It’s really a big circle. Call it cliché or just plain lazy in the terms of employing a metaphor, but this… thing, this wonderful thing, is really just a big circle. Maybe you’re path has been pretty linear so far, but rest assured it will all tie in at some point.
I’ve been cognizant of this circle for a little while now and its existence is made clear to me from time to time. For the past seven days I’ve been in Hong Kong, and I don’t believe it has ever been clearer than it is right now.
I’ll put a pin in the corny clichés and we can come back to the whole circle thing. But, when this article does end? I’ll have attempted to make it as clear as can be that this game, this community, is very much so connected and will always be so.
Visions to Reality
The Hong Kong Open showed up on my radar two years ago. There was a graphic somewhere on someone’s page and I thought it would be something, but that’s all it really was. Just a thought.
Fast forward to December, and I make the last minute haul across the world to Singapore to play a couple games with the guys from Malaysia. While we’re there, it’s pretty much agreed upon that the next event in Asia would be the Hong Kong Open, April 14-16th.
Funny enough, that’s precisely when my job ended at the ski resort. Universe is getting warmed up. Nothing crazy, just getting warm.
So we get talking with my good buddy, Payu. Payu is the man at the wheel for Thailand lacrosse, as well as a driving catalyst for a number of other fledgling programs in the greater Asian area. Payu gives me a call and says that he’s bringing together all of the Thailand boys from quite literally all over the world, and he wants me to come along not just to play, but more so to gain some insight on lacrosse in Asia and spread the good word afterwards.
Our phone call got me all fired up and really jumpstarted my battery. We had discussed HK in Singapore, and the prospect of getting to witness more of the good honest growth in Asian lacrosse had me reinvigorated. I don’t think I said too much more than “Yeah sure, I’ll be there”. But here’s our conversation in a nutshell, and how Payu sold me on the idea:
“With the emergence of new countries in Asia, it is vital for the countries in the region to push the initiative not just in domestic development, but to engage internationally with their neighbor countries within the region annually. Instead of only once every 2-4 years, countries are now hosting small annual tournaments, which helps sharpen the skill of its players. Bringing in the outside talents of visiting coaches and players helps raise the level of the game in Asia – bringing fresh takes on how to play competitive level of lacrosse, while also bringing the lacrosse community together creating unity. Mr. Joe Tsai is correct when he said: there currently are still 1-2 degrees of separation within lacrosse community, as it’s still very niche. So it is left for us to follow his lead in changing that by each and everyone of us, do our part in participating, and make events like this a success”
Flight Booked the Next Morning
The night before the game we’re all meeting in the hotel lobby to hand out THE CLEANEST set of team equipment from Warrior and brilliant team uniforms by Vasallo (Gear pictures to follow). The majority of the guys knew each other from the Thailand team at the worlds, as well as the ASPAC games in Thailand.
I knew a healthy corps group of guys but there were some new faces and instant friendships.
We started the tournament with fourteen guys. Five minutes into game number one; down goes good buddy Tommy Wong with a torn something or other in his knee. Down to thirteen.
Rolling With It
There were ten teams split into two pools of five in the men’s division. You obviously read the preview piece, so you know that our pool consisted of Taiwan, the Hong Kong developmental squad, Team JJ, Shanghai and our Thai boys; Team Siam. The other pool consisting of Bayswater, Korea, Beijing, Singapore and the home team’s A squad, the Hong Kong National Representative Team.
Scores are finite numbers in which someone who wasn’t present at the contest can simply deduce who won and who lost and can reasonably estimate how the game went. Our first two games were not close in score, and those numbers don’t do the HK youth academy nor Taiwan any justice. If anything, we were scoring so many goals because the impressive play of both young squads earning our best effort.
We couldn’t just sit back and screw around and waste time, because where these players might lack game IQ and experience, they made up for in hard nose effort and they were in obnoxiously good condition. Huge shout-out to the promising next generation of HK guys. The score went 10-0 in Team Siam’s favor over the young HK Academy team, but the game really was much more competitive.
Big shout-out to the Taiwan team as well, who I’ll say was the team that performed above my expectations more than any other team. They carried themselves like a college program. They were up by a couple goals on the 2nd place finisher and previous year’s champion Team JJ for a while, eventually falling 8-3. I learned a lot about the program and the work they’re doing over in Taiwan is substantial. Keep an eye on Taiwan. They’re going places. Our final score with Taiwan wound up to be 16-1, but Taiwan had a number of other great opportunities and the score could’ve been a lot closer with a couple different bounces.
