Editor’s Note: Please welcome David Wagner to LaxAllStars.com! David played the game back in the day, then took about 20 years off from the sport before diving right back in 5 years ago. He now travels the old man lacrosse circuit, and his recent travels took him out to Vail for the 40th edition of the Shootout.
If you’ve never been to Vail, or don’t understand what it’s like for the older guys who still love to play, then this post is a must read! Someday EVERY single one of us will be eligible for Masters, Grandmasters or Supermasters… so for our younger readers, this is like a peek into your own future!
About 5 years ago, I started playing lacrosse again after a 20 year layoff. For some reason, at least until the 2010 World Games in Manchester, it never dawned on me that there were now age groups at many tournaments for us old guys, which would help to lessen the pain and humiliation normally experienced when playing the younger hot-shots out there.
I have now played at Lake Placid (New York) and in Weston (Florida), and are both very well run tournaments on the East side of the country that offer up plenty of opportunity for guys my age. Placid is a well-known lax tourney that has been held since 1990, and it always attracts the young, the old, the famous, and the greats of lacrosse. The Weston tourney in Florida is specifically for us old guys and is also well run and a great time.
However, there is one more tourney out there that all of you laxers, both young and old, need to experience. You must head West, and put the Vail Lacrosse Shootout on your list.
Getting to Vail & Getting Fed:
This tourney simply rocks! It is extremely well organized and run to perfection, and the Shootout has been going on for 40 years… You will not attend a better lacrosse tournament. Vail is a little over a two hour drive from Denver, so you have a good international airport to fly into and a reasonable and scenic drive from there. Overall, the tournament access is actually very good.
Vail is obviously known as a ski town, but they have also been able to take advantage of the beautiful terrain in the Summer and there are a ton of outdoor activities, lots shopping for your significant other (if along for the ride) and numerous eating places from the fancy to the typical lax brew pub (a little plug here for the Red Lion Pub which proudly supported the lax zebra crew this year).
One other key eating find we made was a place called The Little Diner, and the name is appropriate. The place is a small hole-in-the-wall diner in the Lionshead section of the Vail Village. It seats just 20 people at a time, is only open from 7AM to 2PM and there is generally a line of hungry folks waiting to eat outside. But if you can handle the wait, you’ll never have a better breakfast!
Things to Do in Vail – Excellent:
There are numerous places to stay, and many places to eat – and at a good range of prices as well.
In the summer you can rent mountain bikes and the requisite protective gear – and ride down the ski runs! We watched a couple of amazing wipe-outs while safely consuming some local brews, which is a totally different type of activity. For you East coasters – sorry, but the Rockies have it all over those little hills at Placid. There’s no comparison!
The Grandmasters Lacrosse Scene:
Since I am playing in the Grandmasters division, all of our games were at 8:30AM. I am assuming this was because the tourney organizers figure us old guys are early to bed and early to rise. I was not able to confirm if this was fact or pure conjecture, but most everyone seemed to make the games on time, so clearly it works well.
This early schedule turned out to be a plus for the Grandmaster games as later in the day, Vail experienced some serious, but much needed, rain almost every afternoon of the tourney. Fortunately most of the games were able to be completed or rescheduled, so it all worked out and the Vail tourney organizers did a great job handling the rain issue.
I was able to hook-up with a team called Mr Boh; a great group of laxers primarily out of the MD area. We had limited success at the tourney this year, but I think everyone on every team had a pretty great time at the tourney.
Ignoring the knucklehead on the right of the photo – just look at what frames every field at the Vail tourney. You just can’t beat the venue!
One of the grandmaster teams we played was made up of a bunch of guys from the Navy and what was cool about the Navy guys is that they hold fast to certain traditions, and before every game, they bring out “Old Glory” and both teams line up to sing the national anthem. Fortunately, Navy also thinks ahead and they had a gal stand in the middle and sing the anthem. She did a great job and covered up the horrible noise the rest of us were making.
The games were all well run. The officiating was top notch. Every game had a qualified medical person on the field to help with any injuries and the like. In one game I got sandwiched on a ground ball attempt and then proceeded to brace my fall with my head. Although I was okay, Robin (who was the assigned medical gal at our game) made me come to the sideline for a concussion evaluation.
I passed everything she threw at me until she told me to say the months of the year backwards starting with September. Fortunately, she decided my failure at that task was due to my age and overall lack of intelligence, which it was, and let me back on the field. Saying the months backwards is hard, and who starts with September?
As I said previously we did not win the Grandmaster tourney. One team we played had some guy that must have taught Paul Cantabene how to face off, as we pretty much never had the ball most of the game and then when we did, we didn’t capitalize on our opportunities.
So the lax lesson is whether you are old or young, possession of the ball is a key thing and lax basics – things like ground balls, basic throwing and catching, still get you the win. The team that won the tourney, the Eldest Statesmen (Congrats to them!) have won the last four years in a row.
One bad thing about all our games being at the same time, is that we did not get a chance to watch any of the grandmaster teams that we did not play, including the Eldest Statesmen.
I was curios, so I asked a couple of the guys on our team what the deal with the Statesmen was, and I was basically told that they were primarily a bunch of guys from Hobart who have been playing together since they were 2 years old. Assuming that is only partially true, that proves another lax edict – practicing together is generally helpful!
So it’s no surprise – tourney success generally follows those who adhere to basic lax principles! That being said, win or lose I think most of the old school laxers there would agree that the tourney was a great experience.
The Overall Vail Vibe:
The main field for the Vail tourney is Ford field and that is where the main tent is, which has all the usual swag and tourney gear that you could want. It’s about 1 minute East of the main area of Vail village, so again access is a breeze. It’s easy to watch the other age groups play and hang out with other laxers. They do hammer you a bit for parking at the main field but I guess that’s part of covering the costs of the tourney.
If and when you get a need for something other than lax, the local activities as discussed previously are practically unlimited. My significant other is a golf nut, so I needed to accommodate her craving to play some of the courses there and although I suck at golf (yes, even more than I suck at lax), again with the views you get in the Denver/Vail area, you really have to work at having a bad time. It’s just beautiful country.
So in closing, fellow laxers – put Vail on your list of tourneys! Especially you old school guys.
I simply love the game of lacrosse, and I am excited by the growth of the game over the past few years. However, I am also concerned that as the game grows, the commercialization and money that will flow into lacrosse will probably dampen the traditions that have long been part of lacrosse. So it’s up to us old school guys to keep the traditions alive and set the example for the young guns.
Old school or not, come to Vail next year. Win or lose you won’t have a bad time!
For more on other Lacrosse Tournaments out there, check out out Tournament Review Archive and see if any of the other events out there rival Vail!