Lacrosse Thrives as Local Teams Rise in Stature

By Beacon Staff

The Flathead Valley’s youth lacrosse program has grown into one of the best in the state, and the future appears to be even brighter.

In its fourth official year, the Flathead Lacrosse Club has nearly 140 boys and girls of all ages from across the valley wielding mesh sticks and playing North America’s oldest sport.

Founded in 2010 with fewer than 30 players, the club has expanded into more than five teams, ranging in ages from elementary to high school. A new junior-varsity team emerged this year and a girls varsity squad is being developed, too.

“There’s been great growth every year. We’re increasing 20 to 30 percent every year,” said Brett Urbach, a four-year coach with the U-13 team.

The club is hosting its Flathead Jamboree on Saturday, May 11 at the fields at Grouse Mountain Lodge in Whitefish. Starting at 9 a.m., the all-day event will feature youth teams from across Montana squaring off.

“It’s a good time to come out and watch lacrosse,” Urbach said. “It’s a fun, active sport. There’s not a lot of sitting around.”

As the club’s young teams bolster their size and skills, the varsity boys team has risen in stature as one of the state’s best.

Since the varsity season began in March, the local squad is 5-2 through May 3 and ranked second in the state among nine teams. More than 20 players returned from last year’s squad, which placed third at the Montana High School Lacrosse Championships in Missoula.

The team is in the final stretch before traveling to Bozeman for the state tournament, May 18-19. Flathead has emerged as a top contender to dethrone the defending champs, Missoula Hellgate. The Knights are 9-4 and recently edged Flathead 13-6. Hellgate defeated Bozeman, this year’s other top contender, in last season’s state title game, 14-4.

“I think Flathead will continue to develop and they have skilled players at all positions, so I think they are a dangerous team in 2013,” Hellgate coach Kevin Flynn wrote in his season preview online, at www.montana.laxallstars.com.

Flathead Lacrosse Club U-15 teammates Brady Staves, left, and L.J. Panasuk work on a defensive drill during a recent practice in Whitefish. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

The local club has flourished like others across Montana as lacrosse continues to gain popularity. At the college level, the University of Montana has developed one of the best clubs in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association, a nationwide non-varsity organization. Montana’s rise was punctuated with a national championship in 2007.

At the youth level, the Montana chapter of U.S. Lacrosse launched in 2010 as a sanctioned effort to spread the sport at all age levels. The number of high school teams has doubled and nearly 1,000 players are registered statewide.

At the same time, the sport has returned to its native roots on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The 10Sticks team is in its third year. The program’s goal, stated on its website, www.tenstickslacrosse.org, states: “We aim to showcase the game of lacrosse as a major Native American contribution to the world and as a point of cultural pride for our member athletes, Native and Non-Native alike.”

Lacrosse, or its early versions, truly began as a Native American sport. Tribes in North America, including Montana, competed in a game called “double ball” centuries ago, as detailed in first-person accounts by missionaries as early as the 1600s. By the 19th Century, games of “lacrosse” became common on the East Coast and the sport has slowly made its way to the mainstream ever since.

The local 10Sticks program held a fundraiser May 1-10 to send the team to the high school state championship in Bozeman and also a few players from the Flathead Indian Reservation to the Six Nations of the Iroquois, a lacrosse mecca, for a training camp.

For more information about the fundraiser, visit www.tenstickslacrosse.org. For more information about the Flathead Lacrosse Club, visit www.flatheadlacrosse.com.

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