Very quickly we found out that our Thai guys knew how to play aggressive transition lacrosse, which happens to be my favorite brand. Everyone had played with other guys on the team, but there were a lot of new teammates for a lot of us. With such a short bench we found it most economical to have one or two guys run a clean break and push it for a goal or a shot. If it went in, great, only two guys had to work hard and now we all get roughly a minute to walk back, rest, and reset.
Enjoying the Moment
This brand of lacrosse was pretty exclusive to our team in this tournament. Hong Kong was a well-oiled machine that would score goals with team execution and discipline. JJ relied on individual efforts to get shots or draw slides. Singapore was a team offense that would work to get a couple specific shooters free. Our goals were from causing turnovers and pushing the break.
Day one had been played in some pretty nice conditions. Any weather report we could find from the US made it sound like it was going to dump buckets of rain all weekend, but day one had been cloudy and relatively mild. The humidity is real, and most certainly not the most comfortable for someone who’s been living at seven thousand feet or higher for the past five months, but it was tolerable. The scene just behind the field had the sea, some uninhabited and stoic islands dotting the horizon, juxtaposed in the oddest way with massive cargo ships passing constantly.
Day two was significantly hotter/wetter… and it didn’t rain. The sun was on full bore and the humidity was turned up to eleven as the tournament got interesting. We matched up poorly against team JJ. We went up early, living on that sweet juicy transition game. Funny thing about living by the sword, is that’s probably how you’ll eventually go down. We couldn’t convert our chances, and couldn’t catch a break on D.
Team Siam fell 6-12 to Team JJ, and we really didn’t have anyone to blame but ourselves. Those boys played hard, and we made mistakes.
The next game would be the interesting one. Shanghai had beaten JJ in a one goal game, and if we were not only to win, but win big, we still had a shot at coming out on top of our group. I’m not sure what it was, but everyone was feeling awful for that first game. Then EVERYONE on Team Siam was feeling great for our game against Shanghai.
Are We In Or…?
We showed up, stepped on the gas, and never looked back. This isn’t to discredit Shanghai. They had an excellent team with some real scoring abilities from the midfield, but every bad guy in black was working hard and making the big play. We were under the assumption we needed to win by 5, so we won by 10 goals in a 15-5 Siam win over Shanghai. Funny thing about that, is that we actually needed to win by 11 to make our differential match Team JJ’s in the event of a three-way tie between the teams that tied. I don’t have a ton to say about that methodology of tie breakers… other than it’s stupid. Goals against is the best tie breaker. Reward the defense. End of conversation.
It took us a while to find out whether or not we were playing for first or third. So long in fact that we left the field and figured we’d figure it out at the event that night hosted by the Hong Kong Lacrosse Association. Not every tournament has a ceremony or collaborative event. Some do, some don’t. Some do and they’re not that great. Some are amazing. This fell under the category of amazing.
A ten-minute taxi from the field brought us to this wonderful venue that I’ll never remember the name of. We arrived to find a massive buffet, and the first person we encountered was this Irish waiter who handed the boys a tray full of beers. We pulled out wallets, he put his hand up, and thanked us for taking those heavy beers off his hands.
Timing is everything. We had had a couple drinks, ate some amazing food, and were talking amongst ourselves and the other nine teams plus the women’s teams as well. It was in this loose state of mind that we were informed we were playing for third the next day, not first. Eye contact was made throughout the team, and it was nonverbally unanimous that we were going out on the town.
One Night in Hong Kong
There’s no glory or bragging to be done about drinking and then playing the next day. That’s not the important part. We went out and hung with a number of the Shanghai players and a couple players from all of the other rosters as well. The major issue was that we hadn’t gone back to our hotel. We still had ALL of our equipment with us.
Being a know-it-all, I suggested we head to a hotel, and stash the bags with a bellman. As a bellman all winter, I’m firmly of the opinion that anyone will do anything for money… because I definitely did some weird stuff for people… because they gave me money.
Funny thing. They wouldn’t do it. Wouldn’t take like a jillion hong kong dollar tip to hold some bags. So if we have a reservation would they hold our stuff? Yes, but we didn’t have a reservation. How about if we had one for the next day? Yes, but we didn’t have a reservation and they were full.
Someone on our team had found himself a Tinder date, and she proved to be invaluable. She started yelling something in Cantonese, found us a hotel reservation on some app, and we booked a hotel room just so we could store some bags for a couple hours.
We had fun that night. End of discussion. If you weren’t there, be there next time. Nothing crazy or stupid, but it was a lot of fun.
