When I walked back into the office this morning, a coworker was nice enough to have asked me how the weekend had gone. I got about three sentences in before another coworker used it as a springboard to go on a rant about how his high school had been a big lacrosse school, and he’d never understood it. Cue the “rich white kids” stereotypes, the obligatory reading of the All-Name team (seriously, can we kill this yet?), etc etc. Yup, it’s just dandy to be back on the west coast.
In a lot of ways, being a lacrosse player is like being a fan of a cult classic movie. A lot of people just flat-out won’t have heard of your favorite movie. Some people will vaguely remember it, but won’t understand why you stand for it so hard. But there’s a small batch of people that, if you find them, will make an instant connection to you based on the shared love and appreciation of something not everybody recognizes. As somebody with an Iron Giant tattoo, I know that feeling super well too. A lot of people just refer to it as a “robot”. People that do recognize it often respond with confusion, failing to understand why that one. But sometimes, people recognize it and freak out, because they love it, and they can’t believe they ran into somebody that so obviously loves it, and is willing to share that openly. That actually happened to me in Philly, with a mom chasing me down in a crowded fan fest to ask if she could take a picture to send to her son.
Sorry for the extended metaphor setup. I promise this is not all just to humblebrag about my dope tattoo. See, my point is that the West Coast lacrosse community, and I assume the non-hotbed lacrosse community in general, is like that. A lot of people don’t know what lacrosse is. Another batch of people know what it is, but, to them, it’s a prep school sport for 1980s teen movie villains. Finally, though, there’s the third group, who make an instant connection with you over lacrosse, because they know that you get it. This weekend, I sat in a woodshop in north Philly, surrounded by the complex, time-consuming work of love that was going into crafting sticks the way that they had been crafted for a thousand years. Groups one and two have no idea that the process is that old, because groups one and two are entirely unaware of lacrosse’s history as the Medicine Game. Co-option by the rich and privileged is a factor in the sport, but this has always been a sport that runs so much deeper than that. As I sat on a machine entirely crafted of wooden pieces, holding a piece of timber in place to be painstakingly carved from tree to twig, I felt a connection to the sport that did not just run deep with those I met this past weekend, but the ancient history of this beautiful game.
What turned it from a personal moment to an experience was walking around the grounds of the Linc later that day, realizing that 32,000 people were here today for much the same reasons as me. Group three wasn’t just a handful today, but a crowd too large to pack into the NBA arena across the street. This story would ring true with any one of them. For some, the experience was truly not far from my own. As I ran the social media account, I saw a kid in Washington gear, and chased him down to grab a minute of his time. His face lighting up when he realized this was the Lacrosse All Stars that wanted to talk to him was a joy to witness, since I’d had the same look not too long ago, when I first came on board. I got his game prediction (sorry, my dude, I thought Yale was gonna win too), but, off-camera, it was so fun to just talk to him about how cool this all was. Here we were, thousands of miles from home, to experience not just a fantastic slate of lacrosse games, but to finally be surrounded by people that got it. We didn’t have to explain the sport to anybody. We didn’t have to explain its roots, or defend them against anybody who just knew prep schools and the Duke scandal. We just settled into seats, surrounded by the passion of a city’s worth of fans, and watched some of the best players on the planet duel it out for sixty minutes.
Like, I get that I’m technically media, but this was an experience nonetheless. The best moments didn’t come from being media, they came from being a lacrosse fan. Cabrini winning their first-ever national championship in any sport, in Philly, surrounded by a sea of screaming Cavs fans? Beautiful. Lars Tiffany helping a small child cut a piece of the championship net off? Wonderful. Seniors walking off the field for the final time, embraced by the teammates who would carry on their legacy? Universal. This was the very best of what sports can be, as champions were crowned after battles that gave us every explanation as to why each team deserved to be there. Fans of all ages, from all backgrounds, crowded inside the stadium to see top-notch programs give it everything they had, and nobody truly disappointed. The experience felt, I’m sure, like any major sporting event feels, but I guess that’s the point: lacrosse is for all of us. Anyone who finds group three and falls in love with this beautiful game, whether it’s because of its fascinatingly deep roots, or because the game allows them to do things no other sport can, is welcome here, and new fans are too.
We’re expanding every year, as we grow the game. Amherst coach Jon Thompson talked about how, as the game expands, nobody has a bad player anymore. Even the lower-tier DIII programs are stocked with talent. The same can, hopefully, be soon said of the US, as the west coast begins to pick up NCAA teams. That’s the fun of seeing west coast kids out there in Philly: someday, we’re going to be the locals at one of these things. In the meantime, thank you, Philadelphia. What a host, what a weekend. Congrats to Virginia, and to Merrimack, and to Cabrini. Onward to the pro league season, onward to summer ball, and onward to the 2019 WILC. That one’s out west (alright, fine, western Canada, but I claim it). We can’t wait to see y’all.