#LaxCon Sights and Sounds from Saturday
|Fans got to meet their heroes at the convention Fan Fest, including many of the women of Team USA, who signed autographs and posted pictures (above). Below, fans watch as members of the U.S. Men's team pepper the net with shots after the afternoon demonstration of the Team USA offense with coach Jeff Tambroni. (Sean Burns)|
The busy weekend continued at the US Lacrosse National Convention on Saturday, where doors opened for nearly 2000 attendees for the Fan Fest open to the public (in addition to the some 7,000 members in attendance for the weekend).
Fans got a little bit of everything for their dollars, including the myriad clad in Wings regalia due to a discount on entrance fee for those wearing the red and grey of the local team, which plays Buffalo at home on Sunday in an unofficial close to the weekend of lacrosse.
Meeting Their Heroes
One of the highlights of the Fan Fest was the opportunity for fans to meet and interact with many of the players from Team USA - as both the men's and women's senior national teams were on hand on Saturday. The women's players signed autographs and posed for photos with fans near the Champion setup in the expo hall and participated in a demonstration with head coach (and Georgetown head coach) Ricky Fried on the team's famed riding system.
Men's team members participated in a demonstration with Team USA assistant (and Penn State head coach) Jeff Tambroni, who showed the crowd their offensive system.
After that demonstration, the crowd lingered between sessions as several of the USA hopefuls took advantage of the net on the demo field to get some shooting in - after all, we're just a couple weeks before the Blue-White scrimmage at Champion Challenge, so every little bit helps...
Triplette Addresses Officials
Jeff Triplette has mastered the art of having fun while in stressful positions. Thirty-two years as a reservist in the National Guard and a lifetime of sports officiating can help anyone learn perspective.
That's why the 18-year NFL official didn't hesitate to poke fun at himself as he began a keynote address for officials Saturday at the US Lacrosse National Convention, presented by Champion.
"Who here has Googled me?" asked Triplette, who's spent 15 years as a referee and crew chief under America's glare on Sunday afternoons. "I must be the worst official in the world."
The comment got the first of several rounds of laughter and applause from several hundred men's and women's lacrosse officials. Triplette, whose likeable demeanor and western North Carolina drawl seemingly repel the stress of having his work examined by millions, has had his share of scrutiny during the 2013 NFL season. He managed each scenario according to his six principles of "Being a Winner On and Off the Field."
Triplette has never shied away from accountability, something that's a must for an official of any sport. He relayed the story of a back judge on his crew accepting a downgrade the league originally assessed the field judge.
"As a crew chief, that sends chills down my spine. That's a guy I want to work games with every week," Triplette said.
Twelve minutes into his presentation, the battery on his microphone died.
"That's my fault," Triplette said, to another round of laughs.
He's also the CEO of ArbiterSports, with which US Lacrosse is partnering to create a Central Hub of officials' educational resources not unlike similar Central Hubs for other sports.
"I think in lacrosse we'll see that same thirst for knowledge and information from your membership," Triplette said prior to beginning his speech. "It will be something that you'll be amazed at – how folks will go to the site if you post new content."
Triplette started officiating in high school, when a basketball official did not show up for a game.
"My coach says, 'Come on Trip, you can do this,' and handed me a whistle and a striped shirt," Triplette said. "The passion began, and my coach said, 'You're pretty good at this.' So I kept at it."
He continued to officiate football and basketball while a student at Wake Forest, eventually focusing on football and working his way up through the college ranks.
"I tell folks all the time that the most exciting time of the year is when you get that first assignment for the next season," Triplette said.
His final words of advice revealed a glimpse into the longevity of his officiating career: "Concentrate, communicate, respect your crew and have fun."
Vendor Scene Bigger and Better
|Some of the huge displays in the center included an RV from STX (Top left), Maverik's trailer (Top right), Under Armour's trailer, complete with upstairs lounge area (bottom left), Wreckless Lacrosse's logo'd up truck (bottom right) and Champion's store in a box, complete with logo truck to pull it in and out of the center. (Sean Burns)|
A big part of the Fan Fest was the ability for fans to snake their way through the expo area, where vendors from far and wide with any tie to the game of lacrosse were on hand to show off their wares and hopefully network with coaches, fans and administrators from across the country.
The vendors were hawking a wide array of things, from the predictable (gear, clothing, lax equipment) to the tangental (training rebounders, tournament registration) to the totally off the wall but still pretty neat (One guy was selling hammocks strung like traditional lacrosse sticks)
Having been to a few conventions, this was all pretty par for the course, but what struck me was the scale and style that some of the companies are bringing to their setups. STX and Wreckless Lacrosse both had RVs papered with their logos (and STX had music rocking all weekend in front of their area, which was nice for those of us working retail with the US Lacrosse group, since we were right next door). Under Armour, Maverik and Champion had trailers that folded out into mini-stores that weren't so mini. Under Armour's even had a spiral staircase and a lounge on the roof.
Go big or go home, I suppose, when you've got a chance to interact with nearly 10,000 fans, coaches and decision makers.
Growing the Game of Wheelchair Lacrosse
US Lacrosse is not the only national association trying to grow the game of lacrosse. Wheelchair Lacrosse USA, created in 2009, is trying to do the same thing.
Ryan Baker and Bill Lundstrom, founding members of Wheelchair Lacrosse USA, were among the athletes who staged a demonstration of the game at #LaxCon Saturday. Afterwards, they shared their vision for the growth of the wheelchair sport, with is generally played on roller hockey venues with eight players per side.
"Most players that come to the game are picking up a stick for the first time," said Baker, who lives in San Diego. "Similar to myself, they didn't grow up playing lacrosse. We're hoping to find ways to expose the game to as many players as possible."
Currently, wheelchair teams are located primarily in seven cities nationwide: San Diego, Denver, Atlanta, Tampa, Richmond, Baltimore and New York, with an average of 85-100 players in each city. Through partnerships and collaborative efforts with organizations liked Paralyzed Vets of America, Wounded Warrior and potentially US Lacrosse, Baker and Lundstrom hope to expand the game to three new cities per year.
"It's about growing the game in untapped markets," Lundstrom said. "There's huge potential."
Ironically, one of the keys to the continued growth of wheelchair lacrosse may be very similar to that of the mainstream game – Olympic, or in this case, Paralympic, recognition.
"Disabled athletes tend to gravitate to sports that are in the Paralympics," Baker explained. "Paralympic status is our goal, but we need more teams across the country, and at least eight countries worldwide playing the sport."
In the meantime, WLUSA has released its first official rulebook, bringing written guidelines and uniformity to the sport. As a reflection of its predominantly male-oriented participation, the new rulebook is written specifically for the men's contact version of the game.
Ultimately, Baker says, it's easy to explain why WLUSA is committed to growing the sport.
"We want to be athletes. Plain and simple."
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