Fast-paced game has also seen fast growth | VailDaily.com

Fast-paced game has also seen fast growth

VAIL — The sport of lacrosse has come a long way in Colorado. That's evidenced especially well here Eagle County.

As the 43rd-annual Vail Lacrosse Shootout came to a close on Sunday, it wrapped up six weeks of local lacrosse tournaments, starting with the Vail Valley Lacrosse Club's tournament that takes place during the second half of May, followed by the Vail Lacrosse Tournament youth competition and finally the Vail Lacrosse Shootout, which just added the zenmasters division this year for players 60 and older.

'THINKING PERSON'S GAME'

Rick Stevens, of Basalt, has played in the nearly all of the 43 Lacrosse Shootout tournaments; he played in the zenmasters division this year and has watched the sport grow in Colorado since the '70s.

"It appeals to a lot of people because it's a fast-paced game and a thinking person's game," Stevens said. "There's a lot of strategy involved."

Stevens points to larger factors than tournaments like the Vail Lacrosse Shootout for the sport's growth in the state. Going back to the '70s, it was West Point graduates with a love of the game who relocated to Fort Carson after graduation, big companies moving offices from New York to Denver and the players themselves heading west and teaching the sport to the next generation that really helped foster the sport's growth in the Centennial State, Stevens said.

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Some culminating moments have recently occurred to solidify the state's placement in lacrosse's history books. In 2014, Commerce City hosted the World Lacrosse Championships, in which 38 nations visited Colorado to play lacrosse. And in May, Denver University became the first school west of the Mississippi to win a NCAA lacrosse championship.

Locally, there are now three high school lacrosse teams. Battle Mountain High School has made the Elite 8 in Class 4A the past two years in a row. The Vail Valley Lacrosse Club, after starting with 15 to 20 kids in 1999, is now approaching 400 members.

"WECMRD is doing a really great job getting the second- and third-graders started with smart start lacrosse programs," said local lacrosse coach Mike Miner. "And now the Vail Valley Lacrosse Club is dabbling in U-9, U-10 and U-11 divisions."

LOVE OF THE SPORT

Miner helped start the Vail Valley Lacrosse Club by posting notices in the Vail Daily, encouraging parents to drop of kids at St. Clare of Assisi Catholic School in Edwards on Wednesday nights.

"We said you didn't need equipment or any knowledge of the game. We were going to teach you everything," Miner said. "We had 16 to 18 kids show up. By the second year, we had 30 kids and we had to ask for help from the Avon Rec District."

Miner's goal at the time was to introduce lacrosse to enough kids that there would be a high school program by the time his kids got to high school. He didn't actually have any kids at the time he made that goal.

"I ended up having kids in 2003 and 2004, and by 2008 there was already a high school program in place," he said. "So it was well far ahead of what we even thought was possible."

These days, it's as common to see a kid walking the streets of Eagle Ranch holding a lacrosse stick as it was to see a kid with a baseball glove in 1950's America. Miner says in addition to all the local programs offering lacrosse to kids, towns like Eagle have helped grow the sport by putting lacrosse cages in local pocket parks.

Miner, who grew up playing lacrosse in Long Island, New York, helped foster a love of the sport in 14-year-old Joseph Hall and his brother Jeffrey, 11, Eagle kids who came out to watch the final matchup at the Vail Lacrosse Shootout on Sunday. Their mom, Eileen Hall, said when she had kids, she would have never expected lacrosse to be among their favorite sports.

"I was a basketball player, softball player, swimmer, but lacrosse was all new to me," she said.

Rain soaked, the Halls waited out the delays Sunday to see the final moments of the Vail Lacrosse Shootout.

"This is the match we came to see," Eileen Hall said.