Box Lacrosse Boom, Colorado’s RBLL Leads the West
I doubt I’m the first to realize/vocalize the notion, but these really are exciting times to be involved with lacrosse for a litany of reasons. The grassroots expansion has bolstered youth participation in the United States to record numbers, with an upward trend that shows no sign of slowing down.
International gains have come in leaps and bounds, with a whopping 48 nations reporting to the pitch in 2014 for the World Championships. The WILC games in 2015 saw an almost 100% increase from the previous tournament, and this summer’s European Championships boasted a solid 24 teams, with multiple new nations hoping to join up in the next go around including Bulgaria and Croatia. Following the momentum of the European Championships of field lacrosse, the first ever European Box Lacrosse Championships will be held in Turku, Finland this coming July and we can’t be more excited.
Box lacrosse has taken off in Europe, following the explosion of interest from nations like Finland, Germany and, of course, the Czech Republic, who can probably take the majority of the credit. Traditionally a Native American/Canadian favorite, the box game has also seen a recent surge in interest from Americans domestically. While leagues have existed for years in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston, growth has been relatively stagnant and has lagged behind the boom the outdoor game has enjoyed.
The CILL has grown to an impressive size in the midwest, and our good friend Mike Cotsonas has a senior league in Cincinnati, Ohio. Nick Peterson hosts a riot of a men’s box tournament in Las Vegas in January (strategically/hilariously timed to coincide with the adult film industry’s convention weekend). The guys at USBOXLA are doing awesome work from coast to coast spreading the good word for youth players and training officials. Point being, there are some awesome expansions in the box game domestically. That’s what this article is about.
Well, to be more specific, this article is about Colorado’s Regional Box Lacrosse League (RBLL). I had the privilege of making it out to Denver last month to catch the inaugural series, and I was beyond impressed with the product that took the floor.
Best in the West
The RBLL is the fruit of Brandon Scharaga’s hard work and organization. Originally a California guy, Scharaga is living in Denver presently and decided to bring the real deal to Denver. Full pads. CLA rules. Box lacrosse is by no means new to Denver. Home of the Mammoth, as well as the former home of Colorado Sabertooths (CILL), box lacrosse has been present in Colorado, but you either had to be a professional, travel a thousand miles every weekend (on your own dime), or you could show up and play beer league “box” on Sunday with some wonky rules.
Having played Senior B with Rochester in the Can-Am, as well as in the QSLL with the Vermont Voyageurs, I can honestly say that this was true and honest Senior B level box lacrosse. A couple field helmets dotted the lineups, sure, and there were a couple guys who learned the hard way that biceps and ribs are worn for a reason. There was a learning curve for a lot of guys new to the box game, but you could literally see the light bulb going off every play for the newer players.
The RBLL consisted of two teams. The Rangers out of Parker, CO, and Fort Collins’ Mile High Stars were set to play a best of five series to decide the winner of the inaugural Front Range Cup. Players entered themselves as individuals into a player pool, and the GMs of the respective teams met at a bar and drafted out their teams, just like the pros.
My brother had recently moved to Denver. He’s taken a job working for Summit Lacrosse Ventures, the awesome company that runs the world-famous Lake Placid Tournament, as well as a number of other tournaments all over the country. I sent my brother the information for this player pool/draft entry, and suggested he should get involved. I messaged Brandon as well, saying that I was going to be headed West for the Winter, and I might make a game or two if he wouldn’t mind just attaching my player rights to my brother’s. The ole Witmer two-fer-one. Not seen since 2012.
Hitting the Floor
We were picked up in the 7th round by the Parker Rangers. Looking over the roster, I knew a couple of names. I had worked with big man Clark Woodard when I was with 3d Lacrosse for a summer. I had played in Vegas and Prague with Clydesider Nick Peterson, and I was a Mencshner Man with Jon Harris in Prague for the Menschner Cup this past September. Small world. Literally.
I missed the first game, in which the Parker Rangers took an 8-7 win over the Mile High Stars in a back-and-forth barnburner that came down to a last second penalty shot awarded to the Stars but stopped by the Rangers goaltender to save the game from going to overtime.
I was able to make it to the second game, as well as the third. A road-trip across the country with my father made it possible for my attendance. I’ve got a lot more to say about that trip, but that’s an article to be written at a later date (tomorrow).
