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ELL European Box Lacrosse League
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Fireside Chat: Interview With European (Box) Lacrosse League’s Ondrej Mika

We got the chance to sit down and email with the organizers of the European Lacrosse League recently, and it is really interesting to hear the why and how of the ELL!  Trying to start a box lacrosse league in Europe?  Might seem crazy to some… but to us?  It’s GENIUS!

Why did you guys start the ELL? Is there anything even close to another good box lacrosse league in Europe right now?

Ondrej Mika: There were couple of reasons that Jan Barak and I (Ondrej Mika) decided to start the league:

1. There is a large quality gap between top Euro box teams and the weaker teams. There are 3 good club teams (LCC
Radotín, SK Lacrosse Jižní Město, TJ Malešice) who usually easily beat all the others in games, which is not the most attractive option, both for players of winning and losing teams. Good competition is important, and these teams meet each other only several times per season. The draft system of establishing ELL teams guarantees that the ELL teams are aproximatelly on the same level and top Czech players have a chance to play tough matches.

ELL European Box Lacrosse League
A little ELL action!

2. Combination of weaker and experienced players in teams helps the weaker ones to improve faster and then bring their experience to their clubs.

3. Participation of foreign players can help to promote and establish box-lacrosse in other countries. The Czech Republic is the only country in Europe where box-lacrosse is preferred to field-lacrosse, and a regular league (National Box-lacrosse League) is established.

The idea is not new.  It was Roman Pokorny, current ELL Orange coach, who first brought it up a couple of years ago, but the circumstances were not good enough to start at that time. Four years ago a “minileague” was played within LCC Radotín club practices – made up of players from the club, which has now 4 teams in the regular Czech National Box lacrosse League, and they played against each other.  They enjoyed that for the next year even as players from other Czech clubs were invited to join, and finally last year this became and open competition
with participation of foreign players.

There were four teams and about 80 participants. Now there are about 150 players registered to the ELL. We have decided to accept all registered players to teams.  In the next season we expect that there will be a selection and some of the players could be refused. This should motivate players to improve and work.  Now at the same time, we do not plan to increase the number of teams in the near future, and we would rather reach higher game quality than just more teams.

Most of the players seem to be Czech. How did you find players for the league?

Ondrej Mika: We simply spread our offer to clubs around the Czech Republic, Slovakia and to our contacts abroad, and the response was surprisingly big after the pilot ELL annual last year!  Word of mouth and through the European lacrosse community basically.

ELL European Box Lacrosse League
Euro boxla via the ELL.

How did you guys decide on what Cities and countries would get teams? Are the ownership groups separate from the league, or does the ELL control all the teams?

Ondrej Mika: The intention was to have four teams with their owners who would each organize their home tournament.  Because of the large interest we enlarged this number to 6, with two additional teams playing under the “ELL” header (ELL Orange and ELL Blue).  Team owners recruit from players and friends. There were not many options because of the facilities requirements, and organizing teams available in each city, so it was clear very quickly, especially when the organizers from Bratislava and Pilsen confirmed theri interest to have a team in the ELL.

Mind that there are only 10 clubs in 6 cities in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and the whole community is just several hundred people and the people who run clubs and competitions know each other very well.  Teams are more or less separate but they must follow rules and regulations set by ELL. This is our first experience with such relationship and we are all learning. Many things are still on friendly basis not
business one. Teams are still far away from being professional in terms of management and coaching, we made the first step and we are curious how and how quickly this will develop.

What new countries would you like to see ELL teams in? Could the league ever expand to England? Or as far as Russia/Turkey?

Ondrej Mika: We have noticed some interest from Germany, which is close and hopefully one of the tournaments may be in Dresden next year. We are happy that there are several players from England and Ireland involved but in this moment having tournament there would not be probably complicated because of travel costs. We have no contact to Russia and have not heard about boxlacrosse being played there, Turkey is probably not so developped yet too. So we see realistic expansion within Central Europe.

