OK, so I just spent four days at the Onondaga Nation, watching, learning, cheering, and coaching box lacrosse. I made the 50-minute, one-way trip from and then back to Oswego eight times from Thursday through Sunday to take in every aspect of the 4th annual North American Invitational (aka NAI), this year offering competition in men’s open (24 teams), U-18 (8 teams) and U15 (11 teams). I learned more about the rules of the game, especially the referees’ hand signals, and maybe – just maybe – they might have learned some new ones from me.
As I’ve mentioned before, both of my sons participated this year – Brian for his fourth year, and Eric for his second. In the first two years, Brian played with Nova Scotia Privateers for the inaugural NAI and then with the “house team” the following year.
Last year, Brian brought his kilt-wearing, purple and gold Glasgow Clydesiders – as well as his kid brother – to the Nation, and they finished 17th out of the 34-team field after an opening round loss to the three-time champion Thompson Brothers. In earlier years where Glasgow would lose their opening round games but then win the consolation bracket, a nickname for 17th place became “The Clydesider Cup.”
The roster may change, but the Clydesiders are growing in visibility and viability. When Brian first connected with them, maybe five years ago, there were very few ties to Glasgow or even Scotland. Instead, team members came from all over Europe, the US, and Canada, but that didn’t stop them from wearing their kilts around town. Since Brian has become involved with the Clydesider Leadership group of Dylan Cowman and Chris Foran, the Clydesiders have played in box tournaments not only at the Onondaga Nation, but also in Las Vegas, Prague, Montreal, Lille (France) and Dresden.
While other teams might huddle up pre-game and shout “Team,” or “Hustle,” or “Family,” or whatever, the Clydesiders put on a bit more of a show. Their tradition is to gather in front of their bench and then combine some yelling with some singing and jumping up and down:
Leader: “We’ll be coming!” Team: “We’ll be coming!”
Leader: “We’ll be coming!” Team: “We’ll be coming!”
Entire team: “We’ll be coming down the road! When you hear the noise of the Tartan Army boys, we’ll be coming down the road.”
And they’re just getting started.
Due to high demand, a second box team was created… not quite another Clydesider team, but not a JV team, either. Following the appearance of the OAR (Olympic Athletes from Russia) hockey team in the 2018 Olympics, Brian and co-conspirator Scott Neiss named the second team NOAFE – an acronym for Non-Olympic Athletes From Everywhere – and they made their debut at the April 2018 Aleš H?ebeský Memorial Tournament in Prague. NOAFE returned to Prague in September of 2018 for the Frank Menschner Cup and then made their first-ever North American appearance at the 2018 LASNAI. In 2019, they returned to Prague for both the April and September tournaments.
As a side note, NOAFE has also been said to stand for Non-Orbital Astronauts From Earth, No One Asked For Ebola, No One Alive Fears Eric, and probably a few other phrases. Feeling creative? Come up with another interpretation... N______ O______ A______ F______ E______.
And they returned to the Onondaga Nation this year, too. Sporting lots of new faces, the NOAFE team struggled on the first day of the tournament, losing both of their pool games. But from that point on, the guys in green with that crazy-looking thing on their jerseys went a perfect 3-0 to finish in 17th place – once again, the winners of the loser’s bracket – the Clydesider Cup!
Meanwhile, the Clydesiders’ men’s team went 1-1 in pool play, but then won their two games on Friday to earn a berth in the semi-finals. Joining Eric on defense were former SUNY Brockport teammate and Summit Lacrosse Ventures co-worker Sam Miller, who is also the head men’s lacrosse coach at SUNY Delhi, and Erik Ehlis, a Norwegian who played on the Grizzlies team when I met him in Prague in early September. I also got to finally meet “Topper” – Stephen Toporowski, a tall offensive player from Saskatchewan I’ve watched on streamed games for several years. Topper brought his A-game once again, scoring the overtime goal that put the Clyde into the semi-finals.
Unfortunately, luck ran out for the Clyde in the semi-final on Saturday, as they lost an 8-4 decision to eventual tournament champs Young Guns. Things went only a little better in the 3rd place game, as they came up short in a 6-5 loss to Onondaga Fire.
