Joseph Lang, RFLC founder
As the snow melts on the Valley floor, there is an activity that combines the flow and grace of hockey and soccer, the tactical positioning of basketball and the discipline of football. While still known to some parents as “that game where they run around with nets on sticks,” the sport of lacrosse has become a mainstay on the Spring sports calendar here in our Valley.
For the uninitiated,
LAX = La (the)+ X (cross/stick);
LAXers, = enthusiasts, players, parents, fans or coaches.
Lacrosse is a team sport, originated by indigenous people in the Americas centuries ago called “baggataway” or “stickball,” where teams played from sunrise to sunset, across fields stretching between villages (miles!) over several days using large wooden spoons with balls made of wood and later with deerskin stuffed with hair. No player is allowed to touch the ball with their hands and must “scoop” the ball off the ground and pass and catch the ball with their stick. Goals were once designated by large rocks, trees or posts. The history of the game is steeped in ceremony. For Native Americans the game was a gift from our Creator, to be played for His enjoyment and as a medicinal game for healing people. Tribal traditions ranged from featuring the sport in festivals to providing camaraderie amongst tribes, to preparing young men for combat. The modern game started in the late 1800s, shortening the field, creating wooden sticks steamed to bend in a curved “L” shape with netting made from wattup or deer sinew, and goals. The boys’ game features ten players to a side with the girls’ game having twelve per side.
The most important element of the sport is the stick. Try Googling “slang for lacrosse sticks” for the many names associated by LAXers. Lacrosse families often put a small stick in the crib of a newborn to pass along the game to the next generation.
The art and simplicity of flinging a rubber ball further, faster and with more accuracy than could ever be achieved with your arm is something anyone can do – regardless of size and strength. For this reason, it’s a great equalizer for boys and girls. Unlike many team sports, you don’t have to be the tallest, strongest, or fastest to excel. If you have a “good stick” (the skill of controlling the ball – cradling, throwing and catching with fluidity, control, and accuracy) then you are a welcome addition to any lacrosse contest. In other sports, the biggest and fastest usually have an advantage, but in lacrosse, the team with the best sticks will always prevail. This is one reason LAX is a great parent-child activity at any age.
It takes practice, but playing catch with that darn stick becomes something kids love doing, and it doesn’t have to be an organized activity. Throwing with a friend or parent is great, but finding a brick wall (referred to as “wall-ball”) is optimal to “find your stick.”
“It’s just fun” is a common answer when asked, “Why do you like lacrosse so much?” Lacrosse is a sport where life-long friends and memories are forged. At every level of play, whether its youth, high school, college or professional, LAXers like to teach the sport to play it forward, and the sooner you learn the basics, the more years you have to enjoy the game.
Lacrosse folks have an interestingly strong bond. If you’re driving across the country and a fellow laxer sees a lacrosse sticker on your car, you can bet it will lead to a quick exchange with smiles of reflecting on the sport, no matter where you’ve played.
Here in our Valley, we are fortunate to have two youth programs. Aspen Lacrosse Club has been exemplary in teaching the game and providing a forum to fall in love with the sport for over 20 years. The Roaring Fork Lacrosse Club (RFLC), affectionately known as “Swarm” is entering its ninth season.
“Youth lacrosse teaches great life lessons of teamwork, practice, and coordination, as well as the opportunity to promote lasting friendships,” comments RFLC boys coach Ean Steele, who along with wife Jennifer started coaching eight years (3 children) ago. Their youngest is shown here (right), already getting “good stick” at 18 months. Jennifer continues, “We both played growing up back on the East coast and wanted to help build a program, not only for when our kids got older but one which builds self-esteem in our youth throughout the Valley.”
RFLC started with 16 boys between grades 5-8 in 2010 with (Saint) Tripp Sutro and Cailen Hollenback wearing multiple hats, with the simple philosophy of “everyone plays and let’s have fun.” It has grown to over 300 boys and girls from Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, New Castle, and Rifle in 2020, with programs for grades K-8 and over 24 coaches with the same lacrosse philosophy.
“RFLC brings together youth from multiple communities throughout the Valley,” said long-time RFLC coach and board member Peter Dolan, “giving them an opportunity to bond as teammates through the sport, not as competitors from different schools.”
Another function of RFLC is to serve as a feeder program to RE-1 high school programs at GSHS and RFHS. Boys from schools throughout the district (Basalt, Carbondale, Bridges, GSHS, Yampah, and CRMS) play at GSHS, while girls from RE-1 play at RFHS. The RFHS team made State playoffs in their first year of varsity eligibility in 2019. Since many of these student-athletes have played together throughout their elementary school years with RFLC, it ensures what should be a healthy evolution of our high school programs.
One new program being launched this Spring by RFLC is a partnership with the college recruiting platform NCSA (Next College Student Athlete). This program provides incoming high school students, starting as early as grade 8, the opportunity to create a profile and highlight reel, college search and match analysis, and a way to communicate with school coaches throughout the nation. This program is complimentary for students to explore opportunities to continue playing lacrosse through their college careers.
“RFLC provides a unique opportunity to shepherd student-athletes from elementary school through high school and now beyond,” says Terry Claassen, coach, board member and 2019 Colorado Lacrosse Foundation Hall of Fame Inductee, whose face lights up on the subject of the sport. “Continuing to identify programs to encourage continued participation in the sport is a high priority of our RFLC mission.”
As parents, we all want our children to stay active in a healthy, fun environment, and we have the blessing of exceptional youth organizations throughout the Valley. Anything we can do to limit the screen time and get our children outside running around is a victory we can all work together to achieve. Sometimes, it just takes finding that bliss sport, and after one Springtime of Lacrosse, you might become a LAXer too. Time to go work on those sticks!
Joe and his wife Julie moved to Carbondale from NYC’s East Village in 1996 and soon started their family, including Ruby, Joseph and Colton, dog Loki and three goats Basil, Billy & Ferdinand. When we started planning our Good Sports column with Joe, we knew about his love for lacrosse. We did not know that Joe grew up in a lacrosse household with five brothers (all LAXers) and two sisters (LAX fans) building their first backyard goal from plumbing pipes. He captained his high school and college lacrosse teams, and then played club ball in Carolina and Denver. The Roaring Fork Lacrosse Club was born out of this passion to provide the joys of the sport to a new generation.