Back for Bronze
The next day we got up on time, everyone met down in the lobby for a gongshow of a checkout. Guys were getting charged double and all sorts of nonsense, and we had a tough time getting out of there. The big vans were late to pick us up, and only one of them was a cargo van, so we tossed all the gear in that van, obviously. I got in that van, and that guy drove us pretty much to China. We showed up at the field with everyone else’s gear and equipment and the ball bags ten minutes before face-off. Getting ready was our warmup for that game.
By drawing third, we had a game against our good friends from Singapore Lacrosse. When I say good friends, I mean it. Having hosted us in December, I had made friends with a couple of the guys, and we had played two awesome games. We won the first, they won the second. Back when we still were unsure as to which opponent we’d face on Sunday, I had a mild sense of not really caring. Of course I wanted the Thai guys to bring home the big hardware. Of course a game against Hong Kong’s national team would’ve been a battle. Numerous persons within Hong Kong’s organization said they’d rather play us than play JJ. Not because they thought we’d be easier to beat, but because it would be a much more fun game to play, to watch, and to see how different styles matched up.
However, I was just as excited to play against Singapore. As I said in my preview piece, they’re a number of older guys and a number of young guys as well. I haven’t checked birth certificates, but I’m pretty sure they don’t really have many guys between the ages of 18-30, which is usually where a lot of players for other teams land.
Shootout with Singapore
Having young players without college experience and older players can definitely be a vice, but you could visually see the younger guys getting bigger and better with the competition. To watch a man play goalie who’s literally my father’s age, you could literally see years falling off him as he made acrobatic saves a man half his age had no business making.
Back and forth this game went. I think the biggest lead was a two-goal deficit, and both teams enjoyed that lead at some point. Both teams had blown layup opportunities, as well as amazing saves made and phenomenal stands by both defenses.
The game came down to a Team Siam man-up with roughly a minute to go. The 3-3 set had been working brilliantly all weekend. Cool, calm, and collected. Touch the corners, skip down to the left side, shot high and wide. Retain possession. Move it around once, twice, fake the shot, down to the side, shot off the defender, retain possession after a slightly contested ground ball. Ball comes to the point man, steps in a little deeper than normal, threatening a shot.
You never know who will shoot what when the game is on the line. Feign the shot, passes to Hiro on the left wing. Hiro is pronounced like hero, and that’s just what he was. Pulls an awesome shot right to the upper deck.
Siam 8, Singapore 7. The remaining 40 seconds were a bloodbath of turnovers, hammer checks, and gutsy ground balls. A Singapore possession threatened overtime, but a turnover led to a quasi-clear by Siam that resulted in running out the clock around the midfield in open space.
I told those boys I’d love to play that game over 100 times. Singapore is an awesome crew with some good players who are even better people.
“It is an honor for us, national players, candidates, and friends of TLA program alike to come together to dedicate this season, to the late His Majesty King Bhumibol. Showing our gratitude for his tireless work for the benefit of the Thai people, and compete in his honor once again adorning black/white color as a tribute to him. Our players whether they are native Thai or not have always took pride in our motto ‘for king and country’ over the years since our birth in 2010. We hope that our determination, and dedication will translate to strong results this year in his name.”
Absorbing the Final Sights and Sounds
The Championship followed directly after, and while both teams most certainly deserved to finish on top, the game wasn’t nearly as tight. Hong Kong’s national team, under Coach Scott Browning’s direction, is a rapidly advancing power in Asia. The efforts of the organization are at a tipping point now where a team of expats, regardless of experience, won’t be able to contend with the team chemistry and structure of a program like Hong Kong’s.
The tournament ended, and we sat there watching the whole thing folding up. An amazing corps of volunteers and medical staff and organizers were packing the whole thing away as if it never happened. Sitting on a cooler I watched as signs and tables were carried away.
On the field there were some kids shooting on the net, clearly glad the games were over so they could have their time. Further up towards the midline there were six or seven children, much younger, running around with sticks and laughing and throwing the ball just as far as they could just for the sheer joy it would give them. I was already in love with the atmosphere of the competitive nature of the tournament.
Just then I fell right back in love with what I was actually seeing – an amazing game being passed along to the next generation, whereas twenty, ten, or even one year in some of these countries, that opportunity didn’t exist. I saw tangible, sustainable, REAL growth. That’s the good stuff.
