INNISFAIL — Regional builders of Canada’s national summer sport have answered a call to make the game a lot fairer and accessible for young women.
The Central Alberta Lacrosse League (CALL) has launched its first-ever all-girls regional team.
There are 20 young female athletes, including eight from Innisfail, who have enthusiastically joined the U14 team, which also includes the same number of players from Red Deer, as well as a few each from Sylvan Lake and Blackfalds.
The team is officially called the CALL ProAll Ruckus, partially named after Olds’ team sponsor ProAll International Manufacturing Inc.
And best of all, they will no longer have to join the boys on a mixed squad; they can rightfully say their squad is a team of their own.
“That is the idea. It killed me to see those U6 teams with fifty per cent girls on them and U16 teams with no girls on them,” said head coach Jon Weddell. “On one of the courses I worked on towards this girls’ project, one of the statistics we learned was that for every male athlete that quits sports as a youth there are seven girls that quit.
“Especially in sports like lacrosse there is less girls to start with. We just can’t afford to lose those great athletes,” said Weddell, adding that as young players get older, the often-punishing body contact becomes harder and heavier.
“At the higher divisions, girls should have the choice. They should not have to play mixed if they want to continue. They should have an all-girls option.”
Serious talks for an all-girls lacrosse team for the region began in 2019. It was driven by Weddell, who is also president of the Innisfail Minor Lacrosse Association (IMLA); Kim Smyth, president of CALL as well as the league's executive director, Angela Nygaard.
They hoped to have the team in place and ready for action in 2020, but that timeline was temporarily derailed by COVID.
Weddell said there has been girls playing in mixed teams in the IMLA, mostly in the youngest levels. But in the older categories, including the highest U16 level, there are only one or two girls playing.
“Over the course of the six divisions they go through, they are leaving the sport. The idea is to build a sustainable supply of players by reaching out to this wider net,” he said.
“By casting that wider net and bringing girls from all the communities within CALL, you gather enough players to form a team and have sustainable numbers to hopefully keep the team going next year, and just really give the girls who don’t want to play mixed a viable option to go and play in an all-female environment.”
But where does the new CALL ProAll Ruckus team play?
Weddell noted there are all-girls’ leagues in Edmonton and Calgary but added the excessive amount of travel to compete is taxing on both players and parents.
To make the new initiative attractive, sustainable and affordable for regional families, the team is instead using a “showcase” or “academy” or “tournament team” model used by some private hockey leagues.
“Basically, we have not joined a league. We are going to try to hit three tournaments through the year and try to get as many exhibition games as the team can,” he said. “The goal is to get the development, fun and competition out of it but not the overloading of the schedule and the travel.”
And on April 23 at the Innisfail Arena, the first-ever all-girls lacrosse game that featured a CALL team was held.
The CALL ProAll Ruckus played the Calgary Fury Outlaws. Innisfail mayor Jean Barclay, a retired athlete herself, was asked to take part in the ceremonial face off.
The game was on for the girls, and just the girls.
“There has never been a CALL team like this. There’s never been a regional approach to it,” said Weddell, adding there has been a lot of effort in the minor lacrosse community to grow the sport for the girls. “Everybody wants to see that side of the game grow.”
The Ruckus’ next exhibition game at the Innisfail Arena is scheduled for May 14 from 4:45 to 6 p.m. They play the Sherwood Park Titans.