Lacrosse (LAX), originally known as stickball, got its start as a major community event played by Algonquian tribal members (near the Great Lakes), over several days and involving 100 to 100,000 players. In these days, goals were set between topographic features ranging from 500 yards to several miles apart.
Holding sticks with sinew netting, deerskin balls filled with fur were thrown and caught by players adorned with paint and charcoal. Games began by tossing a ball in the air and players racing to be the first to catch it.
Looking over a Bend Park and Recreation LAX coach's manual, it seems stickball has morphed a bit since the first Anglo-Saxons (French Jesuit missionaries) observed the sport 450 years ago, or from its 1904 debut in the Summer Olympics.
Bend Park and Recreation District Youth LAX League
In 2004, with a summer camp to gauge interest, BPRD first started inviting grade school boys and girls to participate in LAX. Rich Ekman, who runs Lacrosse for BPRD, says they weren't sure whether the game would take off in Bend. "It had traditionally been an east coast sport but we heard rumblings that the sport of LAX was moving west and growing in popularity. It's run primarily in the spring, and the west coast already has a number of traditional spring sports that are very popular: baseball, softball, golf, tennis, track & field."
By 2005, 194 male and female participants were signed up for spring league. Enrollment skyrocketed to 700 in 2016.
Presently, youth boys are divided into two-year increments for 3rd to 8th graders, and girls, 3rd-5th and 6th-8th. 1st-2nd grades are co-ed. Day and week-long camps are also offered in the spring and summer for each gender.
"We provide a recreational program only," explains Ekman. "The goals are to teach the kids the fundamentals of the sport and make it fun. We don't keep official score, team standings or have end of season tournaments." The goals of the BPRD Youth LAX League, as listed in the coach's manual, include; everyone plays, positive coaching, good sportspersonship, teaching the fundamentals and encouragement to have fun.
Competitive LAX leagues in Central Oregon
For the aspiring Central Oregon youth LAX competitor, many summer and travel leagues exist.
Local high schooler Haak Kjellesvik got his start with BPRD LAX in elementary school. Upon entering middle school, he began playing on travel teams like the Rhino LAX Summer Academy, which took him to face-off clinics in Washington and California, and The Bend Bombers.
The Rhino LAX Summer Academy consists of one-week clinics in Bend (and around the nation) which boast world class coaching and staff from current Division 1 collegiate teams, college coaches, high school coaches and professional players. Players receive position - specific training, learn the important facets of the game and techniques like shooting and stick work.
In recent years, The Bend Bombers have been replaced by high school club feeder teams for Bend, Summit and Sisters High Schools. Joe Kerwin explained the logic for the change saying, "It got pretty exclusive... We weren't really serving all of Bend."
Through the high school club teams, winter indoor offerings are also available.
Jen Kjellesvik, Haak's mom, says of the community surrounding LAX, "We have very talented coaches in Bend who were D1 athletes or former pro-athletes... The LAX Community is super fun. Our families have traveled together for years, shared hotels and had a million team dinners."
Jen laments the lack of LAX where she grew up in Salt Lake City. "Passing the ball with Haak during his childhood made me appreciate hard-earned stick skills. Running efficiently with the ball in your stick while cradling it in rhythm with your run and accurately throwing and catching. It's truly an art form that takes years."
Playing long stick middle defender, Haak says he's charged with keeping the other team from scoring. "I take the ball and turn it over to my team." Some accomplishments he's experienced in this position are starting varsity and attending State, both during his freshman year for Bend High, and being voted MVP Defender at The Battle of Lake Oswego.
"LAX has grown a lot in Bend since I started 10 years ago in elementary school," Haak, practically a veteran, notes. "It helps you improve when you travel to play better teams in the valley every weekend. I would suggest anyone interested in LAX sign up for summer camps and try out for all travel teams."
What Haak loves most about LAX is the roots of the sport. "It was invented by the Native Americans to honor the Creator. They also called the game, 'wars little brother.' They would play for weeks through the mountains before battle." In a sense, not much about the sport has changed, as today, young Central Oregonians play at the base of the mountains on fields 110 yards long.
For more information
Bend Park and Recreation
Rhino LAX Summer Academy
Bend Lava Bears