Note from the Author: If you don’t already know, box lacrosse is my obsession, the only problem is, I’ve always lived in regions where field lacrosse is king and hockey is just starting to really break through. I will be conducting more interviews and compiling research on the topic, and I hope to build more awareness around the development of indoor lacrosse in the United States.
Photo Credit: Blake Dickson and MN Swarm
Minnesota is on board, are you? If you read my last article about the Junior NLL, you probably noticed the guys dressed in the yellow honey comb jerseys. That would be the Junior Swarm and although they haven’t been playing lacrosse indoors for very long, the instruction and commitment they have received from Aime Caines, Ryan Benesch and the rest of the Swarm organization, is what I believe rocketed them to the top.
Back in 2009, the Swarm franchise decided to take the initiative to start their own box lacrosse league for youth in the local community. The program they founded rocketed from just 200 participants in the first season, to at least 1,200 in just a few years time. The youth rec. league, founded by the senior Swarm, went from hosting borderline pick-up games to having multiple teams with full rosters competing weekly. The formation of the league brought competitive box lacrosse to Minnesota, letting players develop box skills in weekly games, then assembling certain key players in to the travel squad know as the Jr. Swarm. I attribute the Jr. Swarm’s success to the dreamers that brought this to life.
The Swarm organization realized that Minnesota can not be overlooked as a lacrosse hotbed, with around 13,000 US Lacrosse members in the State. The commitment is not just on the corporate level either – All Star Ryan Benesch, who was recently traded to Buffalo from the Swarm, held true to his word, staying around long enough to give the kids the coaching and experience that they deserve. Not only do the kids receive indoor lacrosse instruction from current players and coaches in the NLL, they get to dress like them as well. The team is made up of 18 boys from 12 different schools, including one player coming from Wisconsin.
The Swarm are currently researching and planning for next year, they are looking to provide kids with true box lacrosse facilities for the house league. US Lacrosse does not cover any injuries that result from playing under CLA style rules, but this isn’t stopping anyone.
The Swarm, and other American organizations, are weighing the options available for insurance to make sure that kids are covered and so they can host box events without having to modify the rules to fit the USL insurance policy. The team has already been fortunate enough to have obtained a set of Boddam goalie pads from their pro counterparts, a huge set back for many starting clubs.
When competing against much more experienced kids, typically the Canadians, the Swarm were intimidated at first. The coaches assure that it didn’t take long for the kids to understand the finer points of box lacrosse and started to cross check and use the boards for their advantage, like the teams that were doing it to them. Once they realized they could contact the other team much more than they are allowed in the field game, and that they weren’t getting hurt, the Swarm found the aggressiveness that they needed to compete.
USBOXLA Nationals in California was eye opening for the team, letting all who participated completely experience the great game of box lacrosse against legitimate competition. The Director of Media & Lacrosse Relations, Alec Schimke, can’t forget the experience either, “I couldn’t sleep at night, I knew something special was brewing.”
Many of the players come from a strong hockey background, like most box players, but the coaches saw little to no difference on how fast everyone picked up the differences of indoor and outdoor lacrosse. Every player was physical and none shied away from the occasion.
After talking with Schimke, I realized this isn’t just a gimmick or a push for ticket sales. The Swarm care about their community, the sport, and their commitment to excellence. Sure every kid that was on the team received season tickets to the Swarm game this year, which will help entice parents to go and spend money, but they also plan to honor the young athletes during the games and they are holding a banquet to give the recognition to the pioneers of Minnesota youth box lacrosse.
Swarm staff even went out of their way to contact John Tavares, Jordan MacIntosh and other NLL stars that live close to Toronto to come out and give instructions and pep talks to the players while they were at the Jr. NLL Championship.
There are great things on the horizon for the Junior Swarm. The club looks to compete against much more established competition next season by inviting teams down from Canada and attempting to make a trip to the Great White North of their own.
This week the Swarm get to host their own event: The AILA/IMG Regional (Sept. 28-29 in Hastings, MN), for players U-15 through U-19. The winning teams of each bracket get an automatic bid to compete in the Junior Championships down in Philadelphia. We wish the Junior Swarm and all other teams competing the best of luck.
Learn more about the Junior Swarm at mnswarm.com/juniorswarm.