By Jim Windle
SIX NATIONS — The bar has been raised in international box lacrosse after surprisingly talented and well coached U-19 teams put on a three day show at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena at Six Nations, the home of lacrosse.
Out of three Iroquois entrees, and one from the Squamish Nation of BC, only one medaled. Team Iroquois West held up for the Bronze medal while Iroquois East, Iroquois Seneca, and Squamish were eliminated.
They went up against Team USA Sunday for the bronze and came out with a 13-7 win powered by a five goal, two assist performance by Austin Staats for Iroquois West, under coaches Cody Jamieson, Sid Smith and Curt Styres.
Team USA was always a threat, but Iroquois West took a 4-1 after the first period and then built on the lead. There was a lot of scoring in the second as Iroquois distanced the Americans 10-3 after the second period leading towards the final 13-7 score.
Tallying for Iroquois West, besides Staats, were Josh Miller (2G,5A), Travis Longboat (2G,2A), Vern Hill (2G), Sid Powless (1G1A), and Isaiah Mt. Pleasant (1G,3A).
Jonathan Pallidino (2G), Mickey Fitzpatrick, William Cabrera, Morgan Cheek, Wyn Blueye, and Zach Drake scored for USA.
After being involved in as many international tournaments as he has, Iroquois West coach Sid Smith was not surprised by the quality of European talent and their dedication to continue developing lacrosse within their own countries.
“No, I wasn’t surprised by the talent,” he said. “It was the two best teams playing for the gold. It’s the same as the Men’s Worlds, they have some very competitive teams.”
That said, he was still disappointed that his team didn’t perform better, earlier on in the tournament.
“Obviously we wanted to do a better job this weekend,” said Coach Smith following the games. “I thought we had the team to win gold but these other teams are very good too.”
Smith had high praise for event creator and organizer Gewash Schindler who caught this vision three years ago and worked tirelessly since then to make it a reality.
“Hats off to Gewash,” he said. “Nobody else could have put this tournament together with the connections he has with the other nations. It just shows how well respected he is amongst the lacrosse community and the international game. He did an awesome job.”
After a stretch of abnormally hot weather, Schindler was pleased that the humidity broke and the temperatures went down before the event.
“It’s just perfect weather for lacrosse,” he said during a break between games.
Even he was impressed with the caliber of all teams involved, and although at various stages of development, he believes the future looks bright for the continued growth of lacrosse worldwide, especially the indoor box game.
“I was surprised that there were so many close games,” he admitted. “But that is awesome for the event and it just puts the icing on the cake.”
The logistical nightmare of organizing, promoting and fundraising to help make it a reality was a full time effort, which he worked on almost every day of those three years.
“The teams themselves had to raise a lot of money to bring their teams here let alone put together teams that can play at an international level,” said Schindler, a world class player in his own right. “We took care of them with sponsors and transportation and I hope we had those things covered. Six Nations really came up big as a host community. There’s not many communities that can do this and obviously we are very fortunate here at Six Nations with so many who are so in love with the sport.”
The Czechs had the biggest fundraising challenge sending two teams to North America. They sent the U-19s as well as their Men’s team for the Men’s World Indoor Lacrosse Championships played this year in Onondaga NY, which will begin soon.
“That’s tickets and lodging for more than 70 people to North America,” says Schindler. “That’s how much the Czechs love the game.”
As displayed clearly throughout the Challenge, the Czech Republic boasts the most developed box lacrosse program in Europe having started their program decades ago.
“The organizers of the Czech lacrosse program, who are here, and they are in their 60s, were on the first Jr. Czech team when they were 15-16 years old,” say Schindler. “They play field as well but they really love box because of its similarities to hockey.”
According to Schindler, the Czechs have fallen in love with lacrosse and host a huge lacrosse tournament every year.
Now, other European countries that are just learning box say they like the box game better. Several other countries are also quietly working on developmental programs for box lacrosse and may even appear in next year’s tournament. And there is no question in Schindler’s mind that this was not a one-off event but the beginning of an annual or semi-annual international U-19 tournament hosted at Six Nations.
One of the newest countries to develop a lacrosse program is Israel who will also debut at the Men’s Worlds later this month.
Scott Neiss, the father of Israeli lacrosse, lives in the US but has strong connections with his homeland in Israel as well as other European sports entities.
“Scott sits on the board for this and he is the one who really helped us meet with other European countries to set this up three years ago,” says Schindler.
Team Israel was one of the surprises of the tournament and, although they didn’t get close to the medal round, put up stiff resistance nonetheless.
Schindler reports that the visiting teams and chaperones were completely blown away by the support and lacrosse centeredness of the Six Nations community at large and the first class treatment they received while here.
Even the referees used throughout the tournament are a part of the new development process. If you are going to play the game, you are going to need good and knowledgeable refs, and a new development program for Haudenosaunee referees supplied the on floor officials.
“It’s been a long time waiting and we finally started this a little less than a year ago,” he says. “For the first time ever, we have four of our Haudenosaunee refs working the Men’s World Tournament.”
Schindler thanks the many volunteers and event director of operations Kevin Sandy for a successful first tournament.
“This weekend was the first of its kind and we couldn’t have asked for a better tournament,” said Schindler. “The fan turnout was quite good for a first time effort and will only grow bigger with every U19 International Haudenosaunee World Lacrosse Challenge to come.