Why 23 men per roster? What made you settle on that number?

Ondrej Mika: We wanted to give a chance to more players to be involved. The number is traditional in the Czech Republic from old times maybe because of system adopted from ice-hockey many years ago.

Is there fighting in the ELL? Why or why not?

Ondrej Mika: We do not want to see any huge fighting in the ELL nor unsportsmanlike conduct. We want to promote the game and this promotion must be positive. We want to support sportmanship and camaradery. As we need to attract children and help to grow he sport we cannot show their parents anything violent.  Therefore we also heavily use, believe in, and enforce, the slogan ‘Play Fair”.

Where do you see this league going? What are the goals of the league? Can box lacrosse be as popular as field lacrosse in Europe? Could it be MORE popular?

Ondrej Mika: We consider boxlacrosse much more attractive as a spectators sport than field lacrosse and thus having bigger potential for media. Getting to media and increase general knowledge of the game is the main goal.  The other goals are mentioned in the first answer. Also ELL should help top European players to reach standards for NLL and be drafted to these world top competitions. It is hard to say now how it will develop.  We hope to establish an elite competition which would help to promote the game generally.

Who are your major partners and sponsors? What do they do for you and the league?

Ondrej Mika: So far the partners are our friends and their companies. Local Harrow retailer supports with donating some prizes fot the best players and providing balls. And there are some small barters. Pilsner brewery donated some beer for the final tournament (a teardrop in their scales) etc. LCC Radotin provides the facility in Radotín for free etc. We are happy that teams are starting to get some sponsors for themselves.  Also Net TV is our great partner making the webcast for bargain price, and we think that they help a lot to the ELL to be visible.

Make sure you check out Net TV to get ELL games online!

Are players paid? Or do you help with travel costs?

Ondrej Mika: No, each player pays small registration fee to ELL (EUR 20), and some teams pay this for their key players and maybe support them with their travel costs, but generally players bear all their travel costs.  It is very modest, they have no problem sleeping in a gymnasium or very simple hotel.  Do not imagine any luxury!

Have you been in touch with the NLL, NALL (North American Lacrosse League) or CLax (CanadianLax)? It seems like there are a lot of box leagues out there right now? How can you all help each other, and the sport, grow and succeed?

Ondrej Mika: We have some small contacts (we are in touch with Jim Veltman, Johnny Mouradian or Stan Cockerton), we observe what is going on there, but certainly there is nothing what could be called cooperation. At first we have to establish solid and stable teams here, then we can think about getting players over in any direction. We realize that the overall game calibre is incomparable in this moment although there are individuals who could suceed in NLL or other North American League. Definitely we need some help with refs. We are happy that we have Mike Laleune, Canadian curently living in London, coming for ELL tournaments. There are not so many experienced boxlacrosse refs in the Czech Republic ans Slovakia and there are not any boxlacrosse refs in other European countries. Our budget does not allow us to invite
refs from Nothern America this year.

Of course a game between winner or ELL and some NA or Canadian league would be a great event maybe in close future and we hope it will happen.

ELL European Box Lacrosse League
The dive is alive and well in the ELL!

What else are you guys doing to Grow The Game of lacrosse in Europe?

Ondrej Mika: Well, speaking for the ELL organizers we are quite busy to run the LCC Radotín Club, organize Aleš Hřebeský Memorial and ELL, organizing International Youth Lacrosse Camp in August (with participation of rookie players from developing countries), we are involved in the Czech national team programme and we have to work in our regular jobs because none of us earns any money from lacrosse. FYI the ELL is run by three people: Jan Barák, Ondřej Mika and Antonín Gottwald with support and help of volunteers from the Czech and Slovak lacrosse clubs.

Hopefully it will motivate more people to be involved in the game and clubs management when they see that our work has some results.

All photos courtesy LCC Radotin’s website.