When I moved to New York City, there was some post-collegiate lacrosse to be played, but not nearly enough. Within a year or two of my move to the City, a ULAX lacrosse league popped up, and then another popped up, and I started playing right near the beginning of ULAX’s time in the Big Apple. When the fall league wasn’t enough, they added a summer league. When that wasn’t enough, a spring league was added on too. When I wanted to start a box league in NYC, ULAX answered the bell!
ULAX has consistently provided an outlet to play the game, and if you don’t know about these guys yet, you will soon! Any ULAX lacrosse league will provide a good time, and since the early days, Neema Kassaii and Tim Leonard have been growning ULAX into an adult lacrosse league monster, with teams and leagues in over 40 different cities, 25 different states, and two countries. It’s beyond one area or region now for ULAX… they’re international!
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I got to check in with Neema and Tim, and pose some questions to these guys about their league, what it was like getting started, and where ULAX is headed in the future. (Find more ULAX videos here.)
Interview with the Founders of ULAX Lacrosse Leagues
Connor Wilson: I’ve played in ULAX leagues in NYC since near the beginning, but how long have you been running ULAX, where did it start, and when did NYC come into the picture?
Neema Kassaii: That’s right – you’ve been a great supporter of the organization ever since we launched in NYC back in 2007. It was great that we even had an opportunity to work together to organize our very first box league. ULAX was first started in Boulder, CO in 2005 when my business partner/college teammate, Tim Leonard, and I were playing for the University of Colorado – Boulder.
Tim Leonard: That’s right, Neema and I first met playing at Colorado and, of course, we met on the playing field. The idea for ULAX happened shortly after my third year playing for the team. As Neema mentioned above, we started in Boulder, CO in 2005, and Neema took the reigns on getting the NYC league going back in 2007.
CW: Why did you start ULAX in the first place? What need were you trying to fill?
NK: We knew that quite a few laxers on campus at CU weren’t coming out for our team and we realized they didn’t have any other outlet to lax. Tim was a senior so his playing days were coming to an end; and I was always looking for more opportunities to take shots in cage. Honestly, when we first started, it was more of a way for us both (and a bunch of our teammates) to get out and lax with buddies outside of the club team. We ran the first league on a middle school right across from the CU campus. We had around six teams with over 100 players.
TL: Yeah, looking back, as I was a year ahead of Neema in school, it was evident to me that it was time to start thinking more about the next step in life, work, and career, but I wasn’t ready to stop playing the game. It had been fifteen years of dedicating myself to the sport and I loved every moment of it, so the questions started around my senior year in college. I wanted to find a low commitment option so that I could focus on my studies and career path, but still play lacrosse at least once a week. After searching for a local league in Boulder I was surprised to find that there was nothing available, so this is when the concept for ULAX initially started.
CW: What makes your leagues so legitimate?
NK: Organization and efficiency. Everything is run/organized through our website – league registration, rosters, game results, standings etc. In addition, many ULAXers in our leagues throughout the country have praised us for our efforts in ensuring that everything runs smoothly each week.
TL: I think the great thing about our leagues is the attention to detail. We understand that lacrosse is about being with friends, getting exercise, and all that, but it’s also about the experiences. People who play the game can distinctly remember moments throughout their career when they did something or saw something incredible on the field. We acknowledge this and try our best to create these experiences for our players.
Another unique thing about ULAX is that anyone who is 18 and older is able to join. There are no try-outs and we don’t cut players. This is a nationwide league where you can literally see beginners face off against professionals. Just last year we saw players who were in their first years of lacrosse, playing against MLL and NLL players. It’s a really cool opportunity even while the talent level differs from league to league.
CW: Where are your biggest leagues located? How have those cities responded to the ULAX league and brand?
NK: Our biggest, most established leagues are in Boulder, Denver, NYC, Long Island, Buffalo, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Denver and Los Angeles. These leagues typically see over 150/200 players in any given season. Not far behind are our leagues in Blacksburg (VA), Columbus (OH), Ann Arbor, Phoenix, and Houston. Based on the number of repeat players in some of these cities, it appears that they are really enjoying their experience.
TL: Yeah, what he said!
CW: Where are your newer leagues located? Which of these newest leagues is really taking off right away?
NK: We recently launched new leagues in Seattle, San Diego and re-launched in San Francisco. We saw four solid teams in Seattle this past fall with over 80 players and are expecting that particular league to grow this coming summer when we host our inaugural summer league in Seattle. Players in our current winter leagues in San Diego and San Francisco also seem to be really enjoying their experience so we hope to grow in each of those cities. We are also currently working on launching new leagues this spring in Austin, Dallas, Miami, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Portland, and State College.
CW: If someone wants to bring a men’s league to their area, how can they do so with ULAX?
TL: People interested in developing a league should call (313-338-3955) or email us (email@example.com). Our contact info is also posted on our website www.ULAX.org along with a lot of cool posts about our leagues and tournaments. We provide the tools and infrastructure for developing leagues. We have a great system that has worked all over the country, over the past 12 years, and we look forward to continuing to bring an affordable lacrosse outlet to many more cities and players.
CW: Are there any plans for a national championship?
NK: YES! We have run regional tourneys in NYC (Liberty Cup) and Denver (Founders Cup) over the years; and are shooting to run similar regional tourneys in Los Angeles and either Chicago (or Toronto) this coming year. The thought is to then recruit teams from our leagues around the country and the regional tourneys to compete at an annual ULAX national tournament.
CW: What does the future hold for ULAX, where do you see the organization heading in the next 5 years?
NK: We have seen quite a bit of growth in the past 5 years – we went from around 1,000 laxers in 2012 to just over 5,000 laxers in 2017. Our goal is to hit 10,000 players within the next year or two. We feel it’s a better experience for everyone involved when they’re associated with a nationwide network of lacrosse leagues. We strive to provide a similar experience across all of the leagues; and based on the feedback we’ve received from players who have played in multiple leagues throughout the country, we’ve done just that.
A cool feature we have on our site is our national leaderboard, which broadcasts stats of ULAXers throughout the country. So, for example, a player in Chicago can indirectly compete with their buddy (or arch nemesis) in Los Angeles. All of that said, if you haven’t done so already, check out our website (ULAX.org) to find a league in a city near you!
TL: We do our best to continue to bring value to all of our players. In addition, ULAX has become more and more involved in helping local non-profits within the cities where we operate. We have a strong belief in supporting organizations that are bringing lacrosse to low income areas. In the end, we operate ULAX because we love the sport and we want to give back. Neema and I met on the lacrosse field, and enjoyed playing the game so much while growing up and in college, and thanks to ULAX have been able to play beyond those years. Now we’re excited to be able to provide an outlet for players around the country to continue playing the game as well.
As Neema and Tim said above, if you want to get going with a league in your area, just reach out to ULAX directly. They’ll help you get it done, keep it going in a high quality way, and keep the game growing… even for us old people!