Turnout has been pretty low in a lacrosse drop-in the last two weeks at the Canada Games Centre, but coach Neil McGrath isn’t ready to give up.
He hopes numbers will pick up enough to make next summer a significant one.
McGrath wants to bring Yukon’s first-ever lacrosse team to the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) next July in Toronto, Ont.
He just needs players, even if they’ve never held a lacrosse stick before.
“It’s not hard to learn; you shouldn’t be nervous to learn,” said McGrath. “It might seem a little complicated at first, but we’ve got all the equipment here, you just have to come with an open mind and we’ll teach you what to do. I think there’s lots to get out of it. It’s a medicine game, as we say back home, and through that I think it’s a great opportunity for youth.
“If you hang around here anyway, come give it a try and see if you like it.”
The push for a Yukon team at NAIG is an initiative spearheaded by the Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle (YASC), which has attempted to get the sport — Canada’s national summer sport — off the ground in the territory for years. The YASC began weekly drop-ins and held a youth camp in the summer of 2012, looking to establish representative teams with little success.
The Yukon Indian Hockey Association has also included lacrosse sessions in its annual Learning to Lead summer hockey camp the last few years.
“I approached (YASC) because I’ve been playing lacrosse since I was a little kid. I talked to them a few times in the past and then in the summer we’ve been talking formally about putting together a program,” said McGrath. “Hopefully we can start a NAIG team or a drop-in or maybe a recreational league at some point down the road.”
If all goes according to plan, YASC will enter a team in box lacrosse, the indoor form of the sport. Box lacrosse uses smaller nets, an enclosed field with walls, and six players a side like hockey. There are lots of similarities to hockey, “and I’d say with basketball as well in the way that offence and defence are set up, especially for indoor,” said McGrath. “There are lots of parallels with hockey, especially with hand-eye coordination. Lots of great NHL hockey players — Wayne Gretzky, John Tavares — are lacrosse players during the summer.
“If you want to get better at hockey, hand-eye coordination, some physical stuff too, it’s all conducive to playing hockey.”
To enter a team at NAIG, McGrath would like 12 to 20 players. He could maybe get by with 10, he said, but there’d be some pretty tired legs by the end of each game.
Also, he wants to enter an under-16 girls team. He feels a girls squad in the younger age-group would be a good place to start for a fledgling team.
“The best approach to starting out is to keep it to the U16 girls because especially for the boys their U16 teams and especially U19 teams are pretty competitive,” said McGrath. “Ontario’s team, Alberta’s team, B.C.’s team — they’ve all been playing since they’ve been little kids.
“If they just started playing six months ago, playing against these guys — obviously it would be fun, it would be a great experience — but it would be a little bit valuable to develop the program a little bit before throwing people in there.”
McGrath, who is from the Ottawa area and moved to Whitehorse four years ago, speaks from experience. He played minor and junior lacrosse in Ontario and Quebec in his younger days. He twice helped his Nepean Knights win Ontario’s minor lacrosse championship.
McGrath and assistant coach Emily Hurley are hosting weekly drop-ins every Wednesday at the Canada Games Centre from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org