Vail Lacrosse Shootout in town for 44th straight year
VAIL — The 44th annual Vail Lacrosse Shootout is underway, bringing as many memories with it as players involved.
The nine-day event started Saturday with masters play at Ford Park, and will continue through Sunday, wrapping up with elite male and female divisions.
Colorado has established itself as a powerhouse in the world of lacrosse during the past decade or so, with the Colorado Mammoth professional team winning the championship in 2006, Colorado hosting the World Lacrosse Championships — a once-every-four-years event — in 2014 and the University of Denver lacrosse team winning the NCAA national championships in 2015.
Along the way, however, the Vail Lacrosse Shootout has also played a big role in the establishment of the sport’s prowess in this state, said longtime tournament attendee Chris Gabrielsen.
“Back in the day you didn’t have professional outdoor lacrosse, just professional indoor, so all the guys who played professional indoor also played out here,” Gabrielsen said from Vail on Friday. “This was where you came. This was it.”
Gabrielsen said the tournament has maintained its charm throughout time, which is why the “lacrosse mafia,” as he calls it, continues to visit Vail every summer to enjoy the tournament.
“A lot of us here are Wall Streeters and we talk about business during the tournament,” he said. “I’ve hired guys from this tournament, I’ve been hired myself from this tournament, you talk about networking, you can go on LinkedIn all you want, there’s nothing like Vail.”
LACROSSE SEASON IN VAIL
The shootout has helped transform the town into a lacrosse town not only while it is here, but throughout the spring and summer. Its success has spurred other tournaments to try Vail as a venue, and those tournaments have found success, as well.
On Wednesday, the 21st Annual Vail Lacrosse Tournament wrapped up after bringing approximately 100 youth teams to Vail from across the nation. The Vail Lacrosse Tournament added two new age groups to the sixth- and seventh-grade boys’ divisions this year and expanded the high school boys’ division.
Tournament director Kristen Foster said it has been amazing to see kids learn and grow through the sport.
“It’s such a positive experience for everyone,” she said. “Plus, when they’re not playing, they’re exploring Vail with families and taking in the beauty of the valley.”
NCAA coaches from Princeton, Cornell, Michigan, Colorado College and Whittier were also in town during the Vail Lacrosse Tournament to see players and give them their input.
“Kids are getting scholarships to play at Drexel and Penn and Princeton and Harvard — these are great schools,” Gabrielsen said. “You can go down the rosters now and there are kids from Colorado on almost every single team.”
The Vail Valley Lacrosse Club started recently to accommodate the local interest in the sport. Three years ago, when the club hired athletic director Chris Bivona, there were no coaches on staff. Today, there are 23.
“Athlete involvement has increased every year, as well,” Bivona said. “We’re up to three boys’ teams in a single grade, and girls’ participation has increased from basically no girls athletes when I started to now having one-fourth of our athletes being girls.”
HONORING LAX LOVERS
Jim Small arrived in Colorado on Friday with one objective: to play lacrosse. The 60-year-old traveled alone from St. Mary’s County, Maryland, and played in three games in the Grandmasters (50 and older) and Zenmasters (60 and older) divisions on Saturday.
“Usually, I’ll fish a little to get acclimated to the elevation, but this year I went straight for the field,” he said.
He’s been playing in the tournament off and on for the last 20 years or so.
“I started playing when I was in ninth grade,” he said. “And still play as much as I can.”
The sport is a lifelong sport, and last year Doug Foster of the Princeton team played it here in Vail at the Lacrosse Shootout a few short days before he died in a tragic boating accident. Chris Gabrielsen knew him well; the two played on the Princeton team together at the shootout last year.
“He moved to Oregon and started coaching kids, and the parents loved this guy so much and wanted to learn, so he started coaching parents, too,” Gabrielsen said. “Now, five years later, they’re also on our team.”
Gabrielsen said the Princeton team has, for years, used the Vail Lacrosse Shootout as a way of honoring those they knew who enjoyed the game and are no longer with us.
“We also play for the Bobby Campbell Lacrosse Foundation, and Bill Cirullo,” he said. “Bill used to come out here every year; he died of cancer this spring.”
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