Graphic: Jeremy Garcia
Former Colorado Mammoth President Steve Govett once described the American box lacrosse landscape as the “Wild West”.
“There are groups basically just doing whatever the heck they want, whether they know what they’re doing or not,” he said. “It’s shocking really.”
Established in 2010 by current University of Denver Associate Head Coach Matt Brown and former National Lacrosse League veteran defenseman Shaydon Santos, the US Box Lacrosse Association has attempted to clean up the country’s reckless renegade box lacrosse reputation in recent years.
With nearly 14,000 members across over 30 states playing USBOXLA-sanctioned lacrosse, American youth are no longer shying away from rinks, they’re filling them.
“I think one big thing USBOXLA has done is put some real structure behind the game,” said Govett, whose Mammoth youth program joined USBOXLA a few winters back. “They’re giving proper instruction, real rules, and a platform for groups across the US to teach and grow the sport properly. I see really good things happening in the future.”
So does Gary DeCock, whose PGHBOXLAX organization has become an official USBOXLA member. The group will be the city’s first fully sanctioned member offering local youth real box lacrosse.
“I want to make sure what we provide our players moving forward is authentic,” said DeCock. “We want to ensure our players are learning the game properly, but also doing it in a safe and structured environment. USBOXLA gives us the ability to do that.”
By becoming a USBOXLA member, the club’s coaches and officials will receive valuable training, guidance and support, ensuring their athletes are being instructed and officiated by individuals with an informed box lacrosse foundation.
“When a club joins USBOXLA and their players become members, there is much more than simply insurance coverage that they receive,” said Santos, who grew up playing lacrosse in Whitby, Ontario, now living in Santa Cruz, California and managing the prestigious Cali*Lax ALL-STARS program. “The education we provide our coaches and referees has a direct impact on the players and the quality of box lacrosse they are taught.
“Most importantly, they’re able to do that within an ultra-safe playing environment enforced by rules specifically designed for today’s American lacrosse player.”
Like Santos, PGHBOXLAX coach Mark Burnett grew up playing the sport in Whitby rinks, and feels Pittsburgh youth will prosper playing within the USBOXLA model.
“Growing up and playing in Canada, I’ve seen and benefited from that structured and unified system in place there,” said Burnett, who after attending Mars Hill University was drafted by the NLL’s Toronto Rock in 2011. “USBOXLA is using a similar education and training model for coaches and officials, which optimizes the playing experience and learning curve for athletes.
“I think it’s great and was really needed in the US if the game had any hope of growing.”
The formula for box lacrosse in the US previous to USBOXLA forming in 2010, simply did not work. Unaffiliated groups, usually led by individuals with little to no box lacrosse experience, instructed American youth a version of the game that barely resembled real box lacrosse. Instead of players learning the sport properly and then transitioning those skills to the field game, they were often getting injured, picking up poor habits, and ultimately leaving the game altogether.
“The American market really needs to understand that there’s more to box lacrosse than just renting a rink or including a Canadian flag in their marketing,” said Brown, who like Santos and Burnett, grew up playing box lacrosse north of the border. “There’s an entire game behind it and USBOXLA is here to help these clubs move the sport towards how we grew up playing it in Canada.”
Burnett can’t wait to further educate PGHBOXLAX players on the game. “Box lacrosse naturally makes players better,” said Burnett. “You have higher reps, less space, and increased decision making on both the offensive and defensive end.
“Box can change your view of the game, whether it be the concept of what being open is, the importance of anticipation and accuracy over power, or what a fast-paced and up-tempo style looks like.”
PGHBOXLAX will start with middle school and high school leagues in September/October and will offer two additional league sessions scheduled for November/December and January/February. All PGHBOXLAX league sessions will be open to individual players and to school teams. League games will be held at the Iceoplex at Southpointe, the former long-time practice facility of the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins. For more information visit PGHBOXLAX.com.