Memorial Day Weekend has been synonymous with lacrosse long before I started attending the championships as a teenager. For decades now, the greatest players share the greatest stage and battle for the opportunity to hoist hardware on Monday. For the third year straight, a new event has been mirroring the NCAA’s storied Championship Weekend. The largest ever holding of the Heritage Cup took place this Memorial Day Weekend as well, providing a totally different offering to the lacrosse world.
Getting a Head Start
In the early mornings, as not to even attempt to compete with the games in Foxboro, eight teams took the field to represent eight different nationalities from across the world. In year’s previous, Puerto Rico, Israel, Jamaica, Hungary have been present, with newcomers Peru, Lithuania, Ireland, and Poland this year.
To be clear, these are teams comprised of North American players representing their own cultural heritage. No team present was a “National Team”, although most teams did have some of the same players present in Rhode Island that WILL be playing on their respective National Teams in Netanya this July.
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No, these teams were not official representation, nor were they held to FIL Guidelines with regards to eligibility requirements. This is a much simpler event, with a much simpler aim. Maybe this is an oversimplification, but the real purpose of this tournament boils down to just giving guys the opportunity to play with a name on their chest.
To have that country’s name on your chest when you might not have ever had it there before is a door that’s now opened that hadn’t been open before. Some players might be multiple generations removed from whatever their heritage may be, others might be direct descendants or first generation Americans. In any case, the opportunity to explore that heritage through lacrosse is something special, and I’m a big supporter of this tournament’s mission.
This year saw a repeat champion, with Israel taking home the Heritage Cup in a, 6-2, win over Puerto Rico. Israel and Puerto Rico of course are two teams that aren’t presently in the blue division for the World Championships, but have ambitions of changing that once the dust settles in Netanya after this July’s games.
Team Eire, the official traveling heritage team of Ireland Lacrosse, took home a, 5-3, win over Jamaica to claim third place. Ireland had an excellent 2014 World Championship performance in Denver, claiming a title of 10th best in the world. Jamaica is in a similar situation as Puerto Rico as July approaches, with a much anticipated entry that will see teams like Ireland, Germany, and Japan given a real run for their money if they hope to reclaim their places or improve.
Poland is in the process of modeling their own version of Ireland’s Team Erie. Polish heritage is a major part of American society, and the Polish Heritage Team serves as an opportunity for all the North American players to connect to the “old country” without making the expensive trek across the pond. I’m a huge supporter of the Irish and now Polish model to engage their North American base. I believe it to be a sustainable model for fundraising, equipment donation/collection, increasing awareness for their international programs abroad, as well as a great opportunity to meet new friends with a similar cultural background.
Poland had a great first showing, and claimed fifth place on this weekend over Lithuania. This was the first ever showing for Lithuania, but the core leadership of the team had an optimistic outlook on their performance this weekend and we look forward to a bright future of Lithuania Lacrosse. Speaking of bright future, the Lithuanians did win best-dressed, with a tie-dye homage to the ’92 Lithuania Olympic Basketball team. If you’re not familiar with that story, I suggest you check it out.
Hungary had a fall from grace this year, after being one of three teams involved in the world-famous three-way-braveheart in 2017. The Hungarians were just shy of a championship last year, and were just shy of a last place finish this year, but were able to top Peru in an exciting last-minute goal to lift the team to 4-3 over Peru. This was Peru’s first appearance, as will July be Peru’s first appearance at an FIL World Championship. Peru seemed to have a dedicated support staff present at the Heritage Cup, and that’s going to be one of the program’s bigger assets moving forward as a young and developing program.
For Years to Come
The attraction of playing lacrosse, while connecting with your cultural identity, and also being able to drive up the road thirty minutes to see the best NCAA Championships is a pretty special combination. I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the whole thing. The relaxed feeling because everyone knew this was bigger than the scoreboard. It was about seeing Puerto Rico fans waving their national flag, Israel Lacrosse handing out World Championship t-shirts to Jamaican players and parents, Peruvian parents watching their sons play for the first time in Peru uniforms.
There are more Polish, Israeli, and Irish Americans playing lacrosse than could ever hope to fit on one 23-man or 18-woman national team. Providing an opportunity to play with that name on their chest – whatever nation it might be, is an opportunity for these players to connect. It’s a way to connect to their own family’s legacy, as well as the lacrosse communities that exist in Poland, in Israel, and in Ireland, etc.
This is the foot in the door for a lot of these North American based players. Maybe I’ve never been to Lithuania and it’s time to change that, or I want to bring 20 donated sticks down to Peru or Jamaica and spend a month there. Maybe this is the invite I’ve been waiting for to go see Hungary or go spend some time helping out the island nation of Puerto Rico while also helping develop lacrosse.
Lacrosse is your ticket to go see the world. It won’t be free, but it can be cheap. It won’t always be smooth sailing, and there will be a new curveball coming for your head every time you foolishly think you’ve got a handle on the world.
Ready to Walk the Walk?
If you’re looking for YOUR foot in the door, I suggest you reach out to us and/or plan on coming over to the World Lacrosse Championships this July in Netanya, Israel. If international lacrosse is something you’re interested in getting involved with, you simply cannot miss this prolific tournament.
Lastly, MOST of the games from the 2018 Heritage Cup were recorded and have been uploaded to YouTube for your viewing pleasure. Be aware, Andrew Landsman, Connor Wilson, my father Dan, and I were assembling the pop-cams and operating them with little (read: no) experience. If the camera is shaky, the commentating even shakier, or if there’s no commentary at all, sorry, it’s just free lacrosse, and somehow you’ll have to try to enjoy it anyways!