Editor’s Note: Josh Potter submitted this beautifully emotional story to us and while the focal point is Frank Menschner and his love of lacrosse, it also touches on how a small town in the Czech Republic might be changing the box game forever. It’s personal, well worth a full read, and shows how big of an impact a single man can have on the world. Thanks to Josh Potter for sharing this with us all.
It is hardly a secret to box lacrosse enthusiasts that there is an annual box tournament played in the Czech Republic. Rumors of professional athletes playing on the same turf as novices are proven truthful each year. Descriptions of a city so beautiful that people struggle to find the right words are replaced with “you just need to see it yourself”.
But beyond the lacrosse… Beyond the sights and history to take in… It’s the impossibly wide smile on the speaker’s face that sells the story each time. Here we are, in a little town called Radotín, which hosts a memorial tournament each year for their fallen teammate. A testament to their success and determination to honor Ales Hrebesky, they’ve held this tourney for over 20 straight years. And unless you’ve been, you have no idea.
Once a “Czech only” tourney, The Ales Hrebesky has since been opened to the rest of the world, and boy did the world respond! Teams have journeyed to Radotín from as far away as Japan and come from many obscure places, one being the German Air Force. Who would’ve thought their Air Force had an exclusive BOX team? Well, they do! While Radotín has endured monumental flooding and a loss of open space over the last two decades, the town still battles on. The pride and spirit you see at this annual tourney shows us all why. Quite simply, it’s a very special place, filled with special people.
I made my first trip to the tourney as a defenseman for the Megamen LC in 2011, and I don’t think I could have been more underprepared for what I was about to get myself into. Up until that point, my highest level of play was at the Philadelphia Wings tryouts camp seven years earlier. I never made the Wings roster but I figured if I could handle crushing guys at a pro camp in Philadelphia without walking away with even a bruise, I could certainly handle this tourney, right?
Nope, not even close.
But before I can talk about my journey, I need to talk about a man who made the trip a full decade earlier.
Jumping back to the year 2001, a man named Frank Menschner decided he’d go to the same tourney, just then opening up to “outsiders”. He was a member of Team Rebel, out of Baltimore, Maryland, and was met with open arms, as well as high expectations. The Czechs had been playing this game within the confines of their own borders for so long, how would they fair against an outsider? And a team from the USA no less, where lacrosse was huge. They were excited, and prepared.
As it turned out, Frank’s team went to the finals that year but lost to the home team; The LCC Radotín Custodes. While people care about wins and losses, it wasn’t the place in which his team finished that will be cemented in history. Instead, it was Frank’s instant love affair with a city, and its people, that would change his life forever. He wouldn’t, or simply couldn’t, stop talking about this experience once his feet hit the ground in his home city of Philadelphia.
Everyone found out about this phenomenon that was too precious to be owned by any one man. Frank Menschner spread the Ales Hrebesky gospel like it was wild fire.
Every single year since then, there has been at least one team from the USA (and as many as three) playing in the Ales Hrebesky, with Frank playing on almost every single one of them at one time or another. All the while, he was developing a critical, and increasingly respectful, relationship with the all parties involved needed to host the tourney. One year, Frank’s 10th consecutive year in attendance, he was invited to play for the home team in the Ales Hrebesky. That is an absolute honor, to say the very least. You know why if you’ve made the trip yourself.
Frank and I innocently crossed paths after a local club game in 2004, nothing more than a “hey man, good game today” type of thing. The next time he and I would cross paths would be at the clubhouse restaurant in Radotín some seven years later. Here is what’s truly amazing: he remembered me.
A loud voice from the corner table was inviting my wife and I to join him for some schnitzel, a delightful Czech dish. We spent the next hour or two listening to stories of the fantastic tourney and city in which we were currently entrenched. Not a single embellishment was issued by Frank. True to his word, we enjoyed every single minute of our time there. Which is why I’ve returned for the last six years in a row. I’m hooked, what can I say?
Frank’s favorite team to play for was the Megamen, and it wasn’t a secret. However, his undying loyalty to the sport itself had him play on different teams throughout his career since some teams needed an extra goalie here and there. Much to his delight, Frank made his way back to his team of choice in 2014 and again in 2015.
At this point, Frank was battling with failing health and the eternal enemy of time. Frank played his final game for his favorite team, in his favorite city, surrounded by his favorite people, at the young age of 55. He managed to close the books of his lacrosse career with a shutout. A fact he wouldn’t let any other goalie on his team forget for the rest of the week!
