By Josh Martin, Sports Editor
It’s no secret to the locals of New Westminster that lacrosse is a major focal point within the community. Queen’s Park Arena is home to the New West Salmonbellies, a team that was originally founded in 1888 and holds 26 Mann Cup championships across the rafters, dating back to 1915. The iconic building features the only wooden lacrosse floor across Canada. A city with this kind of heritage, it’s hard to find a single person
in New West that doesn’t have some tie to the city’s game. It’s huge.
So if lacrosse is such a major sport locally, how come the sport doesn’t have as much publicity throughout North America?
“Box lacrosse is absolutely huge in New West. You bleed red, white, and blue, which are Salmonbelly colours,” says Ben Taylor, a Junior ‘A’ Salmonbelly. “Some other cities take it seriously. But the main competitors for people who play lacrosse are New West and Coquitlam.”
Taylor recently went on a four-month scholarship stint down to Reinhardt University in Waleska, Georgia where he played for the Reinhardt Eagles in the NCLA League. Taylor says that universities across the States are more than willing to give money to hopeful lacrosse prodigies.
“There are a lot of schools down there that have a lot of money. The thing is, unless you’re some sort superstar that’s breaking all the records, schools don’t really notice you. It comes to the point where you have to make the opportunity for yourself. Right now, field lacrosse is the fastest growing university sport in the States and because of that they’re trying to get their hands on as many Canadian lacrosse players as possible.”
Like Taylor, players who have been playing box lacrosse their entire lives are going down to the States and dominating in the league as the two variations, field and box, are completely different and almost treated as two entirely different sports.
“I find that people who go from box to field lacrosse have a very big advantage because you’re going from a smaller to a larger net,” says Taylor. “So a person who’s trained their whole lives to pick the corners off in a really small net with a really big goalie, moving up to a sport where you have a giant net with a really small goalie, has such a large advantage.”
With lacrosse moving through a transitional period in North America, the popularity between box and field varies based on the city or community’s heritage. Going from New Westminster where box lacrosse is a near religion among fans to Taylor’s University down in Georgia, where the popular choice is field.
“Nobody knew what box lacrosse was. If I was talking about lacrosse, I’d be talking about box back home. For them, it’s field lacrosse. Box isn’t even on their radar. The mentality down there where I was it wasn’t that popular because it was growing. But there are certainly places around the states where field lacrosse is just gigantic. “
The National Lacrosse League (NLL) hasn’t quite found it’s bearings across North America in terms of popularity. The former Vancouver Ravens were a part of that league for three seasons from 2002-04, but due to a lack of popularity and unstable ownership, couldn’t progress in the business.
“The Vancouver Ravens were playing when lacrosse wasn’t really that big. When the NLL was starting out, people were going, ‘What’s this?’ People didn’t really know about it. Places like New West and Coquitlam might be really big into lacrosse but Vancouver itself, there’s no Vancouver lacrosse team. It’s only the suburbs,” says Taylor.
“It’s a similar situation as to what happened to the Vancouver Grizzlies. We like basketball, but we’re not a basketball city. We’re a hockey city. There’s just not enough interest to keep it going, so it just dies out. Until we get a group of people in Vancouver who have enough interest in lacrosse to keep it going then I don’t think Vancouver is going to have a lacrosse team anytime soon.
“I wouldn’t be able to say, ‘This is the turning point,’ [to its popularity] because it’s a gradual slope. Until something extravagant happens that changes people’s perspective on lacrosse, I don’t think there’s going to be a huge major focal turning point. I think that in our life time it’s going to get popular. Maybe not quite the same as hockey, but definitely something.”