A stick, a basket and a ball equals an addiction | VailDaily.com

A stick, a basket and a ball equals an addiction

Shauna Farnell
Preston Utley/putley@vaildaily.com Team Future Elite cheers to get pumped up before winning Sunday's game against Lake Shore, 16-1, during the high school portion of the 2005 Vail Lacrosse Shootout. Girls lacrosse has grown in popularity in the tournament. Last year, 14 girls teams entered the Shootout compared to 22 this year. Lacrosse is the fastest-growing sport in America and Colorado now claims 35 CHSAA-sanctioned girls teams and 42 boys teams.

During my first Lacrosse Shootout 13 years ago, Vail seemed an unlikely venue for North America’s largest tournament in a sport that, at the time, was virtually unrecognized in Colorado. Sure, there were teams from Canada, England, and every notable college and university from the East Coast, all sucking wind at 8,000 feet against a handful of players and teams who, if not matching up skill-wise, at least were one-up on their opponents in lung capacity. And pioneers of what has become the fastest growing sport in America and now claims 42 sanctioned Colorado high school boys teams and 35 girls teams were steadily making their mark.Allegedly started hundreds of years ago by native Americans, lacrosse has been regarded by those who keep tabs as North America’s longest-standing sport.I learned to play during the spring of 1992 as a freshman in high school. My team, then Columbine-Chatfield, consisted of players from five different Front Range high schools. We were just a club, struggling for money, a committed coach and support of any kind. The one thing we had was interest in the sport. There was just something about the hand-eye coordination required to pass and catch a tiny rubber ball while running at top speed down a grass field against the force of gravity and the aim of opponents’ well-placed blows that held an allure unmatched by other sports. Regardless of the fact that our school athletic director wouldn’t allow us to post flyers for our games for fear it might draw spectators away from other, sanctioned spring sports, our passion remained unshaken. Yes, lacrosse was a bit renegade at that time, and nothing spoke to the sport’s obscurity like the reaction we had wandering through Vail Village with our lacrosse sticks that summer of ’92.

“Hey, are those butterfly catchers?” people would ask us.”You goin’ fishing?” Others wanted to know.The only mountain town with a girls’ team to compete on the high school level back then was Steamboat Springs, and the few athletes interested enough to play – carpooling to the Front Range once or twice a week – even consisted of one boy.

In order to jump-start our wisdom of the sport, my high school coach would sit us in front of NBA games and point out similarities between basketball and women’s lacrosse: For starters, both begin with a faceoff wherein the two centers leap for the ball and the team that gains possession looks quickly for the pass among his/her teammates, which are strategically dispersed downcourt/downfield.So, having a season of playing behind me at the age of 14, I witnessed my first Vail Lacrosse Shootout, a tournament whose roots sprouted before I did in the 1970s. Now, the University of Denver, Regis College and Colorado College all claim NCAA-sanctioned teams, and many of the state’s university club teams, like Colorado State University’s (Class of ’99 – go Rams!), are coming closer and closer to going varsity. There are even several fledgling teams emerging in ski towns, with boys’ and girls’ programs in the Vail Valley gaining participants exponentially every season. Colorado is now home to its own professional indoor men’s team, and lacrosse is making headway in Europe. Last summer, I competed on a team from the Czech Republic, one of eight European countries represented in an annual tournament in Berlin.

There is an athletic prowess at work in the game of lacrosse that is worth anyone’s analysis. For the next week, the Vail Shootout will display some of the best men’s and women’s teams from throughout the country. Let curiosity get the better of you and stop to watch for a minute. You might get hooked.Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or sfarnell@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado

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