Opening Ceremony Kicks Off U19 Men's World Games
TURKU, Finland – In the center of a tree-filled park in Finland's oldest city, players, staff members, families and fans representing 12 countries filled a 1,000-seat stadium complex to officially open the 2012 Federation of International Lacrosse Under-19 World Championships on Thursday evening.
It was 6 p.m. local time in "sunny Turku," public address announcer Jussi Kokkola said under blue skies in welcoming the crowd, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the seemingly consistent forecast of overcast and a chance of rain here in the southwest part of the country.
The U.S. under-19 men's national team, along with groups representing Canada, the Iroquois, England, Australia, Germany, Wales, Czech Republic, Scotland, Netherlands, Korea and the homestanding Finns all sported their colors and flags and set up in formation on the field.
U.S. defenseman and tri-captain Stephen Jahelka carried in the stars and stripes in front of 22 other players, coaches and support staff near the start of the roughly 30-minute opening ceremony. Fellow U.S. captain Rob Zoppo was asked to read the players' oath for all participants. Event organizers, along with FIL director of development Tom Hayes, then stood at midfield and addressed the crowd, all sitting in the stands along one side of the complex.
"This is going to be great," Finnish Lacrosse Association president Timo Kilpiainen said in advance of the 10-day tournament that ends July 21 with the championship game.
"Ladies and gentlemen, honored guests, players and coaches, referees, organizers, volunteers and parents, it's my honor to now open the seventh U19 World Championships of Turku, Finland," Hayes said. "Let the games begin."
After a short break and pre-game warmups, Team Finland opened competition against the Czech Republic in Red Division play in front of a packed crowd that had some fans sitting in the concrete aisles. The Czech's won 10-7, holding off the Finns, who made a fourth-quarter rally.
"It really hit home when we walked out," Jahelka, a rising sophomore starter for Harvard, said of walking into the facility. "We got a little taste of what it will feel like to walk out as Team USA for the first time in front of everybody. I think everybody got a sense of how important this team is to a lot of people, how much we're representing back home as much as ourselves."
Team USA's first game is 7 p.m. Friday against Australia. It then faces Canada at 7 p.m. Saturday, followed by pool games against England and the Iroquois on Sunday and Tuesday, respectively. (Full USA schedule here.) The team practiced Thursday morning in Turku and has one final practice Friday morning.
The U.S. is 36-0 all-time in U19 men's competition and has won all six tournaments contested since 1988. Canada has placed second four times.
The opening ceremony was marked by two moments of silence: one for Iroquois U19 team member Kanatiio "Tiio" Adams, who passed away Jan. 2 at age 18. He would have played in these games, said his cousin, after stepping to the microphone.
The other was for Chris Sanderson, the former Team Canada senior national team goalie who passed away June 28 at age 38 after a lengthy battle with brain cancer. Canadian under-19 assistant coach Geoff Snider, Sanderson's former teammate, asked for the moment.
"He was a consummate competitor and ambassador of the sport," Snider said. "He will be truly missed."