I got to check out the 2017 version of the International Lacrosse Showdown last month, and it was quite an event. Allow me to fill you in on one of the coolest new international events to hit the lacrosse scene in recent years.
If you haven’t caught wind, I really like lacrosse. It fills my heart and when that heart runs low, one way or another, lacrosse always finds a way to fill it back up again. Sometimes seeing the best quality of lacrosse does the trick. Overtime thrillers with lead changes and huge goals. Sometimes it’s the quantity. Seeing fifty teams all on the same weekend. Old men showing they’ve still got it and their sons (or grandsons) trying to prove their talents on the field. Sometimes it’s the lesser quality. Seeing a new kid pick up a stick for the first time. A teams of young Czech kids playing an exhibition game with the whole world watching and cheering.
I went down to the NCAA championships this year, trying to fill my heart back up. If I go down and watch the top teams in each division fighting for hardware and glory eternal, that’ll do it, right?
Oddly enough the Championships really didn’t do much for me. Seeing all my friends from across the country/planet/universe? Yeah, that was awesome and I’m constantly reminded how fortunate I am that I get to see so many good people from so many crazy places on an irregular-but-frequent basis.
While the pinnacle of our sport somehow wasn’t good enough for yours truly, I did get a full heart that weekend, it just came from a somewhat unexpected place. Scheduled to coincide with the NCAA tournament finals was the second annual International Lacrosse Showdown. Maybe you’ve heard of the International Lacrosse Showdown. Maybe you haven’t. The inaugural slipped by me last year, so this was my first experience with the event.
I was heading down to see the big ticket games in Foxboro, and when I let the good ole boys Connor Wilson (Lacrosse All-Stars) and Scott Neiss (Israel Lacrosse) know I was coming, they instantly replied back with “Great show up at the grass field at Johnson and Wales College at seven AM” I wasn’t really expecting that reply, but I figured, hey what’s a little more lacrosse?
My father, Dan (a full on lacrosse addict himself), and I drove down from Oswego, New York after the NCAA semi finals were done being shown on TV that Saturday afternoon, and so we arrived late Saturday night. We arrived Sunday morning to the fields and I didn’t really know what to expect. Some Facebook searching and a couple google searches on the drive down gave me the 101 on what was set to take place.
Seven heritage teams representing the nations of the Phillipines, Puerto Rico, Israel, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, and Jamaica formed a round-robin tournament in which everyone would play everyone, and the winner would be crowned for having the best record.
Let’s clarify what a heritage team is. These teams were predominantly made up of North American players with foreign ancestry. Some of these players are citizens of the country they were representing. Some were born there, raised here and so on and so forth. There are a million paths to walk and no two have ever been the same. These were not NATIONAL TEAMS nor were they necessarily 2018 tryouts.
One might ask, if this wasn’t a national team tryout, and these weren’t national teams… why’d they meet up and play?
Quite honestly it was the ‘why’ of this tournament that filled ol’ Brian’s heart right up. These teams formed up and got together to extend a hand to players of a similar cultural heritage so
that they might explore their roots through a common interest. That interest being their enthusiasm and love for the game of lacrosse. These budding national programs wanted to give players the opportunity to be part of the family.
Maybe I’m not old enough to play for the Hungarian team, but my family immigrated from Budapest, and I’d love to get involved. I don’t have documents to play with Puerto Rico in the World Games next summer in Israel, but I’m proud of my ancestry and I want to be a part of the organization. There are tons of Israeli/Americans who play lacrosse who simply aren’t good enough to crack the national team roster, but they still want to be brought into the fold.
I didn’t catch the first two days of games, but from the scores I saw from the first two games and the quality of match ups I saw in the final two days in which I was present, it was a perfectly matched tournament, and I couldn’t be happier with how things went.
Check out some AMAZING photos from the event. Photos with the Puerto Rico Lacrosse logo on them are from Jose Esquilin Photography, and all other photos are courtesy of Israel Lacrosse photographer Mike Horowitz.
The very first game I saw when I walked in was Jamaica and Israel. I saw that someone was up two goals, and seeing as Israel is the more established program, I figured they were ahead. And then Israel scored, and the lower number on the scoreboard changed. Healthy surprise there. Jamaica was coming out guns blazing, and they really were dominating all over the field. Pure athleticism was overcoming superior stick skills, and these Jamaican boys really were just a treat to watch. I don’t recall the final, but Jamaica held on to clinch the win handing Israel their first loss of the weekend.
Other great games were just around the corner. Puerto Rico and Portugal played a fantastic game of up-and-down lacrosse that was messy and mesmerizing all at the same time. Sure, there were a lot of turnovers, but both teams were pressing the ball in transition and creating some awesome chances out of it. It was almost as though there was an agreement to play run and gun lacrosse. If there was a turnover? Eh, don’t worry, they’re going to come down and press the ball too… so maybe they’ll turn it right back over. Or score. Two possibilities.
The Hungarian Heartbreakers shook up the tournament. By no means was there a favorite to win it or anything, but by winning certain games and taking NUMEROUS games to overtime, Hungary kept things interesting for whoever was doing standings. Their first overtime would be the real difference maker.
