LAKE PLACID - If anybody needs evidence that the popularity of lacrosse among young Americans is on the rise, look no further than the Summit Lacrosse Tournament.
The 23rd annual version of the Lake Placid tournament started on Monday with three days of action in five junior divisions. Approximately 1,600 players ages 19 and under participated this year.
It marks the fourth year the Lake Placid Summit Tournament has included junior divisions, and this summer, youth teams have traveled from across the country to play in one of the biggest lacrosse events anywhere. Three teams traveled from Boca Raton, Fla., as members of the Team 22 club founded by former Syracuse great Casey Powell. Another team, the Black Rhinos - coached by another 'Cuse lacrosse star, Ryan Powell - arrived in Lake Placid during a 12-day trip that began in their hometown of Portland, Ore.
A youngster who traveled with Buffalo lacrosse players stands along the sidelines during a game Tuesday at the Summit tournament.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Neither Florida nor Oregon was considered a traditional hotbed for the game of lacrosse, like the states of Maryland and New York, but that is changing in a hurry.
"It's booming," Ryan Powell said about the growth of lacrosse in Oregon and elsewhere on the West Coast. "When I started the Rhino lacrosse program seven years ago we had 72 kids. Now we have 3,000, ages kindergarten and up."
Al Bellando traveled to Lake Placid from Florida as a parent with Casey Powell's club players. He said that including the members on the three teams - two 18-and-under and one 15-and-under squad - about 130 to 140 made the trip. Bellando said over a short span, the popularity of lacrosse among young Floridians has grown tremendously.
"Lacrosse has gone big-time in Florida," Bellando said. "I think there are now about 200 high school teams in the state. The kids are playing the game 365 days a year."
George Leveille, who has a home in Lake Placid and has been the director of the Summit Lacrosse Tournament since it was founded in 1990, said the number of youth teams has increased from 68 a year ago to 78 this year.
The sport has also seen big growth in the North Country among young players, and the Tri-Lakes Youth Lacrosse Association has been the driving force in this area. The organization, which was founded by Lake Placid's Bill Larzelere, is now in its 12th year. It started with 75 youngsters and has now reached 175. At this year's Summit tourney, Tri-Lakes was represented by two teams: boys under-18 and under-15.
Larzelere said the organization has expanded in both directions, with the addition of more kindergarten programs and more opportunities for older players who are still teenagers. He's also seen an incredible growth when it comes to youth tournaments staged around the North Country.
"When I started this, at our first tournament up here we had about six teams participating with around 120 kids," Larzelere said. "This year, we had a tournament with 70 teams with 1,400 young players.
"They are still saying it's the fastest growing sport for youth in the United States," he added. "Here in the North Country, the growth at the younger levels is exploding. If even half of the kids now involved keep playing the game, lacrosse will continue to enjoy sustained growth."
US Lacrosse, the national governing body for the sport, has a membership of 400,000 players across the country. It also has 64 regional chapters that help support local youth organizations. In 2009, it established the first national championship tournaments for under-15 boys and girls.