INNISFAIL — The town welcomed hundreds and hundreds of visitors last weekend as the 14th annual Spirit of the Sticks tournament was finally held at the Innisfail Twin Arena.
Young athletes between the ages of nine and 16 came to Innisfail to participate in one of the province’s marquee minor lacrosse events.
“After having two years of no tournaments due to COVID, I feel that it was a huge success. We had great support from the town and local businesses,” said Robbi-Lee Meeds, tournament coordinator for the Innisfail Minor Lacrosse Association (IMLA).
“We are seeing a lot of families, teams and players who are excited to be back. We are all a big family when we get together.”
The three-day tournament was held May 27-29 with 23 teams battling for gold and silver medals in the 10U, 12U, 14U and 16U levels.
Innisfail entered four teams. They were joined by the Chargers representing the Carstairs and Didsbury areas, along with Lacoka (representing minor lacrosse in the Lacombe, Ponoka, and Clive areas), Leduc, Beaumont, Bonnyville, Red Deer and Calgary.
Lacoka was this year’s big Innisfail tourney winner, earning two gold medals, and a silver. The 12U team bested Leduc 5 – 4 while the 14U squad defeated the Innisfail Phantoms 9 – 3.
In 10U, the Calgary Sabrecats beat the Carstairs Chargers 5 – 3 to claim gold while the Calgary Axemen (B) team defeated Lacoka 11 – 7.
“As for the Innisfail teams, all of them played hard and had fun. The 14U team took home a silver medal,” noted Meeds, adding organizers were pleased with the ongoing popularity of the event, despite the trials in recent years caused by the pandemic.
“We are known as one of the better tournaments within Alberta. We are central. It’s easy for travel and we see about 600 athletes, 1,000 people in total with families.”
With those numbers, Meeds said the tournament was also a welcome benefit for the local economy.
“There are local businesses we reached out to inform that they’d have a little extra business this weekend and to my knowledge people were going out and meeting the locals and checking out most of the businesses in town,” she said.
Meanwhile, the tourney was also hugely important for the IMLA in its mission to move forward from the trials of the pandemic, which had some pre-season registration challenges this year due to COVID.
However, Annette Atwell, vice president of IMLA, said there was an encouraging spike with late registrations once the season started.
“Kids were bringing their friends out and saying, ‘hey, come watch this’ and their friends wanted to come and play,” said Atwell. “So, late registrations were good and hopefully that means next year our registration numbers will be back up to normal or higher.”