Soccer and the World Cup have been capturing the headlines, but July is bringing another sport to the limelight, particularly in our own part of town. Denver, for the first time, is sponsoring the World Championship lacrosse games. From July 10 to 19, lacrosse teams from 38 nations will be competing at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Organizers expect more than 100,000 people will attend.
Not too many years ago, much of the public in the western United States didn’t even know what lacrosse was. The sport has grown so much in the Denver metro area that now it seems just as common to see kids carrying lacrosse sticks as footballs or basketballs. From 2003 to 2013 the number of lacrosse players in the United States grew from 301,560 to 746,859, according to U.S. Lacrosse, the national governing body for youth lacrosse. The last time the world championship was held in the United States, in 1998, just 11 nations competed, compared to this year’s 38.
The goal of the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL), which organizes the championship games, is to promote and develop the game throughout the world. The FIL assists countries that are starting up lacrosse by providing grants and its expertise to help countries get the sport off the ground. The championship games are structured in a way that allows newer teams to increase the visibility of the sport at home by competing in a world championship.
The FIL is the only international sport organization to recognize a Native American tribe at the national level. The Iroquois* were the originators of the modern day game of lacrosse, playing the sport long before the Europeans came to North America. The Iroquois team includes Zach Miller, who, playing at DU, was the No. 1 freshman in the country this past year; Brendan Bomberry, who will play at DU next year; and brothers Lyle and Miles Thompson who played for Albany and shared the Tewaaraton Trophy for the outstanding collegiate player(s) this past season.
The championship puts the six top ranked teams in a single top division—Australia, Canada, England, Iroquois, Japan, United States. Four of the six will advance to the quarterfinals.
The remaining 32 teams are not ranked but are grouped in divisions of four teams that will play each other, with teams being ranked as they play and the winner of a division having the opportunity to advance to the quarter finals.
In addition to the World Championship Games, more than 150 boys youth and men’s elite/master’s teams will participate in the World Festivals, which will be held in conjunction with the championship games at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
Growing the sport of lacrosse internationally
“Having the right people in the right places has meant lacrosse has been exposed to more people in different countries,” says Mike Elefante, coach of the Chinese team that will be coming to Denver in July.
Despite its size, population and economic power, China is one of the countries where lacrosse is just emerging. Elefante is one of the “right people in the right place” who is helping spread lacrosse in China. He is from New Jersey and played lacrosse in high school but now lives in Shanghai and works as head of operations for a chemical company that provides products used in water purifiers and the motors of wind turbines.
When Elefante arrived in China he searched the Internet for lacrosse teams there. “Everything was ‘GM introduces Buick Lacrosse in China,’” he says. Then about five years ago, a network of expat lacrosse players in Shanghai formed a men’s league and started coaching local teams, so the players didn’t just throw and catch, they were able to learn skills and strategy. The goal is to have these young people become coaches when they graduate from university, says Elefante. “The real credibility for that comes from the team that’s going to go to Denver. When these players come back, kids will say, ‘Wow, that guy played for the national team.’ That means a lot here.”
In the interest of developing the sport in China, Elefante said they decided the only North American players allowed on the team would be people who had played or coached in China, though they could have fielded a stronger team without that policy—two professional Chinese players from Canadian teams asked to be on the team. Teams are allowed a maximum of four non-passport holders, but FIL makes case-by-case exceptions for countries with developing teams that are not in contention for the championship. On the Chinese team, 16 of the 23 players are Chinese nationals.
For more information about the 2014 FIL World Championship, visit www.worldlacrosse2014.com.
*The Iroquois represent the indigenous people that occupied land in what is now New York State, southern Quebec and Ontario, Canada. The tribes formed the Six Nations Confederacy encompassing the Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Mohawk, Seneca and Tuscarora tribes. The Iroquois name for themselves, Haudenosaunee, means “People of the Longhouse.” The longhouse symbolizes a way of life where the Six Nations live under one common law, think with one mind and speak with one voice. The Iroquois people identify themselves as sovereign and independent citizens of their nation and travel internationally under their own passports.