So the Clydesiders finished in 4th place (out of 24 teams) and NOAFE finished 17th. There was a sense of accomplishment with the Clyde as they made it to the semi-finals, and NOAFE was feeling pretty pleased with themselves after winning their last three games.
But the most notable distinction for this year’s NAI was the addition of two youth divisions – a U18 field of 8 and a U15 division of 11. Somewhere along the line, Brian said to himself, “Why not create Clydesider youth teams?”
Response was poor for the older division, but was fantastic for the younger, so he made two U15 teams – one was “Clydesider Purple” and the other was “Clydesider Black.” Current and past Clydesiders helped connect kids to the tournament, and instead of fielding teams of local, Section III and maybe Section V lacrosse players, Brian got enthusiastic responses Canada, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and even one player from Oregon!
Games were played over four days at two venues, and with four teams, that meant approximately 20-24 Clyde and NOAFE games...
I figured Brian was going to need some help, so I offered my services. On Thursday there were four games – two each for the Clydesiders’ men’s team and NOAFE – and when the schedules overlapped, Brian went one direction and I went the other. On Friday and Saturday, all four teams were playing games, but Brian and I had plenty of help. With other players who have played for the Clydesiders and/or NOAFE hanging around when their teams weren’t playing, there was really never a shortage of coaches or door donkeys. That’s one thing I’ve come to admire and appreciate with Brian’s teams and their players – they all support one another… during games, between games, and most certainly after the games are done.
The Black U15 team was younger and smaller, and less experienced, and they struggled from the beginning. After two games, all 11 teams were re-seeded, and on Sunday the three bottom teams played one another for 9th, 10th, and 11th place. The Clyde Black squad took the first game on the nose, but they rallied in their final game and won by a 3-1 score. The smiles on their faces weren’t what you’d expect from a 1-3 team, as the players finished their weekend on a very positive note.
Meanwhile, the Clyde Purple team was playing in the semi-final, and they continued to get better with every game they played. This team was not made up of a bunch of neophytes; these kids knew the game and came to play. They won their semi-final game by a 6-0 score, setting up for a dramatic finish in the tournament’s final game on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, they didn’t make the plays they needed to make against Mark Burnam’s Road Warriors team, who they had beaten 6-4 the day before, and they dropped an exciting but frustrating 8-7 decision in the championship.
So to re-cap, out of 11 teams in the U15 division, the Black team went 1-3 and finished 10th, but they won their last game of the tournament and ended up feeling pretty good about themselves, and the Purple team advanced all the way to the championship and finished in 2nd place.
It was fun to see the Purple team give their best effort to sing the pre-game Clyde song. It was awesome to see the NOAFE and Clyde men’s team players help on the U15 benches. And when it all was over, the young Clydesiders were talking about playing together again someday… in Prague!
I don’t know much about youth box tournaments; I don’t know what options there are for kids to play box. I know the Can-Am teams have youth teams that play one another, and the Rochester Knighthawks have a youth league… but what other opportunities are there for kids to play box lacrosse?
The NAI is the biggest box lacrosse tournament in the United States, and it will probably continue to grow. But I’d like to see some other people offer similar tournaments. The NAI was modeled after the Aleš H?ebeský Memorial in Prague, which will be in its 27th year next April.
How ironic that, here in the U.S., we’re trying to catch up, imitating what Europeans, Canadians, and only a few Americans have known about for years… and Central NY, where the game began, where state and national champions come from, and where we take such pride in our strong roots, is barely a speck on the international map.
Hey, Upstate NY, we’ve got some catching up to do.
Which reminds me… We’re running out of time to order tickets to the Upstate Lacrosse Foundation’s Hall of Fame dinner on Sunday, October 27. This year’s class of inductees includes Josh Coffman, Matt Riter, Ron Fraser, Andy Shay, Sarah Kellner, Greg Tarbell, Jeff Klodzen, Lars Tiffany, Kenny Nims, and John Tillman
For more information, check out the www.JustLacrosse.com
home page – ticket information is on the top right side of the screen. Deadline for reservations is Thursday, October 24th. Hope to see you there!
In the meantime, drive carefully, everyone!
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.