Frank Menschnerpassed away on May 15th, 2015 from complications due to a blood clot. We had lost our friend, and our teammate, just 23 days after his last seconds in net. His sudden loss made many people feel as if the turf was pulled out from under them in a cruel and unforgiving way. Frank’s abrupt absence had left some feeling as if they were falling from great heights with no ability, or even desire, to slow their descent.
Among many others, the community of Radotín has felt this hurt, this unexplainable loss, but in keeping with their beautiful standards, the small Czech village has offered a place for our grieving lacrosse family to land… yet again.
Just over a year since his passing, a Radotín native and driving for behind LCC Radotín, Ondrej Mika, has led the charge to host another memorial tournament, this time in the honor of one Frank William Menschner. For many, this is simply the best possible thing that could be done to honor Frank’s legacy.
The inaugural tourney will be played in September of 2016 and is already expected to rival it’s late April counterpart, the Ales Hrebesky tourney. Two men who were born decades apart, who had never met one another, but were bound by the same love of this sport, and who were lost well before the world was ready to let them go. It’s really quite beautiful.
This year the Philadelphia Box Lacrosse Association celebrates its 30th year of continued league play, a milestone that Frank Menschner is unfortunately not able to witness. In honor of their fallen teammate, players from multiple teams of the PBLA have assembled to field a group to send to Prague in September. Many of the players have already been to the eastern European town to play the sport they love, but this time it’s different. They will play to honor one of their own.
Draped in fresh new uniforms, they’ve dubbed themselves “The Menschner Men”. Leading the charge for the Menschner Men is Philly lax veteran Dave Eagan. Eagan, in an effort to help fill out the roster, employed the help of euro box legend, Patrick Dougherty. Dougherty’s contributions to this roster will undoubtedly solidify the Menschner Men to a great playoff finish. Eagan and the rest of the Philly players have high hopes to bring the first win of this tourney directly home to the city of Philadelphia, where they will undoubtedly celebrate endlessly, and perhaps even raise a glass or two to their friend, and find some closure.
If this new tourney generates the same attention and talent that the Hrebesky tourney gathers, then I have a two words for North America… LOOK OUT!
Frank would be so proud to know that there would be another tourney in Prague, he’d get a kick out of it being in his name, but above all else, he would be satisfied that there is now more of an opportunity for the sport to grow in Europe.
Get this right, dial it in, turn your radars on fellow residents of Canada and the U.S., the European lacrosse circuit is growing, and rapidly. They are producing incredible talents from several countries. The Czechs have already sent several players to NLL combines, Serbia has already sent a pair of rocket ships to the NLL in the Gajic brothers, and Finland…. FINLAND!… Look out for forward Roope Jokela and the blonde dread lock adorned Lauri Uusitalo in net, amongst others!
Get ready for the European explosion folks, because it’s coming. They’ll blow the door open and command your respect. The game will only get better, and more competitive because of it! Maybe the International Olympic Committee will start paying closer attention to box, and now that our more local organizations are taking the box game more seriously, maybe they will. With the recent announcement that USlacrosse is considering partnering with the NLL, maybe this and the first annual Frank William Menschner Memorial Tournament could thrust the box game into the forefront?
This year Patti Menschner will make her first trip to Radotín, her brother’s second home. One of her greatest regrets is that she never made the trip with Frank to experience it with him as her guide. The Radotín locals will absolutely welcome her with wide open arms and flood her with the love only they can give. Another person unable to make the trip, a school teacher and PBLA executive leader that goes by the name of Steve Innamarato. When asked, if given the opportunity, what would Frank tell new players starting to develop in the box game; Innamarato, PBLA President said “See this as your chance to leave your mark on the game by continuing to make it grow. Every day is an opportunity to make box lacrosse grow.”
Innamarato and Menschner helped grow the box game in Philly together for over two decades. In addition to being a great leadership team for their league, they were great friends. Steve and the rest of the PBLA family wish nothing but great success for the men traveling to Radotin to honor Frank.
There is a solid effort by the team at LaxAllStars to bring this successful format to the states and other unsung heros of the sport like Onderj Mika in Radotin, who are refusing to give up on the idea that box lacrosse is an extremely important and underrated sport. Look into the LaxAllStars North American Invitational in Syracuse this year, look into the Ales Hrebesky and Frank Menschner Memorial Tournaments. If you enjoy box lacrosse, you’ll find no greater joy.