The sun is shining, school’s out and there’s still lacrosse! The summer dead zone has been given the kiss of life by a rocking lax revolution. Welcome to the thrill factory that is the Hillcroft Summer League – an idea formed in a pub on a bleak February night with last season’s final game rearing its ugly head.
It soon developed into a four-team tournament held over six different Saturdays and has been a magnet for hibernating players. Complete with draft picks, jazzy kits and cross-team banter, it has been a knock-out hit with more than 100 players on the books. “We were sitting in a pub and lamenting that the season was about to end just as the decent weather was starting,” said Hillcroft’s Henning Schmidt, who helped organise the league at the club’s 3G astro in Tooting, south London.
“We set out to provide more lacrosse and I think we’ve achieved that. But it’s really about the player experience. We have two league games on the Saturdays and a pick-up scrimmage game as well then its food, beer pong, karaoke and great evening.
“Each team has its own identity with specially designed bibs and the captains have put in a lot of effort to organise their teams and put some meaning on the games.”
The players, who had to be ELA registered, were divided among four teams – Nomads, Merrymen, DangerZone and Foreigners – via a draft pick made by captains Rob Clark and Tom Hatton, from Purley, and Stuart McGregor Dallas and Emiliano Conti, from Hillcroft, Games of 4 x20 minute quarters cost £10 each or £7.50 for players committing to all six, plus a £5 sign-up fee.
“We had a contingency plan to go down to an 8-a-side league but have thankfully not needed it as the response has been so good,” added Schmidt, a former Welwyn Warriors defender and coach who transferred to Hillcroft after moving into London.
“It is a very inclusive set up with a range of abilities on display but some of the lacrosse has been of a very high standard. For a lot of new, emerging or even returning players it is a great chance to play with or against Prem players such as Tom Loake, who won a lot of praise for his performances for Scotland in the World Championships. “The league could not have happened with out significant volunteer support.
Refs Simon Peach, Gregg Irwin, Dan Wright, Ken Koi, Sonny Campbell, Rob Curtis, James Woodson and Pete Compton have been volunteering their services and there are two or three refs at every game.
“There is a lot of competition for the title and we are expecting some great games on the last two Saturdays which are this Saturday, August 23, with the deciders on September 13 when there will also be a women’s lacrosse match between Durham University Alumni and Clapham Ladies LC will be held on September 13.
The social element is hugely important to the League’s success with a range of post-game activities running into the evening. Hillcroft, which has grown from one to three thriving teams over the last five years, has built an impressive reputation for hospitality and were last year christened ‘Lacrosse’s 24-Hour Party People’.
“There is a great atmosphere and we are looking to build on it and the games for next season. The Summer League certainly feels like it is here to stay,” added Schmidt, a transport economist. “But it wouldn’t be possible without a dedicated team of volunteers and the support of Tooting & Mitcham Football club and its bar staff who are brilliant – big thanks to Abi, Ben, Bags, Jackie and all from the club along with Camille Hourtane who has helped running game days.”
A successful summer league prompts the obvious question about moving lacrosse to the summer to take advantage of the better weather and avoid the clash with rugby and football.
Hillcroft have the benefit of an Astroturf available during the summer and Schmidt was keen for the league not to be seen as any kind of statement. “That is a question for another time and other people,” he said. “We are just enjoying the extra opportunity to play lacrosse, have fun and we are sure we can build on that next season.”
Any funds made from the league will be split between next year’s Summer League and supporting the South of England team. Check out www.facebook.com/groups/hillcroftsummerlax or email firstname.lastname@example.org
By Danny Buckland.