The REALLY Good Stuff
What I saw was that the real important thing at this tournament hadn’t been who finished where. It was that everyone was there, and that seeds were being planted so deep that they’ll be growing for generations to come. It wasn’t about who scored goals, it was about who had showed up. Some teams were getting killed by ten goals. They were getting more out of it than anybody who’s putting up twenty.
The culture of the tournament was very much one of gratitude. Thank you for coming so that I might have this game to share with you. You may score goals, I may score a couple. We all win. The thousands of players who are out there who haven’t heard of lacrosse yet, they’re the winners. By reinvigorating our own love and passion for the game, we refill our own tanks and we want to share this game with someone new.
A number of us ended up staying in Hong Kong for a varied number of days. It was an excellent experience to see the island, not just show up, play lacrosse, and leave. Our hotel arrangements had expired, and we were glad to be out, but now we had to figure out somewhere new to stay.
Funny enough… we had just booked a room for that Sunday night… that same hotel we wanted to keep our bags at… so why make other arrangements? I think like six guys ended up crashing in that room that night, and I wasn’t even one of them (that night). I ended up going to stay two nights sleeping on Charles Manning’s window sill.
Who’s Charles Manning? Why sleep on the window sill? Here comes the circle.
Flashback to 2014. World Games in Denver. I make it out. Elliott Couch played lacrosse for my father at Oswego State, and I know he lives in Denver. I ask Elliott if he can hook me up on a festival team. He says he’s playing with a team of Asian-American heritage players, and they need two guys. My brother and I fill the spots. This was Payu’s Team Enigma, a team built of Asian-American’s in hopes of cultivating players and forming a club/database of guys to draw from to go spread the game around Asia in the future. Elliott had coached in Thailand, met Payu, gets me on Team Enigma, I meet Payu, the rest is history… or is it?
Also in Denver 2014. I sit down with my father and brother to watch USA vs. Canada for the gold. Something weird transpires on the field. I kinda caught it. Guy behind me says “what was that call?” half to himself, half to his buddy. I turned around and say oh well I think they called a push or something.
We start talking, this guy introduces himself to me as Charles Manning. We talk the whole game. He says what do you do for work? I say I work at a ski resort, job ends in April. He replies and says well that’s funny, the Australian season starts end of April.
So I go live in Adelaide, South Australia for a year. When I’m there I meet the other imported American, Andrew Somps. We get along fine, play some awesome lacrosse. Go see New Zealand together. I leave Australia, go back to work at the ski resort. I get a call a month later from Andrew. He’s back in the States and can’t find a job. I say come to Park City, I’ll hook it up. He does. Next year we end up living together. Skiing. Working. It’s great.
During the ski season I get a call from Payu, says come to Singapore. Great, I’m in. I show up, and who’s in goal? Charles Manning, the man who brought me to Australia, is playing goal on my team playing for the guy I played for back in Denver.
The circle is spinning, but it’s not done yet. In Singapore, I meet Pete. Pete’s a LSM. Charles recruits him to go to Woodville and play this coming Summer. I’ve also hooked up my college buddy Clif Jackson to head down to Woodville as well. Pete and Clif are Woodville’s two new imports.
Andrew tells me during the season he wants to go back and play again. I say cool, but they’ve already got two Americans, and you’re only allowed two imports. I also say, “hey, on your way over to Australia, come to Hong Kong with me and let’s play for Payu’s Siam team. We’re not Thai, but I’m a friends of the program and you’re a friend of mine.”
He’s in and as it turns out, Woodville finished so low that they are allowed a third import for this season. We show up to Hong Kong, and there’s Charles Manning in the flesh. Andrew and I are Woodville alums, Pete is going right from Hong Kong, Charles is huge in the program, and Clif just arrived last week. We’re playing for Payu, who I first met probably the same day I met Charles back in 2014.
So why’d you sleep on his window sill? Because when someone who’s spinning in your very same circle offers something, you jump on the opportunity to hang out with them.
That’s just one of the circles I’m spinning on. And as I become more and more familiar with the awesome people doing the real work of growing lacrosse in Asia and the rest of the world, I’m reminded that their circle will quickly become my circle, and mine will be theirs. The more you put yourself out there, the less you’re really out there.
Connecting the Dots
Denver. Singapore. Australia. Hong Kong. Sweden. Prague. New York. It’s all connected. More so now than ever. The Hong Kong Open has given the circle another spin for me, and I quite honestly can’t wait to get back and to continue to try and become part of the Hong Kong lacrosse circle, the Thailand lacrosse circle, and Asia’s circle as a whole.
Keep the circle spinning. See you out there.