Lacrosse: The Big Win
24 Jun, 2011By: Juli Anne Patty
This February, Steve Stenersen, president and CEO of US Lacrosse, presented a quandary on his blog. As one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States, lacrosse has inspired numerous opportunities for young athletes, but how do parents decide which events are focused on the best interests of the players?
Stenersen's answer: "The most responsible youth lacrosse team, league and event models place the quality of experience of participants as the foundation of all decisions."
The ultimate participant experience means different things to different people, from a high level of competition and exposure to an exciting, family-friendly destination, but one thing is for sure: the game is supreme. And a well-planned facility with an experienced staff is the ultimate key to putting on the best game possible for every athlete.
Fortunately, a few exceptional facilities are showing the sports world exactly what it means to take athlete experience to a new level.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Lacrosse is known as an east coast sport blazing its way westward, and Colorado Springs is the latest western city to land a big-time lacrosse event.
This April, US Lacrosse chose Colorado Springs to host its US Women's Lacrosse Collegiate Lacrosse Associates (WCLA) National Championships. The El Pomar Youth Sports Park will host the events May 9-12, 2012, and May 8-11, 2013. The WCLA is a collegiate, club-level league of nearly 200 women's teams from across the country. The teams compete in nine leagues that host roughly 4,500 players in two divisions.
El Pomar is a 58-acre facility that can accommodate 15 lacrosse fields, making it easy for even large events to host all of their games in one location. Home to more than 45 national sports organizations including over 20 National Governing Bodies (NGBs), the city of Colorado Springs has serious sports cred and experience putting on events that exceed expectations. With more than 13,500 hotel rooms in the Pikes Peak region and awe-inspiring natural attractions, Colorado Springs is more than just a sports town.
Palm Beach County, Florida
One of the problems with large tournaments is that they can require lots of travel between facilities, eating up the downtime families would like to use for rest and fun. When it comes to accommodating any size event all in one location, Palm Beach County has a site that stands out among the competition: the International Polo Club in Wellington, Florida.
Home to one of the nation's largest amateur soccer tournaments, the 2010 American Youth Soccer Organization's National Games, the International Polo Club has proven its ability to host world-class events of any size and to do it well. The club offers 60 acres of tournament-quality field space that can host up to 50 lacrosse fields in one location.
"The ability to put so many fields in one convenient place is not easily duplicated, and we're so fortunate that the International Polo Club is a great partner of the Sports Commission," says George Linley, executive director, Palm Beach Sports Commission. "They offered their venue, and that was one of the primary reasons we won the event."
Palm Beach County has an average temperature of 76 degrees, more than 16,000 hotel rooms in over 200 hotels/resorts, and 47 miles of some of America's most beautiful beaches. It has a strong lacrosse background, too, serving as the host of one of the sport's hottest springtime events, GKD Sports Vision's Spring Fling, for the past seven years.
First formed in 1997, Spring Fling draws NCAA, prep school and high school teams to Palm Beach County, playing all games since 2007 at Lake Lytal Park, a 70-plus acre multipurpose facility in West Palm Beach.
The ideal location for year-round lacrosse events, Palm Beach County also hosted the Florida Club Lacrosse Championships this January. The event took place at Jupiter Community Park, a multipurpose park featuring eight lighted multi-purpose fields.
"One of the first things event owners look for is an appropriate venue, and we definitely have a diversity of venues that could perfectly suit lacrosse events of any all size," says Linley. "We also have service on our side. Palm Beach County has over 50,000 people employed in the tourism and hospitality industry, we're all here to serve."
Montgomery County, Maryland
US Lacrosse, the sport's NBG, makes its home in Baltimore, Maryland, so it's no surprise the state is also home to some exceptional lacrosse facilities. Montgomery County, located just northwest of Washington D.C. and within easy reach of all three of the area's airports, is a location with logistics clearly on its side.
Trish Heffelfinger is executive director of the Maryland Soccer Foundation, which operates the Maryland SoccerPlex, one of the East Coast's feature lacrosse destinations.
"I think lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in our area," says Heffelfinger. "Maryland has always been a hotbed of lacrosse at the collegiate level and in the Baltimore/Anne Arundel County area. The sport really took off when Montgomery County Public Schools added it as a high school sport."
In 2007/2008, the Maryland SoccerPlex built three synthetic turf fields to accommodate that growth. The SoccerPlex is home to two prominent girls lacrosse tournaments: the Club National and Nation's Capital Cup.
"The Maryland SoccerPlex offers some fabulous fields, and they're attracting more and more tournaments all the time," says Kelly Groff, executive director, Conference & Visitors Bureau of Montgomery County, Maryland, Inc.
Groff and her team partner with the SoccerPlex to offer a free online housing reservation system to ensure that teams get the best housing prices possible. It's a considerable task for just these two lacrosse tournaments alone: 2,700 room nights for the Nation's and 2,800 nights for Club National.
"Montgomery County attracts tournaments because they like our facilities, and we're also strategically located next to D.C, so families can make a vacation out of the trip," says Groff. "They can even take the Metro line directly into the capital."
