Siesta Key, in Sarasota, Florida, was the absolute perfect venue for the first World Lacrosse Beach Festival on the weekend of September 18th, 19th and 20th.
A low key welcome party for early arrivals on Friday night gave some a preview of the expansive white sand beach that would soon play host to two days of incredible lacrosse and unforgettable fun.
As the sun rose the following morning the scene really began to take shape. The load-in was smooth. The tireless crew from SPEED Lacrosse™ lined the courts. Cages were moved into place while scoreboards and Court Guard chairs were lined up along the sides.
Vendors and exhibitors rolled in and the smell of a breakfast grill complimented the morning beats tossed down by Blaise from Tampa-based Street Laced Promos. It was a great scene from the start and it only got better. As the players and their families arrived the atmosphere included the sounds of lacrosse as parents set up their base camps for the day on the far side of the courts closer to the refreshing Gulf Coast waters.
The pro players, who would serve as Court Guards for both days of the event, began to arrive carrying breakfast treats for whoever was quick enough on the draw before joining in with the kids warming up. JoJo The War Drummer was shaking hands and sharing his iconic instrument with a large gathered crowd. Now the excitement level was ratcheting up a notch.
Separated into age groups from 7-18 years old, more than 200 boys and girls found themselves having a morning catch with the likes of Tucker Durkin, Chris Mattes, Jordan Hall, Dan Burns, Brett Queener and of course, event host, Casey Powell. A brief meeting where players were reminded of the new sport of SPEED Lacrosse™ and introduced to their pro chaperones was punctuated by a formal welcome by CP22 and the National Anthem. It was time to play some SPEED Lacrosse on the beach!
Time to Compete
From the opening horn on Day One it was clear something special was taking place. Teams consisted of a maximum of five players; many were just four. The enthusiasm showed from the get-go. Part of the registration requirements for teams was to choose a team name. Many of them arrived donning custom pinnies and themed uniforms for the tournament. This was not just a bunch of kids playing casual pickup lacrosse. While this was clearly an event where sportsmanship and fun were placed at a premium, the folks here were aiming to take their fun to the next level. 3v2s, 2 on 1s, BTBs, awesome alley-oops, dipsey-dos, dangles and diving defenders were EVERYWHERE! And the cellies… oh, the cellies. No surprise, though. That’s what SPEED Lacrosse™ is all about; fundamental movement amplified by creativity and fun.
“Incredible,” Brett Queener said taking a brief water break away from his courtside post. “This is so much fun!” Queener was a natural fit as a World Lacrosse Foundation ambassador having grown up playing backyard lacrosse very similar in foundation to the rules and spirit of SPEED.
Throw in his legendary enthusiasm on the court and passion for coaching kids and it was clear he needed to be a part of what was going on here. Brett now makes his home in Florida and was clearly at ease on the beach with a lacrosse stick in his hands.
Teams played at least three games on the first day. Players thrived in the sun by diving in the Gulf of Mexico between matches and kept loose playing Spikeball on nets set up at both ends of Vendor Village. A few extra nets hung out in back for those looking to work on some things before their next game. And a conspicuous Syracuse-themed Corn Hole set was in constant use down by the DJ and Cascade/Maverik tent.
Cascade/Maverick company rep Chris Keating brought out some of his company’s newly released gear for folks to drool over while he got his beach time in. “This is a great opportunity for kids to work on some very important fundamentals while having so much fun they probably don’t even realize they are learning,” Keating said. “This is really cool.”
Tournament action ended about 2:30-3pm on Saturday as teams were seeded for the playoff day to follow. But the sun wasn’t setting on the first day of the inaugural World Lacrosse Beach Festival, yet. It was time for the pro game!
Casey Powell, Dan Burns, Jordan Hall, Tucker Durkin, Nick Cotter, Brett Queener and Chris Mattes were joined by former women’s National Champ, Christy Turner and CPWLF Executive Director and former Syracuse University field hockey player, Heather Chase O’Neill for some amazing SPEED officiated by SPEED Lacrosse co-founder Mike Berkman.
A full day of watching athletes try tricks they would never think to try in a game somewhere else could not have prepared you for what the pros put on. As much as the tournament participants had obviously looked forward to the freedom and encouraged creativity of SPEED Lacrosse, it was plain the pros were just as ready to let loose. The opening period saw very few passes that weren’t behind the back and was highlighted by a backwards, over the back “Air Gait” slam dunk goal by Brett Queener. The simultaneous cries of, “Are you kidding me?” rang through the crowd as even DJ Blaise let out a whoop!
A cacophony of goal scoring took a brief hiatus when players began to vent their frustration with some physical defense. One moving pick too many caused the Court Guard to issue a warning to the players and remind everyone of the spirit of the game. Overall there seemed to be some favoritism as host Casey Powell started to rack up the points. Perhaps it was less favoritism and more sympathy for the MVP. He was about to host a Saturday night after party at an establishment down the street featuring a bunch of hungry and thirsty professional athletes. Either way, CP22 ran away with Player of the Game honors.
Day Two was Championship Day. Everyone was a little more businesslike on Sunday with the titles on the line. New draws were posted the evening before so teams knew full well whom they were opening against in the morning. Game faces were on for not only the athletes but also the pizza guys, who had been overwhelmed on Day One completely selling out of pies and slices. They were rested, restocked, and ready to rock. I may have even seen some new Powell Eye Black on the dude working the oven.
“I’m psyched,” said Team 22 Storm’s Tagg Toscano, “We played well yesterday. I think we stack up well in our first match. ”Toscano’s little brother, Trey, a player for Team 22 Naples, had similar feelings going into Sunday. Ahhh…the optimism. Everybody had it to open the day. But how would things fare after everything went down? After all, only one winner could be crowned in each age group. The vast majority of the bright eyes were not going home with quite the same swagger as some others. Not everybody was getting a new Maverik Erupt, Optik or a Powell Flight 22 shaft.
I posed the same question about their weekend experience to two different players; one who had just won his age group and another who fell just short. “This weekend was the best lacrosse I’ve ever played,” said Team Sunshine’s Gryphon Gurin, “and the best tourney ever.” “ I would describe it as a fun way to learn more about the game,” said the IMG Key Rats Drew Snyder, “and to have fun with your friends while you play lacrosse all day.”
Care to guess which player went home with the hardware? I bet it’s not the one you think. And that’s the point. Win or lose, everyone had a blast. It wasn’t about prizes or titles. I mean, those were cool – maybe the coolest I’ve seen at a tournament – but this was about fun, family and celebrating the sport we all love.
The weekend was about celebrating lacrosse. And in a nutshell that is EXACTLY what Casey Powell’s World Lacrosse Foundation is about as well. In this inaugural event, Heather Chase O’Neill, Casey Powell, their WLF ambassadors, SPEED Lacrosse™ and everyone else involved really wanted to show off how much fun the sport is. To celebrate lacrosse and begin a tradition of competition where the winning comes by getting out having fun and not with the result on the scoreboard.