The official attendance for Saturday here in Philly was over 32,000 people. I would be surprised if 32,000 people in Oregon know what lacrosse is. From the moment my Uber dropped me at the hotel, I could tell that I had found my people. Kids littered the parking lot, playing small-sided games with pop-up box goals in the parking lot and in the park across the street. The first person I saw when I walked into the lobby plays in the NLL. Sure, this was an event that drew lacrosse players from around the country out of the woodwork, but it’s also an event I’ve got no comparison for out West. The only comparable things are club tournaments, which draw some booths and more lacrosse players than usual. This wasn’t a few booths, this was an entire village. It was lacrosse heaven.
It’s the little things that hit me first. The popups, to start, topped anything available. For a gearhead like myself, lacrosse heaven is a good descriptor. Wallet minefield might be a more accurate one. Generally speaking, you have three options for gear in my hometown: order it online (no ability to test it in person, gotta pay shipping, not instant), go to Dick’s (they carry maybe five heads and three shafts?), or drive two hours to the only lacrosse shop around (shoutout Bigfoot Lacrosse). Under the Universal Lacrosse tent, it’s as if my lacrosse Instagram came to life. Heads I’d only ever seen online, brands I’d never seen, mesh in actual colors and varieties! It’s like someone turned the color on, and my black-and-white world of plain white soft mesh exploded into the Willy Wonka world of imagination. Did I buy south beach fade mesh and pink strings? Absolutely. Did I buy a new head? You bet. Did I spend all of my money to bring home my very own arsenal of exclusive gear? No, but only because it wouldn’t fit in my duffle bag.
It’s not just gear. Lacrosse has a funny way of blending its, for lack of a better word, celebrities with the common fan, which is something I’ve always loved about the game. But this wasn’t just Twitter interaction, this was players like Trevor Baptiste wandering through the crowd, signing autographs and taking photos with fans of all ages. At one point, I was busy stringing up a head, and ECD Greg wandered by. Like many West Coast guys, Greg’s YouTube activity is literally what taught me how to string, and it was quite the surreal moment to see him casually interacting, just another fan of the game enjoying its biggest weekend.
I took some pride in the kids shuffling through the STX booth, admiring the Oregon Ducks helmet proudly on display alongside their NCAA teams. Sure, I spent a lot of time competing against guys in that helmet, but Eugene is still my hometown, and I’m still a Duck at heart. I wasn’t even the only one there. A girl in an authentic Ducks lacrosse jersey wandered by at one point. MCLA club, sure, but Oregon is managing to become a national brand in lacrosse too, and it gives me plenty of hope for an eventual Pac-12 men’s lacrosse group.
As far as the actual lacrosse goes, Division I is amazing in person. Just watching warmups brought on a ton of new ideas for coaching next season. The skill these guys have is stunning, and it opens up so many things no coach in my area would dare try to run. Watching these guys almost feels like watching a sport I don’t coach. The offenses require no set shape, since they’re so good at maintaining spacing. I had previously watched the US out-duel Canada in the World Games, but this was somehow purer, more enjoyable. The passion was clear from the thousands of screaming fans in the crowd, and the tears in the eyes of the players at the post-game presser. I was awestruck. In fact, lacrosse heaven may be too restrictive of a term.
There’s more weekend left. I’m writing this while watching the Division III national championship, something I’ve always felt was secretly one of the best games of each season. I’m planning to spend a lot more time just immersing myself in the crowd tomorrow. The press box is a joy, but I want to be there amongst the fans, feel the excitement and just act like one of those wide-eyed kids who can’t believe they get to be in the presence of this event. In a lot of ways, I basically am that. I’ll be shooting some videos to show off the event, in the hopes of marketing it to other West Coast guys considering going. It’s totally worth it. You will spend all of your money and you will eat way too many pretzels and you will burn your shoulders and it will be TOTALLY WORTH IT BECAUSE LACROSSE IS THE BEST. Alright, some of that might be specific to myself, and to Philly, but come. Hang out. Be with our people. One of us! One of us! You too can be in lacrosse heaven.