Fresh off their win over Israel, Jamaica played Hungary in a really cool game. Jamaica had a real turnover problem and Hungary just couldn’t miss the back of the goal, but late in the game Jamaica made their goals count when needed most. I believe Jamaica scored the tying goal to force overtime, but it was Hungary who took the win in OT. Hungary won again in overtime the following day, forcing a three-way tie for first.
This was also my first ever look at a Greek collaboration, and I was impressed. I believe their status has gone through with the FIL as a full member nation, and I’m really excited to see their program take flight. I’ll be waiting patiently for my invite in the mail to come play some ball on all those beaches I can’t pronounce!
I saw a collection of Filipino players back in 2014 in the festival side of the World Games. I don’t really remember much about the team from 2014, but this team made an impression as being very well organized and they really seemed to know each other more than some of the other teams did. I only got to see one game, but I enjoyed seeing the boys!
I saw Puerto Rico play again the next day against Jamaica. I don’t remember the score, and I honestly couldn’t care less. The real win came as a Puerto Rican player went down with an injury, a Jamaican midfielder ran from across the field (before any other Puerto Rican players or personnel were able to get to him) and helped the young man to his feet, and acted as a brace as they hobbled off the field together and all the way to the bench where the injured player could rest. I didn’t get either of their jersey numbers. I didn’t get their names. What’s important here is that I’m not telling you who won or who scored goals, I’m telling you about some of the greatest sportsmanship I’ve seen in years. The best part was that this wasn’t an isolated occurrence. Various examples of sportsmanship were displayed everywhere you looked.
One super-fun example of such would be the way that this three-way tie was settled. As this is a real sport, there can be no ties. Looking at you, soccer. Israel lacrosse put on this whole event, with evil genius Scott Neiss running the show on the ground. With Israel’s loss to Jamaica, Jamaica’s OT loss to Hungary, and Hungary’s loss to Israel, we found ourselves deadlocked. When given full and total control of fun tournaments such as this, a beauty like Scott can only utter one word in this situation!
Braveheart! I really pushed hard for a triangle-shaped three-team braveheart, but lunacy must be kept on a leash.
The three teams would participate in a round robin of bravehearts. You have to score against both other teams to win. As could be predicted, the three teams each won one and lost one braveheart in the first round. I guess you could call this double triple braveheart overtime?
You can find all the game videos on the LAS YouTube Channel!
Jamaica scored against Hungary, and so did Israel, in the second go around. Therefore, whoever won this next braveheart would decide the winner. One possession and roughly ten seconds was all Israel needed to seal the deal. While Israel was crowned king of the tournament, the real winner was the sport of lacrosse and the seven national programs who attended.
It’s an opportunity for the program to grow just as much it is an opportunity for the individual to feel a part of the team representing his cultural heritage. If not a SINGLE one of the players who came out for any of the given teams winds up on a national team roster, this is still an event to be marked a success and only good can come of it.
Maybe I had such a great time playing with my new Jamaican friends. Maybe I don’t make the cut for the national team. That’s fine, I still had a great time. Maybe next time there’s a fundraiser or an equipment drive that twenty dollar bill comes out of my pocket quicker or my old helmet comes out of my basement and gets shipped easier because NOW I KNOW that what I’m supporting is wholesome and for the good of lacrosse in my homeland, not just for twenty guys that play together every four years.
Maybe I didn’t really understand my heritage. Coming from yours truly, Brian Whitebread-American Witmer, I honestly don’t. Maybe this has encouraged me to dig a little deeper. Maybe I already know everything there is to know about where my family came from and how they got here. But maybe I want to know more? Maybe I have something start kicking me in the heart that says “hey, let’s go see where we came from. Let’s use lacrosse as a vehicle to not just see where we come from, but to give something back to that place that’s very new to them.
If one Portuguese-American or a couple Hungarians decide that they want to spend a summer in those respective countries… that’s amazing. THAT is where we can find growth. Did lacrosse get bigger this weekend? No. It didn’t. These guys all knew how to buckle their own chinstraps and what part of the body a cup goes on. That’s not where we’re going to see the growth. This was sowing the seeds so that the 120+ players that participated could be reinvigorated with the energy and sense of obligation to build up their nation’s lacrosse identity.
How many guys head to the beaches of Portugal or Puerto Rico for a couple months and grow the game? How many new players does the Israeli Premier Lacrosse League see from this? How many sticks get stuffed in bags and handed off to a kid who doesn’t know what he’s being handed? Is that kid the next home-grown hero?
I don’t know. I really don’t, and neither do you. What I do know is that this event can be a great catalyst for growth. What if the Germans or Irish took advantage of all the heritage boys they have in the states? What if every Italian-American was given an opportunity to connect to his heritage? What if EVERY single high-school and college player started looking at where he came from and started reaching out?
Maybe five percent go off and go help grow the game in whatever country that is. We’ve got more than 800,000 players registered with US Lacrosse. There are countless unregistered. I don’t know what 5% is (recreation major), but it’s a lot.
Give Americans a chance to explore the world they come from. Let our young men and women see the world they come from and grow our game there. Forgive me for reaching here, but I don’t think we’ll just be solving our own issue of sport recognition here, I think we’re legitimately looking at a vehicle to better our world through the game we love.