment companies). From every angle, the Western New Yorker has the game covered.
“My dad always said leave the game better than you found it. So, I’m trying to spread my efforts as much as I can and help grow the game one day at a time,” said Riorden.
Number 10 further expressed his passion by emphasizing the role professionals like him play in heeding his dad’s advice.
“Don’t judge professional lacrosse players on the money they make, judge them on what they give back to this game and the access the kids have. I’m on a plane 45 weekends a year, either playing, introducing the game or running a camp. And I know a lot of my peers in professional lacrosse are doing the same thing, dedicating their time and efforts to growing this game.”
When factoring in the commitment to community embodied by the Wings, combined with the unyielding dedication of the team’s captain, the fine people of Philadelphia inhabit one of the most positive lacrosse environments imaginable. The City of Brotherly Love is a wonderful place to pick up a stick and strap on a helmet, no matter your age and ability. If you want to get better, Philly is the place to be.
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