As natural light broke through the open-air walls of The Rinks at Irvine, a sea of 160 kids from around the United States knelt and listened to some of the greatest names in the history of box lacrosse.
On Friday morning, the USBOXLA Nationals kicked off its marquee event with a two-hour academy clinic for Bantam, Midget and High School players. Before the stick work and stations, the players were introduced to USBOXLA Co-Founder Matt Brown, six-time NLL champion Colin Doyle, and longtime University of Denver head coach and lacrosse icon Bill Tierney.
“We love doing these academies to kick off the Nationals,” said Brown. “First and foremost, it’s the one time during the course of the year where we have great coaches from the United States and Canada come together to teach these young American-born box players skills that they can take with them and use throughout the tournament. It was a great way to kick off this amazing weekend for our US Box Lacrosse Association.”
“It’s about playing the game the right way,” said Doyle, who has worked the clinic the past eight years. “It’s a great version of box lacrosse. The quality here is through the roof, and I am happy to be a part of it. You have two hours to make yourself a better player, so take advantage of it.”
If anyone knows the importance of box lacrosse, it’s Bill Tierney. A veteran of the first version of the National Lacrosse League and one of the original supporters of USBOXLA, Tierney has encouraged his players to play box lacrosse and has directed dozens of his players to compete in the Colorado Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (CCBLL). On Friday, he imparted some of his wisdom to players from California to Kentucky.
“For me, who has been around a lot longer than these guys, it’s a regeneration of some thoughts I had 40 years ago, which is great,” said Tierney, who won the 1974 NLL championship with the Rochester Griffins. “Now, it’s coming to fruition through Matt Brown and Shaydon Santos. In just the eight years they have been doing this, it has taken off.
“It rejuvenates me to think all those years ago I was able to see the light of the skill set the Canadian kids had. I always wanted to do it, but we needed these kinds of guys who had the wherewithal to get it done. It’s exciting and just taking off. It’s the future of our collegiate game. It’s going to be unbelievable.”
During drills, the kids were mentored by greats like NLL Hall of Fame goaltender Dallas Eliuk, former NLL MVP Athan Iannucci, and past NLL standouts John Gallant and Jamie Shewchuk. Toronto Rock forward Tom Schreiber was also front and center to instruct the future stars of the sport.
“I wish I had this opportunity when I was coming up,” said Schreiber, as he conveyed his main message to the players. “I am one of the lesser experienced guys here in comparison to who is here. You see Colin Doyle teach the game and Matt Brown and Bill Tierney. There are guys that played in the NLL for 15 years. It’s been amazing.
“I am learning stuff. I think for these guys to have this experience has been really cool for them. If I am any part of helping them realize that goal [of playing in the NLL] then that’s all the better. It’s been a fantastic experience thus far.”
The event was just another example of the expanse of USBOXLA, which was founded in 2010. Since its inception, USBOXLA has sanctioned over 100 tournaments in the US, providing a playing environment that fosters safety, skill, and success.
“The clinic adds to the experience of the Nationals,” said USBOXLA Co-Founder Shaydon Santos. “It’s a huge tournament, but the clinic allows players to learn from the best coaches in the game. Likewise, coaches can learn from other coaches because everyone has a unique style.”
The tournament, which started with 15 teams, has exploded to feature over 100 teams and over 1,700 players at The Rinks in both Huntington Beach and Irvine, Calif. This year, the USBOXLA Nationals includes the NCBS National Championship, in addition to the pre-tournament USBOXLA Academy clinic and Team USBOXLA versus Canadian ALL-STAR games.
“The game sells itself when it’s done right,” said Santos. “When people play it, and play it properly and enjoy it, they keep coming back. Word spreads, and then people want to be a part of it.”