We had a shootout for a second game. The Rangers went ahead 2-0 in the series after downing the stars 15-10. The Stars led after the first period, but advantage went to the Rangers in the form of experience in the end. The Rangers are made up of a core group of guys who’ve played together for a while, many of which who played for the Sabertooths before they folded from the CILL.
I was useless. I did my best to ignore Denver’s elevation and play my style of box lacrosse, but I just couldn’t get my lungs to cooperate. Credit be due to the Mile High Stars, who made up for in physical condition (they were younger) where they might have lacked in box lacrosse experience. Towards the middle of the third period, a funny bounce sent the ball rolling towards the Stars corner. I had blown four breakaway finishes leading up to this point, and I was foaming at the mouth to get a goal, so I took off at the chance of making something happen.
I was the only player on that side of the floor and I don’t think I’ve moved that fast in a while, but I wasn’t moving fast enough, because somewhere up in the rafters, Lee Harvey Oswald shot me right in the hamstring. Something had pulled in there, dehydrated by the elevation. My leg seized, and try as it might, my left leg was unable to run as fast alone as my two legs had been running together. I stumbled and fell and slid a good solid ten yards on my face.
I hope this little anecdote brought you joy. It was comical.
A healthy dose of ibuprofen, tiger balm, and a YouTube video on how to K-Tape a hamstring got me back in the game for the third and potentially final game of the series that following Saturday. We had our full roster, all the momentum, and the demeanor in the locker room was pretty confident. All we had to do was win Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina… Too soon? I can’t tell if this is a funny joke or not. Feedback appreciated.
The game was tight from the first whistle to the last. The only discrepancy between CLA lacrosse and this game was the size of the goals. We were playing on 4×4 instead of the normal 4×4.5, and that difference was very much so apparent. Both teams were pouring shots on goal, but very few were squeaking by.
I felt a lot better this game. I ran a lot smarter, in lieu of running harder than the opposition. My most notable contribution came five minutes into the game. I threw an absolutely abhorrent pass to the far side boards in an attempted clear, with the ball sailing yards above the glass. However errant, the pass was in fact directly on target to shatter a disco ball that was hanging over the floor as a decoration for the Halloween party that was to take place after the game. Glass everywhere, and everyone was looking at me as if it had been intentional. I couldn’t make a twelve-yard pass, and these guys think I had the ability, much less the ambition, to demolish a delightfully festive disco ball.
I dropped a pair of goals as well, making up for my miserable absence from the score sheet the week prior. I was able to sink a backhanded dive from behind the cage, and I was pretty damn proud of that. Seeing LCC’s Dom Pesek do it so effortlessly in each of my 4 games against the Czechs this year gave me enough of an idea as to how it’s supposed to look. Monkey see. Monkey do.
All Said and Done
Goals were traded back and forth, but an overwhelming Ranger transition game in the long-door second period gave the offensive guys the time needed to bury enough goals to pull away.
The Rags went on to a 10-5 win after full time, thus claiming the first ever RBLL Front Range Cup.
We put beer in it. We took pictures with it. We put more beer in it. We took more pictures with it. Immediately following the game, Preston Plume pulled out a growler of craft beer and poured it in, which I thought was simply the most Colorado thing I’ve ever seen. He works at a brewery, sure, but stereotypes were reinforced.
My college roommate, Brian Chapman, made it out to see the game, as well as my brother’s girlfriend, Abby, and my father. It’s always fun to have good friends and family watching. Makes me try harder to suck less.
The RBLL has eyes on improvement for their next season. The Colorado Springs Wolves have announced they are joining the league for the next go around, and in speaking to Scharaga, we both predict at least one other team will join the fray. We’ve mentioned the possibility of getting a team out in Utah (where I’m based… kinda). The sky is the limit. Ground has been broken, and success is an easy model to follow. The next go around will include a regular season that leads up to a championship series.
All three teams have announced their 7 protected players for next season, and the remainder will be eligible for drafting. The RBLL has announced a Prospect Night on December 10th, which will be a game that will help the three teams stock up for the coming season.
I said it like twenty paragraphs prior, but I’ll reiterate: these are exciting times to be involved with lacrosse, and the box game is growing domestically in a big way. All it takes is a little hard work, organization, and that fiery desire to just keep playing of someone like Brandon Scharaga.
Oh. Did I mention that Scharaga is nineteen years old? I’m not sure what you were doing when you were nineteen, but I sure as Springsteen wasn’t establishing a banger of a box lacrosse league.