Places to Play in Pennsylvania
Right next door to Maryland is Pennsylvania, and 12 miles east of Pittsburgh is the suburb of Monroeville. Monroeville offers visitors proximity to the sights and amenities of the city, along with the convenience and charm of a small historic community. From amusement parks to water slides to children's museums, Pittsburgh and the Laurel Highlands offer all kinds of family fun all year round, and Monroeville is right in the middle of it. The region is known as one of the world's most livable communities, and it's also vying to be one of the nation's favorite places to play lacrosse.
The Pittsburgh Indoor Sports Arena offers the area's premier home for soccer, football and lacrosse events. With a 210-by-150-foot open field and 200 by 80-foot "Dasher fields," as well as event-friendly features like concessions and ample on-site parking, this indoor facility provides year-round play.
The Hershey/Harrisburg region might be famous as the epicenter of America's chocolate world, but this is a region that values its sports just as much as its sweets, and lacrosse has a central role in the area's action. The region is also home to "the sweetest tourney in the world," the Hershey Laxfest. Located in the heart of Hershey, the two-day tournament makes use of two of the city's premier turf stadiums as well as several grass fields. Hershey United Youth Lacrosse sponsors the event, which brings together teams from across the U.S. and Canada each July.
New York's Newest Sport
"Lacrosse is really starting to boom in the Northeast, and we're happy to be in the center of that growth," says Jennifer Rothman, sales manager, Long Island Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Easily accessible to New York City and all of the Northeast's major population centers, Long Island has a rich history of hosting major, regional and local sporting events, along with a variety of excellent venues. Lacrosse finds a home on the fields of Long Island's three universities: Hofstra University, C.W. Post and Stony Brook University. The Mitchel Athletic Complex, a multi-purpose turf stadium that seats 10,000, also offers an outstanding championship venue for lacrosse events.
Lacrosse organizations are taking notice of Long Island's attributes, bringing a number of elite events to town, including the NCAA Division I Men's Quarterfinal Lacrosse, which comes to Hofstra University every year; the NCAA Division I Women's Lacrosse Championship, which will play at Stony Brook University in 2011 and 2012; and the US Lacrosse -Women's Divisional National Tournament, also at Stony Brook University.
Binghamton, New York has a trifecta of private, collegiate and public lacrosse facilities. At the Greater Binghamton Sports Complex, lacrosse finds a year-round home in America's largest dome. Binghamton's high schools also offer high quality turf fields perfect for smaller tournaments or championship play. Binghamton University also serves as one of the city's primary lacrosse locations, with a state-of-the-art soccer/lacrosse complex that opened in 2007.
The Binghamton University Complex offers two 120 x 75 yard synthetic fields, one with a seating capacity of 2,534 and the other 1,000. Binghamton University hosted one of lacrosse's most celebrated events, the 2003 US Lacrosse Festival, bringing together more than 90 teams and 2,000 lacrosse players for three days of non-tournament youth lacrosse. Binghamton University has also hosted the Empire State Games, which includes a scholastic lacrosse division, and the city is working on a bid to host the New York State Public High School Lacrosse State Championships, which would also be played at Binghamton University.
"Greater Binghamton has hosted several lacrosse events through the years: US Lacrosse, John Mack Memorial Lacrosse Tournament and the Empire State Games," says Judi Hess, tourism and special events manager, Greater Binghamton Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Lacrosse is a sport that is still growing in popularity."
San Mateo County/Silicon Valley, California
Good neighbors can be priceless, especially if they have outstanding sports facilities. This county that has dubbed itself "the best of the San Francisco Bay Area" is exactly the kind of sports destination you hope to find.
Partnering with the stellar facilities at Stanford University has given San Mateo County a serious spotlight in the sports world, and the San Mateo County/Silicon Valley CVB also works closely with the San Francisco Department of Parks and Recreation, which oversees more than 200 venues, a relationship that gives event owners access to remarkable sports facilities like the ones in historical Golden Gate Park.
"We have over 50 lacrosse fields in our county," says Angelina Preza, director of sales, San Mateo County/Silicon Valley CVB.
The destination represents 20 vibrant towns near San Francisco, down the Peninsula to Palo Alto and Stanford University to the Pacific coast's stunning coastlines. The San Francisco Airport provides easy access to the region's million-plus square feet of sports facilities, 200 hotels and 18,000 hotel rooms. World-class regional cuisine, shopping, and dining make it a perfect playcation, where participants and families come for the event and stay to vacation.
San Mateo County is new to the youth lacrosse game but comes with a host of experience from Stanford's formidable lacrosse teams and staff. Local youth lacrosse is growing in San Mateo County, which makes it a prime candidate for event owners looking for a fresh lacrosse location.
Its sports market has grown so rapidly, in fact, that it is launching a new Sports Authority to accommodate the growth.
"We've hit critical mass, and we have large county-wide events that include lacrosse," says Preza. "Our Sports Authority will allow us to grow even more, with new funding to pursue new lacrosse events."