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Lacrosse tykes’ festival shoots for development

Sixth annual event attracts more than 160 young players from across Central Alberta

INNISFAIL – More than 160 kids with sticks from across Central Alberta excitedly came to the Innisfail Twin Arena last weekend to celebrate the country’s sacred sport of lacrosse.

They ran and chased, and if necessary, raised their sticks high, always in pursuit of a solid rubber ball, no bigger than 64.7 millimetres in diameter.

The execution was hardly perfect but it did not matter. The kids, just six and eight years old, had fun.

It was that time of year to celebrate Innisfail’s sixth annual Terror of the Tykes Lacrosse Festival on May 14.

The one-day festival, held a month after regular season started, featured two 6U and one 8U teams from the Innisfail Minor Lacrosse Association (IMLA).

The festival had 161 total players – both boys and girls - from 11 teams from across Central Alberta.

The event was not a tournament. Each team plays two games that counted for regular season play.

The older players in 10U, 12U, 14U and 16U will play in the 14th annual Spirit of the Sticks tournament at the Innisfail Twin Arena on May 27 to 29.

“Our main focus at this festival is for them to have fun and learn to love the sport and want to continue on in the future,” said Jamie Flaman, the festival’s founder and coordinator, who was pleased the event attracted a steady stream of lacrosse-loving citizens who enjoyed themselves in a true festival atmosphere.

Outside in the arena parking lot there were four food and beverage trucks, and two bouncy houses on the east side. Between games, it was an especially big attraction for participating young players.

“It’s built up. It has gotten bigger over the years. We have always been successful with our vendors and our players who came out to have a good time,” said Flaman, emphasizing the tournament is vital for the future sustainability of minor lacrosse in the community.

“Without this core group of kids there would be no older teams. We wouldn’t be able to continue them,” she added. “It shows them this is fun. It doesn’t have to be all about competitiveness. We come out and have a good time. Hopefully they take that love of the sport and continue on.”

Steve Mackie, equipment manager and board member for the IMLA, said the value of the festival gives the youngest minor lacrosse players the needed incentive to move on to the sport’s next age and skill levels.

“Instead of just practising and practising they get to enjoy the game and continue on to 10U and 12U, the older ages. You’re building in the younger ages to have bigger teams in the future,” said Mackie, noting a key goal for the association is retention, hoping players will continue right through to 16U and then become coaches. “You want to start them at a young age and get them hooked and play their whole career in Innisfail.”

He added the IMLA is also hoping to see growth with girls in the older divisions. Mackie and Flaman estimated that about 30 per cent of the players participating on May 14 were girls but that figure decreases dramatically in the older divisions where contact is allowed.

“I think the biggest thing with the girls’ situation is when they go from 10U, it’s the end of non-hitting,” said Mackie. “I think the girls kind of shy away from the older ages because they don’t like the full contact.”

Kim Smyth, president of Central Alberta Lacrosse League (CALL), was at the festival to provide fully-certified officiating.

She was also instrumental in the recent launching of the CALL ProAll Ruckus team, the league’s first-ever, all-girls regional team.

Smyth said the festival was a good example of a sporting event that is not only beneficial to today’s players, boys or girls, but a source of inspiration for the future.

“We want to see kids keep on playing throughout their whole career,” said Smyth. “If they can come out and support the game through refereeing, coaching or mentoring of referees we want to see that continue lifelong, so right from the start all the way to the end.

“I think if we can make sure we have good officiating and excellent coaching and we can teach when we are on the floor in games, kids really respond to that,” added Smyth. “And if they have a good time when they are playing the game and aren’t in any fear of getting hurt then they can have fun.”

“As long as kids are having fun they will keep playing.”