Editor’s note: Jeff Brunelle sits down with Homegrown Lacrosse Co-Founder & Program Director, Colin Achenbach, to discuss lacrosse in Minnesota! Growing The Game, one state at a time! These guys are doing WORK up in the Land of TEN Thousand Lakes, so check ’em out!
What exactly is Homegrown Lacrosse, and what inspired you to start it?
Homegrown Lacrosse is a community based nonprofit, dedicated to encouraging positive change in the lives of lacrosse players and supports the growth of the sport in Minnesota. We have a wide-variety of service and fee-based programming options that are designed to develop character, build self confidence and instill a sense of community.
Myself and Aron Lipkin started Homegrown Lacrosse in 2003 as a way to give back to the Minnesota Lacrosse community that gave both of us so much when we started playing. We wanted to help grow the sport from its earliest stages and bring back the knowledge and skill sets we learned while away at college.
Since founding Homegrown in 2003, what have been the organization’s biggest moments? What events or initiatives have had the greatest effect on the sport’s growth in Minnesota?
There have been so many great moments since starting Homegrown but a couple that stick out in my mind are the In School P.E Program, and the Champions of Summer event.
The In-School P.E Program has been one of our largest programs to date. With the help of the Minnesota Swarm, MBLSA, MLA, and the Minneapolis Public School system, we have been able to put a lacrosse stick in the hands of over 12,000 Minnesota students in the last three years.
The Champions of Summer is Homegrown Lacrosse’s way of bringing together the expanding Minnesota lacrosse community for one final time each summer to celebrate a sport that engages and transforms the life of those it touches. The event also ties players, parents, and coaches together by showcasing games from every level at the same location on one night. during the event, the keynote games include the High School All Star games, High School Summer League Championship games, Men’s All Star game, and Men’s Championship game, as well as our Women’s League Championship. In addition to the games, Homegrown Lacrosse hosts a free clinic for all youth players, there is a fastest shot contest, dunk tank, and other games to engage the attendees.
How would you describe the youth lacrosse scene in Minnesota compared to the Northeast and West Coast regions of the US?
The Lacrosse scene in Minnesota is without a doubt, growing at an extremely rapid rate. The sport is expanding all over the country and more and more kids are getting exposed to the sport. Here in Minnesota, in the last three years there has been a huge spark in interest of the sport. More kids are playing at earlier ages and are starting to make lacrosse their first priority. The talent is also increasing and isn’t that far off from the “hotbed” areas of the sport. With an increased level of coaching and players giving back to the game by helping coach youth programs, the skill level is going to continue to increase.
What about the high school level? How does the talent pool compare?
High School lacrosse in Minnesota is coming along. The skill level from year to year is extremely impressive. More players are putting in extra time going to camps, and playing on traveling teams. That hard work is very apparent in the talent pool at the state’s high school level. This year alone, there are already more than 10 players committed to playing collegiate lacrosse across the country. The talent is here and now we’re working to expose the players to a college that fits their needs, both on and off the field.
The Minnesota Meltdown Jamboree is an event you run each year that brings 22 local high school programs together over 2 weekends. Can you tell us a little about the idea behind this tourney?
The tournament was an idea steaming from the preseason college scrimmages I played in every year. I always remembered playing in those games before the official games started as a great bench marker for the season, and also one last time to fine tune everything before getting into the real action. The Meltdown also provides an opportunity to get a large group of teams and friends together, to kick off the season in a fun manner.
During the tournament, you have something called the Meltdown Shopping Cart Challenge. What’s this about?
The shopping cart challenge is something that fits one of our core values of Community. To help support the Twin Cities Community, we thought it would be a fun challenge to see which program could bring in the most non-perishable food items. We are always trying to find ways to bring everyone together and make things fun. The teams that brings in the most items will have registration fee for the 2012 Meltdown waived, as well as a team set (25) of our new HGL / Adrenaline Socks.
How long does it take to plan an event of this stature? How many people do you have working on it?
We start planning for the event about five months prior to the games. Our core staff (four full time employees) has been actively working on the logistical items associated with the event since December. The items that take a lot of coordination and thought are field logistics. This year, we’re dealing with all of the snow that ha accumulated this winter and whether or not we will need to improvise to clear the fields. We play in domes all winter but for the Meltdown, we really like to get outside and get the players moving. Another large task is bringing the whole community together for the event. We actively work to get as many people and organizations involved as possible–everyone from youth players and parents to fans to college teams.
Being at the ground-level and providing a catalyst for growth, what are your personal goals for the sport of lacrosse in Minnesota? Where do you see Minnesota Lacrosse in 5, 10 years?
My personal goals for the sport are to see it continue to grow. I feel so grateful to have had the experience and opportunities in my life just from playing lacrosse. I want to see other players from Minnesota get those same experiences. I would also like to see Minnesota become more recognized as an area with talented players. I believe that in the next five to ten years we are going to be hearing about more Minnesota players making an impact on the national scale. We have seen just glimpses of that with Ryan Hurley at Cornell, Todd Baxter at Denver, or Kip Dooley at Dartmouth.
Lately, there’s been a lot of conversation about making lacrosse more appealing to non-players. What do you think it’s going to take for lacrosse to gain more mainstream exposure and more fans?
I think it has to continue to do whats it’s doing. Having regular season college lacrosse games nationally televised is huge for the sport, not just seeing the sport on Memorial Day. I think the more television contracts the sport obtains and the more kids see it first hand will only continue the wave of growth the sport has seen. Once people are exposed to the sport, it does not take long for them to recognize the energy the game brings and the athleticism and skill required to be a quality player.
I would also like to see the shot clock like RP said. I still watch the Syracuse – Virginia 1997 game at the Dome. Where Cuse won 22-21. That’s how the game should be played up and down action. If a game like that were nationally televised people would go nuts for the sport.
Thank to Colin for the interview. You guys are clearly doing great things for the sport in Minnesota. Interested to learn more about Homegrown? Visit HomegrownLacrosse.org!