Lace up your cleats and string up the pocket on your stick because the Oro Valley Lacrosse Club’s fifth annual Holiday Classic is coming to Naranja Park this Saturday, Jan. 11.
This year’s lacrosse tournament features match-ups ranging from boys programs, 10U through 14U from Tucson, Oro Valley, Mesa, Awatukee, Phoenix and others. There will also be a girls youth scrimmage and several high school matchups from both Amphitheater Public School District and Tucson Unified School District.
“It’s a great opportunity for families who have never been involved with lacrosse to get a sense of how the game is played,” said Don McGann, coach and board member of the Oro Valley Lacrosse Club. “Almost universally we’ll have parents say ‘Boy, I wish I would have known about (lacrosse) or had the opportunity to play when I was a kid.’”
While the sport of lacrosse may not be as well known this side of the Rockies as football or soccer, it is definitely gaining momentum in the southwest each year, McGann said.
“(Lacrosse) had traditionally been an east-coast sport but its spreading west,” he said. “And with it, a whole bunch of states like Arizona, California, Texas and Colorado are becoming hotbeds for lacrosse.”
The tournament will also have food trucks and plenty of sunshine, according to Doug Charters, girls coach for the Oro Valley Lacrosse Club.
“This is a preseason tournament, so you’re going to see kids with varied levels of abilities,” Charters said. “It’s going to be tons of fun with lacrosse being played in the beautiful Tucson weather.”
Charters, a former Division I football player for the Air Force Academy, admits a few years ago he didn’t know about lacrosse. His brother invited the family to watch his son’s lacrosse practice. Coming from a football family, Charters said he was a little confused as to why his nephew wasn’t mixing it up with the old pigskin.
“I looked at (my brother) and said, 'What the heck?! Why isn’t he playing football,’” Charters said. “He told me about how the concussion risk is big these days and lacrosse lessens the risk, but doesn’t eliminate it.”
In Charters’ view, lacrosse is a perfect cross-training sport for youth athletes to develop new skills in their sport’s off-season while staying fit.
“The kids get more hand-eye coordination, lots more running and conditioning. It’s an awesome complement to their main sport,” he said. “We’ve had lacrosse players become better football players, better baseball players because lacrosse is such a multi-discipline sport.”
Bill Lynch, coach for the Ahwatukee lacrosse youth team, said the biggest issue facing lacrosse these days isn’t getting young kids to play, but getting parents to expose their children to lacrosse, instead of playing the same sport year-round. By the time children get into high school, it's harder to get them to start playing lacrosse,” Lynch said.
“The hard part is getting kids to play at a later age because they’re already playing a year-round sport,” Lynch said. “The real key for growing the sport is getting the kids playing while they’re young.”
Lynch, who grew up in Long Island, ‘the capital of lacrosse’ as he noted, said the fields at Naranja Park are one of the main reasons he and other teams from around the state make the drive to southern Arizona for this tournament.
“Those fields are fantastic, if not the best in the state,” Lynch said of the over-seeded fields. “We take all our teams from Ahwatukee to come play on them.”
Charters also mentions how the lush, grassy fields are a big selling point when getting teams to attend the tournament.
“The Naranja Park complex is the reason why Phoenix teams come down,” Charters said. “They always complement that Naranja Park is one of the best sports playing fields in all of Arizona.”
Charters says one of the biggest reasons lacrosse is so much fun for players and parents alike is there isn’t the pressure to be the top athlete or make the game-winning play like there is with other sports.
“There’s almost a barrier because the parent doesn’t know how the game is played,” Charters said. “Its sounds negative but it’s a huge positive because (the parents) don’t get too excited about a missed call and just care that their kid is having fun.”
According to Charters, when the tournament started five years ago there were only two teams and about 25 kids playing. This year, the Oro Valley Lacrosse Club expects more than 150 players from Arizona, ranging from kindergarten to high school to be apart of this year’s event.
“Our saying is ‘It’s the fastest game on two feet’,” said Charters. “We want to make it the fastest growing too.”