Road Trip Dad –
Thinking Inside the Box
Dan Witmer | October 7, 2019
The Onondaga Nation built its beautiful state-of-the-art Fieldhouse back in 2015, finished just in time to host the FIL Box Lacrosse Championships. In what seems like the blink of an eye, here we are four years later, another (now World Lacrosse) Box Championship complete.

In case you missed it, the 2019 Games were held in Langley, British Columbia this time around. For the fifth straight time, the top three finishers repeated their medal color – the US got the bronze, the Iroquois got the silver, and Canada walked away with the gold. This year there were 20 countries participating, up from 13 in 2015 (and just 6 in 2003).

See? Even box lacrosse is growing, worldwide.

Know who finished just out of the medal hunt? In last week’s placement games, England was 4th, Israel was 5th, and Finland was 6th. Rounding out the top 10 were the Czech Republic, Netherlands, Australia, and Germany. The international box lacrosse community is now waiting to hear the announcement about who’s going to host the 2023 Championships.

Meanwhile, guess how many teams the NLL will have this coming season? I’ll give you a hint: there will be more NLL pro box lacrosse teams this year than there were teams in the PLL and the MLL pro field lacrosse leagues combined. That’s right; there will be 13 teams in the NLL this season, with teams spanning from San Diego to Halifax.

And can you tell me what in the-wild-world-of-sports the IBLA is? That’s right – it’s the Interstate Box Lacrosse Association, and they were having their national championship this weekend in California. Eight intra-state box leagues send their champions for one last blow-out – similar to the format for the President’s Cup, the Minto Cup, and the Mann Cup (I know y’all know what they are, right?).

Mention box lacrosse around Syracuse and people probably think of the Onondaga Redhawks and the Can-Am league. Older fans might remember the Syracuse Smash, which played in the NLL from ’98-’01. West of here, Rochester and Buffalo fans have faithfully supported their Knighthawks and Bandits for years.

My point is that, whether you realize it or not, box lacrosse is growing, expanding everywhere you look. And this weekend, there’s a growing international box tournament that’s in its fourth year, and it’s right down the road from just about anywhere in Upstate NY. According to its website, “The North American Invitational (NAI) is the continent’s preeminent annual box lacrosse tournament, held annually in Syracuse, New York. Founded in 2016 by Scott Neiss and Connor Wilson and loosely modeled after the Czech Republic’s Aleš H?ebeský Memorial, the event has quickly burgeoned to become the world’s largest annual high-level tournament.”

Originally the LASNAI (LaxAllStars North American Invitational), this tournament drew 12 teams from six different countries in 2016, its first year. The next year, 2017 saw the field grow to 21 teams, and last year, it exploded to 34. In each of the first three years, the Thompson Brothers Lacrosse squad walked away with the title.

This year, playing in the afterglow of the World Games in Langley, there are only 24 teams, but the competition is expected to be stiffer than ever. Also, new for 2019, two youth divisions – U15 and U18 – will determine two more champions. There are six teams in the U18 (Midget) division, and 11 teams in the U15 (Bantam) group. Games will be played in both the Arena and the Fieldhouse on the Onondaga Nation, with the men’s tournament running Thursday through Saturday and the youth tournaments running Friday through Sunday.

I strongly recommend that you make plans to watch games for a day or two (or three). Tickets are $15 for one day or $25 for a three-day pass (children under age 10 are free). Tickets are sold at the door – cash only. Fall ball is (mostly) over, and you won’t find any more lacrosse games on TV for a while. Besides, these games are indoors, so let Fall fall! Games are quick and fast-paced; with two 15-minute halves and a 30-second shot clock, games begin every 50 minutes (it’s still exhausting for players, with five or even six games likely over the three days).

The NAI is quickly becoming a “save the date” event in the Witmer household. Since its inception, Brian has not only played in all three iterations; he has also helped in some administrative roles as well. These days, as “general manager” of both the Glasgow Clydesiders and the NOAFE teams, he’ll have his hands full just handing out uniforms and learning names, and this year he’s got not one but two Clydesider teams in the U15 division as well. Unfortunately, his back is still bothering him enough that he has no plans to play.

Last year Eric came home for the tournament and, for one or two nights anyway, we were a family of four once again. This year Eric is back for his second NAI, though I’m really not sure how many nights we’ll see all four of us in Oswego. I think he has plans to camp outside the Fieldhouse, and Brian will probably sleep in his van…

I’m planning to go down there – probably all four days – and do what I can to help, whether that means coaching, working a door, being a ball boy during warm-ups, or filling water bottles. I don’t really care; I just want to be where my boys are. Seriously, it’s an hour’s drive, and my calendar is pretty clean this weekend. I think we might have a couple of younger Oswego boys playing for the U-15 Clydesiders, too, and I want to see how they do.

Like Brian told some Oswego HS players this past week, “Lacrosse is different, in that you don’t get to play with or against LeBron James very often. But in tournaments like this, there are pro players on a lot of different teams, and guys that played for the Iroquois National team or Team USA… and you have the opportunity to play against them – or with them, if you’re lucky.”

Treat yourself. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Before I sign off, I want to remind everyone about this weekend’s other “big event” – the Syracuse Film Festival and Saturday night’s showing of “JIMMY 13 – the Smallest Wildcat with the Biggest Heart” (see my RTD article from last Monday, September 30). The three-minute film will be shown at the 7 PM session at The Red House Arts Center on South Salina Street. Admission is $10 for the session (I believe); for tickets and more information, you can go to: http://syrfilm.com/2019-schedule.html. Following the three films shown in this session (the first is about 75 minutes long; the third one runs about 20 minutes), there will be a Q&A session with the three filmmakers. Lacrosse fans of CNY, it would be great if we could pack the house!

Another event that is quickly approaching is the Hall of Fame induction dinner of the newly-branded Upstate Lacrosse Foundation (formerly the Upstate Chapter of US Lacrosse – remember that story from last fall?) on Sunday, October 27. This year’s class of inductees is as impressive as ever, maybe one of the strongest in all the land! How’s this group?

Josh Coffman - Matt Riter
Ron Fraser - Andy Shay
Sarah Kellner - Greg Tarbell
Jeff Klodzen - Lars Tiffany
Kenny Nims - John Tillman

For more information, check out the JustLacrosse.com home page – ticket information is on the top right side of the screen. Hope to see you there!

And finally, congratulations to my high school varsity lacrosse coach, Tony Seaman, on his selection as the MLL’s 2019 Coach of the Year. Yes, he’s a Cortland grad, and he’s a member of the prestigious College’s C Club, as well as numerous Halls of Fame. Unfortunately, his Denver Outlaws squad lost to the Chesapeake Bayhawks yesterday in the MLL championship, but it’s gratifying to see that he’s still making his presence felt wherever he goes.

So, make the short drive to Nedrow this weekend, and if you’re anywhere near Syracuse on Saturday night, check out the Jim Onacki film.

Wherever you go, please drive carefully.

Dan Witmer is the author of two books.  The Best of Road Trip Dad – the Laker Lacrosse Collection  is an accumulation of 45 articles written for JustLacrosseUpstate between the years 2012 and 2018, about the history and traditions, the people, and the stories of the Oswego State men’s lacrosse program. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, the SUNY Oswego College Store in the Marano Campus Center, The Sports Outfit on West Genesee Street in Fairmount, and Geared 2 Sports in Cortland.  ...and piles to go before I sleep - The Book of Wit  is his memoir describing his 33 year career teaching HS English and coaching at Hannibal Central School. It is available on Amazon.com and at the river's end bookstore.