The fastest-growing youth sport in America is also its oldest. Lacrosse – a fast-paced running game played with long sticks and a ball — got its start with the Onondaga Nation of Iroquois in what later became upstate New York.
On Saturday and Sunday, this American Indian tradition is expected to draw up to 900 players and coaches to Redding for a youth Lacrosse Jamboree. Thirty-five teams from throughout Northern California are signed up to compete in more than 40 games over two days at the Redding Soccer Park adjacent to Big League Dreams.
The showcase event of the weekend will be a men’s match between St. Mary’s College and Southern Oregon University at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“We were totally blown away by the interest in this,” said Jim Giacomelli, president of Redding Youth Lacrosse, which is putting on the jamboree. “We were hoping to attract 15 to 16 teams, but the responses kept coming back.”
The public is invited to check out the action, which takes place rain or shine (only thunder and lightning stops a game). The event will also include a vendor village featuring local businesses and national lacrosse companies. Admission to the soccer park is $3 (free for those under 12).
While this year’s jamboree focuses on boys’ teams (divisions range from 10 and under to varsity), plans are in the works for a girls’ lacrosse event next year. There will be a Redding girls’ scrimmage at the park on Saturday morning.
Spectators can expect to see plenty of fast action, said Robert Auerbach, a Redding Youth Lacrosse board member and former lacrosse player from Long Island, N.Y. “Lacrosse is a fast-moving, exciting game,” he said. “It’s a cross between the offensive strategies of basketball, the full-field running of soccer, and the speed and excitement of hockey.”
The object is to score goals by shooting a small rubber ball at a goal using long-handled sticks to carry, catch and pass. Boys’ lacrosse is a contact sport, so players wear protective gear.
Redding Youth Lacrosse (part of the Northern California Junior Lacrosse Association) began about five years ago when moms Donna Prigmore and Lauren Knapp met at their children’s school and began talking about lacrosse. They put an ad in the newspaper to gauge interest. Scattered throughout Redding were a few people who had grown up on the East Coast, where the game is more popular.
“We got together and found there were others with a history with the sport or kids interested in playing,” Auerbach said. So the league began.
In four seasons, it has grown to four boys’ teams and two girls’ teams, with 100 to 120 players. The teams travel throughout the region, including to the Bay Area (“Redding represents the northern outpost of the lacrosse frontier,” Auerbach said). Red Bluff also has a chapter, with four teams.
Chris Oliver, 13, of Redding has played in the league since it began. “My dad played after college and said he’d teach me how,” he said. Mark Oliver is one of the coaches in the league.
Chris, who goes to Grant School, plays midfielder and likes being in the midst of all the action. “I like to run a lot,” he said. Chris plays soccer and has played football and baseball but said he really enjoys lacrosse. “It’s definitely fun,” he said.
The girls’ no-contact version of the game, which focuses on skill, strategy and physical conditioning, is actually closer to the original way the Indians played the game, board members said. The Iroquois used it as a conditioning exercise for warriors, playing with no boundaries, often running for miles.
“If you take the boys against the girls and take away the physical contact – so it’s just stick skills — it’s not uncommon for the girls to beat the boys,” Auerbach said.
An athlete’s size doesn’t matter in lacrosse as it does in many other sports, coach Oliver said. “It’s a good game for soccer players who want to be more physical and football players who want to run more. It’s a good sport for kids who really like to be always moving,” he said.
Giacomelli has never played lacrosse, but he appreciates the inclusiveness of the game. “Almost any kid can come out and there’s a spot for them on the team,” he said. “If they can run, and have decent eye-hand coordination, they can pick up the game pretty quickly. We get kids who come out the first night or to a clinic, and after two or three practices they’re in with the other kids.”
Several of the young people who have played in Redding Youth Lacrosse have been recruited to play for Southern Oregon University, Giacomelli said. Not many West Coast high schools offer the sport, but a number of colleges do, opening the door for players to earn athletic scholarships.
This weekend’s jamboree marks the start of the boys’ lacrosse season, which runs through May. The girls’ season starts in March and goes until mid-June. Redding Youth Lacrosse is always looking for more players, as well as coaches, who don’t need to have lacrosse experience, Auerbach said.
“We will teach them the skills they need,” he said. “We want coaches who will encourage our youth to play with good sportsmanship and respect, honoring the game.”
The Redding Soccer Park, with four all-weather fields, is the envy of other teams in the association, board members said.
“The crown jewel of us being able to pull this (jamboree) off is the soccer park complex,” Giacomelli said. “We travel all over the north state, and there is nothing nicer than what we have in our backyard.”
Writer Candace L. Brown has been a magazine and newspaper reporter since 1992. She lives in Redding and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Jim Giacomelli and reddinglacrosse.com.
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