When I first moved to Montana, back in 2002, lacrosse was just becoming a real interest of mine and, at the time, there were around 25 people playing lacrosse in the state. I had only started playing the game as a sophomore in high school and I remember being excited to play for a college program. I had no idea what I was getting into when I first became involved with the club program at Montana, but over the years I was able to experience a lot of what the MCLA has to offer. I played for a pretty awful team that featured mis-matched hand-me-down uniforms, Wal-Mart shorts, and I goalie that I think I saw on the field a total of 4 times. I helped lead my team to three National Tournament appearances and once I received a shiny belt buckle. I played before, during, and after the transition of the various club lacrosse associations – from beer league to whatever you want to call it now. I think I’m the only person who has played and coached in both the MCLA D1 and D2, and I did it all for the same team. I’ve been on bus trips all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond, and made friends from coast to coast… but that was all a different chapter.
In 2008 my good friend, James Pyke, and I decided to launch the first traveling youth lacrosse program in Montana – Missoula Elite Lacrosse – and that’s when things really changed for me. When I say ‘traveling,’ I mean ‘only,’ because at this time there were no other teams or any programs in the state operating in the spring season so we had to travel for games. We fielded 2 high school programs initially, a boys ‘varsity’ and ‘jv,’ and we hit the ground running. The initial group of players were hooked right away, so we got some parents involved and continued to grow. The sport was also starting to gain ground in other parts of the state, beginning in 2009, and we pushed to expand into new areas. The program was revamped with each new season to accommodate for growth, for changes in staff, and for changes in the greater lacrosse landscape. The first teams younger than the high school level, the first youth girls teams, bringing in the first pro players to visit the state, producing the first Montana player to move on to an NCAA program… the list of firsts is a long one.
Since its inception, Missoula Elite Lacrosse has introduced the sport to over 300 new players. More than 25 coaches took the sidelines for the first time with us and our teams have played in more than a thousand games. MEL teams and players have traveled to lacrosse competitions in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Illinois and they have represented the state extremely well.
On Wednesday I was on the field running the MEL Fall Program and this time when the season ended, it has ended for good. Beginning today, Missoula Elite Lacrosse will start to officially close up shop… The newly formed Missoula Lacrosse Club will begin operations in the spring of 2014 to accommodate the area’s youth teams and players during the spring season, and I will be transitioning to a new venture out on the Lacrosse Frontier – all of which has been in the works for the past few months.
I wanted to take a moment to thank all the players and parents who have been involved with the MEL program. Lacrosse is such a special game and creates such a unique family, but it is something that people need to learn for themselves to understand – creating that first spark in a new player has been a tremendous joy, but getting to watch the parents grow along in their understanding of the game has been an equal joy of mine. Special thanks are due to the young men who really worked hard at their game and who pushed the program and inspired others, none of this would have been possible without you. I also wanted to thank all the teams that have hosted us throughout the years, especially the ones who took a chance on us early on. And of course thanks to James for sharing a vision and to our families for their continued support.
I’m looking forward to the next chapter!
Here are some of my favorite photos from the past few years: