As winter reluctantly loosens its grip on Waterloo Region and another spring is upon us, families are forcing this year’s batch of smelly, hulking hockey bags back into hibernation.
And while diehard puck lovers are already counting down the days until next season’s tryouts, an increasing number of players across the region are more than happy to replace their blades with other sports footwear for a couple of months.
According to Rob Howey of the Kitchener Waterloo Minor Lacrosse Association, the sport of box lacrosse – also known as indoor lacrosse – is growing in popularity. Entering the 2013 season, the club has enough players for about 15 teams – the most since Howey started coaching more than 20 years ago.
One reason for the increased interest, Howey says, is the sport’s many similarities to ice hockey. It is played on an enclosed, rink-sized surface. It is played five-on-five, plus goalies. Contact is permitted and the players wear full equipment.
Howey, who directs the girls’ program and coaches the girls’ intermediate team, says another reason the sport has caught on is the popularity of the Toronto Rock. Founded in 1998 as the Ontario Raiders, the Rock moved to Toronto in 1999 and have been a perennial powerhouse in the National Lacrosse League ever since.
According to Howey, however, the Rock’s exposure has been a double-edged sword.
“A lot of people see the Rock play and they think that’s how rough it is,” he says. “But those guys are pros and they play with different rules.”
It is this perceived violence, Howey adds, that makes parents reluctant to register their daughters.
“We’re struggling for numbers in the younger age groups, and a lot of the people I’ve talked to say, ‘I’ve seen the Toronto Rock and I’d never let my daughter play something like that,’” he says. “They don’t realize it’s nothing like that at our level.”
Howey’s 17-year-old daughter, Nicole Howey, played a season of field lacrosse before getting involved in box lacrosse two years ago. Despite the increased contact and the extra equipment, she prefers the indoor version.
“I like it a lot better,” she says. “I grew up around box because my dad coached and I’d always go to his games.”
Nicole, who plays ringette during the winter, says the majority of her teammates are multi-sport athletes and see box lacrosse as a great way to stay in shape during the off-season.
“It’s a great way to stay fit and get that beach body all girls want,” says the Forest Height Collegiate Institute student. “It’s also a great way to make new friends outside of school and do something instead of just sitting around all summer.”
That team-bonding is something Howey says he’s noticed as a coach.
“I’ve coached both hockey and ringette the last few years as well, but they seem to come closer as a group in lacrosse for some reason. You can really see them grow together.”
A possible reason for that, Howey suggests, is that the club focuses more on skill development and having fun than it does on competition. Whereas hockey and ringette may require players to try out for a particular team, box lacrosse accepts anybody willing to give it a shot.
“A lot of girls are intimidated just to pick up a lacrosse stick, but they get the hang of it pretty quick,” Howey says. “The big thing for me is the satisfaction of seeing the girls having fun and enjoying the sport.”
“We’re really encouraging and we try to help out new players as much as we can,” Nicole adds.
In an effort to get more young girls to try the sport, the club held a “try before you buy” session in March. While Howey says he was able to recruit a few rookies, he is still looking for more girls to fill out his rosters – particularly for the novice and midget teams (aged 10 and up).
“We want to start developing players when they’re younger so they’re more competitive at the older age levels,” he says. “Our goal is to make them better and keep them coming back.”
For more information about Kitchener Waterloo Minor Lacrosse, or to register, visit www.kwminorlacrosse.com.
Ryan Bowman’s column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at email@example.com.