Two pro teams — Colorado Mammoth and Denver Outlaws — fill the calendar back to back from January through August. Kids are learning to play as young as 5; and in the spring, both boys’ and girls’ teams dominate fields at high schools and recreation parks around the state. Avid players from grade-schoolers to grandpas play club lacrosse year-round.
“There are lacrosse teams everywhere you go,” said Cody Lewis, an employee at Lax World, the only lacrosse-specific retail store west of the Mississippi at 760 S. Colorado Blvd (laxworld.com). “I’d say the sport has grown 70-80 percent here in the last four years.”
Actually, this stick-and-ball game has been around for centuries. Native Americans on the East Coast and in Canada played it as part of a spiritual ritual. In French, la crosse means “the stick,” a name coined by a French Jesuit missionary when he saw Iroquois playing in 1637. The East Coast largely owned the sport until it started spreading west in the last half of the 20th century.
The most prestigious lacrosse event in the country happens right here in Colorado during a nine-day event the last week of June and first few days of July. The annual Vail Lacrosse Shootout Presented by Harrow is in its 39th year, and the event brings the best lacrosse players around the nation to Colorado’s high country.
“This is the granddaddy of all summer events,” writes tournament co-founder Flip Naumburg in his blog. “It has not diminished in stature one bit, not ever.”
Naumburg and Greenwood Village attorney Jim Soran founded the tournament in Aspen in 1973 and moved it to Vail in 1979. It has grown from a men’s only tournament to one that includes high school boys and girls, college men and women and clubs, and men’s Masters, Supermasters and Grandmasters (that would be the grandpas). There’s even an abbreviated 3-on-3 version called “Chumash” for second- through eighth-graders, a game invented by Naumburg in 1995. Every year, some 12,000 fans line four fields in Vail, Edwards and Avon to watch this exciting sport.
“Over the years, some of the world’s best lacrosse players have played in the Vail Shootout,” said Connie Streich, tournament assistant. “The organizers are businessmen who manage to fit it into their lives. They do it just for the love of the game.”
The fastest-growing division is the Under 19 High School Girls and Boys. Last year, my grandson, a freshman at Creighton Prep in Omaha, was chosen to play on Team Nebraska. At age 14, J. D. was the youngest and smallest guy on the team made up of high school boys from around that state. Creighton Prep won Nebraska’s state championship last season, so he got a taste for being on the winning side.
“I thought I was good until we played the Baltimore Crabs,” J. D. said. “Those East Coast teams are good.” The Crabs beat Team Nebraska and went on to win the high school division, their fifth top prize in a row.
“The East Coast still dominates the sport,” said Team Nebraska Coach Rob Mazanec. “But Denver, Texas and California are closing in. East Coast ball is different from West Coast or even Denver. Speed, athleticism, strength, agility — all are different. Our team will learn from all this (the Vail tournament). It’s a good measuring stick of where we’ve been and how far we’ve come.”
“That’s a comment we hear a lot,” said Streich. “Even though the Mid-Atlantic states are the hot bed for lacrosse, we strive for our tournament to be a showcase of every geographic region.”
The high school division has the greatest diversity of teams. This year, the girls have the most teams — 24 — while the boys come in at 20.
To watch top-notch lacrosse, get to one of the Men’s Elite games on the final three days. Here you’ll see some of the best players in the country, including a few pros. There is no admission charge, and you can pick up a shootout program at each of the venues.
2011 Vail Lacrosse Shootout Dates and Locations
Under 19 High School: June 27-30
Boys — Nottingham Park in Avon; championship game at Ford Park in Vail
Girls — Freedom Park in Edwards
Elite (collegiate, post collegiate and club teams): June 30-July 3
Men’s — Freedom Park in Edwards and Ford Park in Vail
Women’s — Freedom Park in Edwards
Men’s Masters (age 30+): June 25-27
Vail Athletic Field and Freedom Park in Edwards
Men’s Supermasters (age 40+): June 25-28
Ford Park and Donovan Park (West Vail)
Men’s Grandmasters (age 50+): June 25-27
Ford Park and Donovan Park (West Vail)
Chumash (second-eighth grades): June 25-26
For more information, go to vaillacrosse.com or coloradolacrosse.org.