Editor’s Note: Please welcome Spike Malangone and LacrosseRecruits.com to LAS! Spike will be covering recruiting, high school and college lacrosse, and a number of other aspects surrounding the game. Today he focuses on a recent experience that made him realize lacrosse is different all over again…
In many ways, all conventions share common, identifiable traits: A sea of exhibits in a sprawling meeting center, pop-up tents as far as the eye can see, signage ranging from the mundane to the unusual – and of course, really, really bad coffee.
They start similarly with a wave of anticipation, and end just as similarly with exhaustion from hours of schmoozing and a large stack of business cards that challenges even the thickest of rubber bands. When walking into the 2013 U.S. Lacrosse National Convention in Philadelphia on Friday morning, January 11, my first thought was that I had seen this all before.
Large convention center? Check. Exhibits and presenters galore? Check. Bad coffee? Double check (obligatory State Farm joke here). However, it took me all of one lap around Exhibit Halls A and B at the Philadelphia Convention Center to realize this event was different.
Lacrosse has been labeled many things – some good and, well, some not so good – depending
on the critic.
At its best, it is the fastest sport on two feet, an action-packed game with a rapidly growing demographic and large growth potential. The most recent participation survey (2011) by U.S. Lacrosse showed that the sport grew in key demographics since the same survey in 2010, notably at the youth (11.6 percent increase), high school (7.8 percent increase) and collegiate (4.6 percent increase) levels.
Studies like that one prompt pieces in respected publications like The Atlantic wondering if the sport can gain enter the mainstream. Supporters point to the game’s continued presence on ESPN (53 NCAA games will air in 2013 on the ESPN family of networks in addition to summer MLL coverage), and CBS Sports Network (the network will air at least 10 Patriot League games this spring in addition to 20 live MLL games this summer) as positive signs.
At its worst, it is the elitist, East-coast personification of JCrew clothing, replete with unruly players and their unruly manes. Detractors point to a lack of a major presence at many DI football schools and consistent negativity surrounding the game as detriments to growth. The non- lacrosse fan, fairly or unfairly, may only associate the sport with negative news headlines like the
2007 Duke case or the tragic murder of Virginia player Yeardley Love in 2010.
Look no further than a 2012 Boston Globe piece for your major stereotypes and a subsequent discussion on ESPN’s Grantland.com about the sport’s perceived culture. Right or wrong, accurate or inaccurate, intentionally negative or for entertainment only, this is the type of national coverage the sport has largely received.
Whatever the viewpoint (and there are arguments for either), there is one fact that cannot be debated: the genuine sense of community those involved in the game share.
Could this be a byproduct of a largely regionalized game, a simple geographic inevitability that almost ensures shared experience? Maybe. But whatever the reason, this sense of community with those involved in the sport is undeniable.
In one 20-minute stroll around the convention hall that January morning, instant connections were made with complete strangers. There was person X who was tied to the same youth program I participated in on Long Island (the Three Village system). There was person Y who worked with coaches from my high school (I attended St. Anthony’s). Person Z knew some of my family members and collegiate teammates (I am a graduate of Wesleyan University).
“This happens at any business convention,” the skeptic contends. “Similar folks in a related field at a gathering intended to bring them together? Of course they have some connections! So why is this case any different?”
Well, what separates the lacrosse community is what amounts to a common goal shared by most involved in it: to grow the game and move it forward. A collective struggle seems to unite the sports’ participants in a way I have not seen in others.
For all of their differences – Prep Schools vs. Public Schools vs. Established hotbeds vs. Growing Regions – those involved with lacrosse seem to unify around its position in the national conversation: namely, the lack thereof.
For example, the conversation between lacrosse players watching Sportscenter goes something like this:
Lacrosse Player 1: I can’t wait for the day lacrosse highlights become a regular part of the rotation. How cool would it be to have highlights like the NFL or NBA and not just a random ‘Top 10’ play to fill a Saturday night slot?
Lacrosse Player 2: [nodding in agreement].
End of conversation.
Perhaps to a detriment (and that is an argument for a different post), the lacrosse community seems to rally together around what they believe is a slight on the national stage.
Said another way, many (not all) in the lacrosse world operate with what amounts to a large chip on their collective shoulders. For better or worse, those involved often come to each other’s aid in an “us vs. them” study in groupthink.
Lacrosse enthusiasts enjoy comparing the game to other sports that have cemented their positions in the national conversation, looking for similarities to sports like football or basketball that permeate our televisions on a nightly basis.
But those sports are different – and that may be a good thing. Those involved in established sports often do not share motivation widely uniting them. People come together, but in more of a sectarian way – say, a group of youth football coaches uniting for better equipment or a group of basketball organizations trying to increase opportunities for their players. But sport-wide, collective struggles don’t really exist, because these are by-and-large established properties. Issues tend to be specific to a group within the constituency at large.
The same is not true with lacrosse. Beyond the issues that plague smaller subsections of the game, the ultimate goal of the community is to get the game they love respected on the national scene.
There is unity, an enormous sense of the group, the “we are in this together” mentality that is seldom seen elsewhere. And there is perhaps no better illustration of this than the U.S. Lacrosse National Convention.
Of course, the event features folks marketing their own products and looking to gain an edge on the competition. But the genuine interest in helping others (potential competitors at that) was the biggest takeaway that stuck with me, even weeks later.
From club coaches offering each other advice to companies sharing ideas on how to make products better, the sense of camaraderie was something to behold. At the core of all of this goodwill, I think, is that real team sense to try and get the game to someplace bigger.
As a first-time attendee, I would highly recommend the event to anyone with an involvement in the game. The networking potential is unparalleled. Per the twitter page of the event’s organizer U.S. Lacrosse, over 6,900 people took part over the two days.
More than anything, though, the event served as a starting point for the 2013 season, one that hopes to continue where the game and those involved with it want it to go: Forward.
Spike Malangone is the News Director at LacrosseRecruits.com.
LacrosseRecruits.com, US Lacrosse’s Official Service Provider for Recruiting, allows a player to create an online profile that includes his or her contact information, lacrosse data, transcripts, test scores and other pertinent material. Members can upload game footage to their profile or use LacrosseRecruits.com’s team of editors to build a highlight reel. Once completed, members can then directly contact coaches with their personalized URL using LacrosseRecruits.com’s built-in messaging system. Every NCAA coach is a registered member of the site. Founded by two former Wesleyan University lacrosse players in 2008, LacrosseRecruits.com currently boasts over 4,000 members.
For more information on LacrosseRecruits.com, visit http://lacrosserecruits.com