By Maria Jollie
Hopkins, Minn. - On a school night this past March in Hopkins, 8th-grader Kamal Baker, like many kids in the area, spent the night participating in a competitive sport.
However, in Baker’s case, he's engaging in the fastest growing sport in America – lacrosse.
On this particular night, Baker is in attendance for a clinic hosted by the Minnesota Swarm’s Youth Box League (YBL) and is joined by 50 other youth players from across the metro area.
Baker was originally at the Hopkins Pavilion for his YBL team practice but his commitment to the sport and his future persuaded him to stay an extra two hours for a clinic that featured instruction from Swarm coaches and players.
“I want to hopefully play for a college and get scholarships,” Baker said. “I want to be a doctor so if I can get scholarships and get college paid for, I can go to medical school.”
His time was well spent, as he was exposed to new techniques and was able to score the game-winning goal for his team during a scrimmage at the end of the clinic.
“I learned the triple threat, I’ve never heard of that before,” Baker commented afterward. “It was fun.”
Four years ago, the YBL started with 200 participants and since then has grown to over 900 kids and 53 teams that are split in three grade divisions (3/4, 5/6, 7/8). These clinics contribute to the immense growth of the YBL – the largest youth box lacrosse league in the country.
Baker’s YBL team is made up of mostly first year players and he has noticed that a lot more of his peers are getting into lacrosse.
And it’s not just young players that are joining the lacrosse movement; parents and coaches are catching the fever too. A first-year team from Buffalo this season was able to transport 10 of their 14 players 40 miles to the clinic. In addition to their players, coaches Tim Jensen and Shawn Oberg made the trek to learn more about the game and enhance their coaching skills.
Jensen and Oberg both have extensive years of coaching hockey, but this season is their first year involved lacrosse.
“Last year is the first time I really got exposed to it. My son fell in love with it and it’s just fun to watch, it’s a great sport,” Jensen said.
Lacrosse is a unique sport because of the availability of its professional athletes to provide hands-on coaching to youth players. Jensen and Oberg appreciated the opportunity for their players to receive training directly from Swarm professionals.
“They know what they’re talking about and we’re just their dads,” Oberg said. “These guys can demonstrate how to do things correctly… it’s fantastic.”
The Buffalo team has seen the growth of lacrosse in their community and was able to make a 3rd and 4th grade team for the first time this year. Jensen and Oberg are hoping to see more turf in Buffalo for box lacrosse in the future to provide an opportunity for more kids in their community to get involved.
“I’m almost thinking box is better to watch than field because it’s so fast and so quick,” Jensen said. “It’s so much like hockey, you really have to have your head up. You don’t have time to lollygag out there.”
One of the players from Buffalo was Christian Marschel, a first-year box goalie. Marschel – the only goalie in attendance - had the unique opportunity of receiving one-on-one guidance from Swarm goalie Evan Kirk.
“It was pretty cool, pretty exciting,” Marschel said of the tips he received from Kirk. “Just keep your body straight up and down, make sure you get in good position, and talk to your players.”
Marschel’s inspiration to play lacrosse was a result of all the Swarm games that he had watched, so it was only fitting to have some of his favorite players there.
Joining Kirk from the Swarm included forwards Corbyn Tao and Pat Smith, and assistant coach Aime Caines. Caines has been heavily involved with the YBL since its inception and is a major contributor to its growth.
“I try to give back as much as I can and be a part of it. It’s my pleasure, I love doing it,” explained Caines.
Caines is involved in many of the YBL clinics and recognizes the immensity of box lacrosse and its interchangeability with field lacrosse.
“If you pick up a lacrosse magazine now, you won’t find one that doesn’t mention how box has really changed the outdoor game as well,” Caines says. “You see more pick and roll in Division I lacrosse and even now getting into high school and lower level lacrosse because of the impact the Canadians have on the outdoor game.”
Caines describes the player who is able to interchange his indoor and outdoor skills as a “hybrid lacrosse player.” He views the hybrid lacrosse player as an asset to the individual player, their team, and the future of the sport.
“If we can have that advantage in Minnesota and start having these kids play box lacrosse in 3rd grade and all the way up to high school, they’re just going to get better and better so it’s a great program and great for the sport, especially in the state of Minnesota,” says Caines of the YBL.
The Swarm aim to host YBL clinics multiple times prior to and during each YBL season to provide the youth players with skills they can put to use.
“We’re just trying to get the players to be active with the kids and show them what they can accomplish with hard work. We do as much as we can with the time we have,” Caines said.
Lacrosse fans are encouraged to support the many accomplishments of the YBL teams this year. The YBL will be concluding it’s fourth season Thursday, May 24 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Chaska Community Center with it’s Championship Games. Admission is free.
“It’s really inspiring to see all these kids participate in this league and to watch it grow as it has,” Swarm Co-Owner and Vice President Andy Arlotta said. “The playoffs are always an exciting time for everyone involved and Mo Gaitan (YBL Director) has done an excellent job of taking the league to the next level this season. I’m really proud of her accomplishments.”
3rd/4th Grade – 5 p.m.
5th/6th Grade – 6:30 p.m.
7th/8th Grade – 8 p.m.
Chaska Community Center
1661 Park Ridge Drive
Chaska, MN 55318-2841