Editor’s Note: Please welcome PJ Martin, of UnCommon Fit to LAS! PJ was in Philly for the Philadelphia Box Lacrosse Association’s Championship Game on Monday night, and he got to take in some gritty Canadian-style box lacrosse right here in the US… and in the City of Brotherly Love! Ironic, right? Check out PJ’s experience at the Rizz, and learn a little more about what just might be the best men’s box lacrosse league in the US.
Photo Credit: Tamai Young
If you have never been to the Rizz (Ralph R. Rizzo Sr. Ice Hockey Skating Rink) in South Philly, you really should make the trip to check this place out. I had not personally experienced this venue until last Monday night, for the Philadelphia Box Lacrosse Association Championship, and the Rockyesque throwback facility was nothing short of epic. In fact, it was clear that I’d been severely missing out on something great for years.
The building itself is constructed of concrete block and chain-link fence, and it surrounds the perimeter of a row of dilapidated roller hockey and basketball courts, all trailing down 2nd Ave away from Washington. Interstate 95 literally serves as the roof of the building, and throughout play traffic can be heard flying by overheard. The noise increases exponentially as speeding tractor-trailers throttle through the city. Let me say it again: Interstate 95 is the roof of Rizzo. Just think about that for a minute.
Inside the building, you will find a regulation size rink, and inside the boards, you will find true Canadian-style tiled ‘Sport Court’, which is perfect for box lacrosse. Sport Court is not like your soft, cushioned, field turf, and when you go down it is not pleasant one bit. And these players really get after each other. I do suppose it is a major step up from concrete.
Now that you’ve heard a bit about this “barn”, let me tell you about my experience there this past week. I was lucky enough to be in the house to watch the Beerwolves and Outlaws give a strong display of the style of lacrosse played that this blue-collar league and venue has to offer. It was some of the grittiest and creative lacrosse I had ever seen, and I have played my fair share. Players in the league range from lifetime box players to guys who are clearly only used to being outside, but everyone plays with immense passion, and the game is a battle.
I had heard a story about a guy who threw his helmet at another player and promptly got his teeth smacked in with that same helmet… Now maybe that includes a bit of legend, but it definitely got me excited. However, the back and forth play from the game itself really got me going even more. There is an exciting mix of pick and roll plays as well as field-style transition. During the championship game, two fights broke out, which were broken up by other players, even though before the game I heard the typical men’s league slogan, “we all have work tomorrow” uttered a couple of times. Honestly, I think most of these guys like their lacrosse more than work…
The Championship game was actually the third time the Outlaws met the Beerwolves, with the former up 2-0 in the title game matches. The Beerwolves were mostly field guys who jumped out to an early lead through fast paced transition. They held a strong lead that was as large as 4 goals early on, but the experienced box style of the Outlaws allowed them to battle back, tying the game with 5:41 left to go in the second period. Don’t forget, this is box… which means three twenty-minute periods, not quarters.
The third saw some fierce play, with several players getting slammed into the sport court and some small scuffles starting to break out, as the players got tired. With thirty seconds left in the game, and the Beerwolves up 11-10, I saw one of the most ingenious, but I guess I’ll also say dirty, plays I have seen in a lacrosse game. A member of the Outlaws took an outside shot that got stuck in the goalie’s leg pad. With the clock running down the shooter ran to the goal and hurled himself at goalie, Joe DiGangi, taking him down and starting a late game melee. Never good to hit an opposing goalie but at the same time he stopped the clock and gave his team a shot. I’d never seen that before.
After a quick turnover, Outlaws player, Cory Malampy, a former NALL Kentucky Stickhorse and head coach at Neumann University, stuck a bouncer with 5 seconds on the clock to tie the game. OVERTIME. With tensions running high and a couple quick back and forth possessions, the Beerwolves loosed one of their top offensive players who was being shut off and he made a slick move, freeing his hands and icing the victory. Chris Mulholland had scored the winning goal, the game was over, and the Beerwolves, after three years of “almost”, finally got to hoist the Trophy.
Box lacrosse is available in the Philly area year round, and the PBLA itself is arguably the oldest box lacrosse league that has been continuously running in the US. It has been 27 years (1986) since Frank Menschner began the league with Bill Maliza and his pride in what it has come to be is evident. Other leagues serve as a place to train off-season for this tradition-filled league. The 12 game-regular season plus play-offs is one of the longest seasons in non-collegiate lacrosse and this yearly commitment (from June through August, always Monday’s and Wednesday’s starting at 7 since the league inception) for the players adds to the fervor and passionate play demonstrated in the game, as does the camaraderie built when the players of all teams join together at the local bar, For Pete’s Sake Pub, after each game night.
From May to June the league offers FREE, yes FREE, time to all comers who want to start to learn box and they welcome new players. This is great because a lot of these old leagues give off a ‘boys club’ vibe where new people are outsiders. But a main goal of the league leaders is to introduce the sport they love to others… sound familiar all you LaxAllStars followers? GTG!
Frank’s late wife, Doreen Menschner, was also an avid and integral supporter of the league running the scorers table, penalty box and administrative functioning for many years. It is for this reason that the players in the league asked Frank to name their trophy after her, the Doreen A. Menschner Cup, and they take pride in playing in her honor. Along with all of these interesting and soulful facets, the PBLA also has its own box/field hybrid rulebook, written by Menschner and company, and the officials in the league actually have to take a test to be involved! It’s a special place, and a special group of people.
Now, you may be wondering why I wrote this article… Well originally, and somewhat selfishly, I attended the game to get some photos, because my company, UnCommon Fit, was given the opportunity to outfit the league in our gear. But after sitting with Frank and a few players during the game, watching the play, I can say there is a lot more to this than my original intentions. Frank and the PBLA guys are a family.
Two of the seven teams have been in the league for over twenty-six years; the majority of the others have been a part for a long time as well. The players look forward to it all year long, and the new ones quickly fall in line. Everyone here seeks to grow box lacrosse and they are so passionate about their game and league it is hard not to want in. From the venue, to the unique box/field hybrid style, to the people involved, this is just a great American lacrosse experience.
If you’re in Philadelphia from May to June, take advantage of the free rink time, try it out, and maybe you’ll get catch the bug and find yourself sweating it out from June to August, having a great time, and competing with the guys in South Philly.