Note: The next session of the South Jersey Boys Box Lacrosse League will begin later this month in Mt. Laurel and Cherry Hill, SJBBLL hopes to expand the age groups into the 14 and up age range, allowing older players that opportunity to experience the Canadian game. Games are played Saturdays and Sundays for various age teams and offer a unique indoor training opportunity for the winter months. For more information visit their website at www.sjbbll.com
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 10/17/14
From the SJBBLL
The road to Denver was littered with tell tale signs that US supremacy in the game of Lacrosse was being challenged. Only two years prior in Denver the Canadians had beaten the assembled US squad in an international friendly. How did a country one tenth the size of the US command an impressive win over an elite US squad?
According to Brodie Merrill, it came from their blue collar upbringing in Box Lacrosse. Box Lacrosse is the traditional format of the game as it is played in Canada. Local youth programs gather at their local hockey rinks rather than outdoor fields to practice and play, there isn’t much thought to whether it is the correct, or the “right way” to play, it is just how it is done.
The game took on many of the traits of the most popular of Canadian sports while ice hockey rinks were dormant for the summer months. So from the rough and tumble, the tic-tac-toe passing, and the padded goal keepers, the game inherited a distinct flavor of hockey while there was no ice. In the US, box lacrosse is often misunderstood or mischaracterized by those that aren’t familiar with it.
Twenty Five years ago the influence of Canadian players here in the US was heralded by the twins from Esquimalt Legion British Columbia, Paul and Gary Gait redefined the game during their years at Syracuse University, breaking records and displaying a unique style of passing, shooting, and teamwork. Since that time the game has grown exponentially adding thousands of players a year to its ranks taking sticks and helmets out on the fields in the spring and into the fall. The indoor or Box game has remained for the most part a winter pastime while the weather prevents the outdoor game from being played.
More recently the success of Canadian players in the college and professional ranks has sparked interest in the box game, players and coaches looking to develop some of the high level skills seen on display from players developed in the indoor game. For one local coach, that meant starting an entire new league for kids to play lacrosse.
Kurt Loescher had been a coach of field lacrosse teams in the South Jersey area, but as the winter months got closer last year, he decided to do something different; “I had played some box lacrosse in the past, I could see the difference it made in how players applied their skills. I saw the physicality as a training benefit, to handle the ball under pressure; I wanted to give my players that opportunity to experience that style of play.”
Within a few weeks he went about building a league based on the Canadian format for lacrosse, he started with the book, the Canadian Lacrosse Association Rules of Play. There were things in it that were strange to most local lacrosse players, three periods of play, no off sides, and goalies outfitted head to toe in hockey style pads.
“I found some contacts up in Ontario, and bought all their extra goalie gear, driving up to Canada on weekend and stuffing my sedan full of all the pads I could fit into it,” he said.
He went looking for a home, and found spaces that allowed the game to be played within a hockey rink or a “box”, “Renting the floors at a couple different facilities was a big step, I didn’t want to bite off more than I could handle, and starting a brand new program is always a risk.”
As the kickoff approached he also found players willing to try something different, Washington Township, Egg Harbor, Marlton, Haddonfield, and a Travel team; Black Storm and the Crease Monkeys were some of the league’s first participants. The first session came together and from all indications was a great success. The teams competed under the South Jersey Boys Box Lacrosse League
The capstone event coming in the league championship between the Monkeys and Washington Township. “We put everything we could into making it a great experience for the kids, making them the focus of the event, from the names on their jerseys, to a having the finals called by an announcer and taped by friends at Access Lacrosse. The kids are the focus and we don’t want to forget that.”
During last year’s second session, the group caught the attention of a team from Montreal Canada, the Paragon Phoenix Lacrosse program reached out to SJBBLL and offered to play them in exhibition. Teams from four age groups traveled to South Jersey last winter to play the locals. After an 8 hour ride the experienced Canadian players were ready to showcase their game to the Americans new to this format of lacrosse.
The results were mixed, at younger ages, the pace of development dictated the outcome in fairly matched contests, but as the players advanced in age the skills of the experienced players were too sharp to overcome. The following day the groups met again and played on the open field, and again the visiting players showed what their training had accomplished, passing catching, shooting and teamwork that shined in the indoor game or in the open field.
Coach Loescher acknowledges the games are distinctly different in many ways but see the success that box has in building skills, “I let the kids go up against some experienced players, not just to challenge them to go to the next level, but to show them that there is a “next level” of skill in the game, you have to balance tough challenges with achievable goals when bringing youth into something totally new.”
The playbook from the spring isn’t going to help win games indoors; differences between the two games are also a challenge for coaches. The strategies are completely different. Open field dodgers meet stiff resistance to the goal, teamwork is emphasized to an extreme, and the offense becomes a true attacking force to get into tight spaces and deliver accurate shots.
The subtle nuances also are a change for officials, many rules procedures are completely different in box lacrosse, and the group has brought experience in that area from Canada as well. “We are growing the game in every aspect, we have training sessions for officials, teaching them the CLA standards and rules, we want the real box game experience so we stay true to the established standards and don’t try to change it, as soon as you make changes, the players fall back to the skills they already have, we want them to learn new skills, the ones that are proven to be successful.”
The program is run as a member club of the Amateur Athletic Association, the national sports association that promotes any sport from Tae Kwon Do, to Ice Hockey. “We have gotten great support from AAU. As a Coach and administrator I have a responsibility to make things as safe as possible, the standards for safe sports are getting higher every year, AAU allows us to play box lacrosse and teach the skills that work in the indoor game. It also gives us networking opportunities with programs out of the area that want to play box lacrosse too. We have contacts in the Washington area as well as upstate New York that are eager to exchange travel and tournament opportunities with our program.”