Lacrosse championship a sendoff for Chapel Hill 11-year-old

Ten-year-old Will Bryan is moving away from Chapel Hill today, but on Sunday he got a terrific going-away present.

A championship. And to go with it, a bracket poster signed by all his teammates on the Carolina Cannons lacrosse team.

“It’s going up on the wall in my new home,” Will said, sweaty and smiling moments after the Cannons won the under-11 division at the US Lacrosse Regional Championships, held over the weekend in Raleigh.

The three-day tournament drew 46 youth teams from 11 states to the WRAL Soccer Park according to US Lacrosse – 1,100 players ages 10 through 15 along with parents, siblings, vendors, officials and fans who made the park a swirl of color and motion.

Fast motion, and lots of – it seemed the consensus of opinion that speed is one of the booming sport’s main attractions.

“It’s dynamic,” said Nathan Little, 15, from Atlanta. “You’re always moving, it’s not like you’re sitting there and waiting.”

Lacrosse mom Bonnie Pechar from Cornelius agreed. Her son, Caden, now 11, has been playing since he was “5 or 6,” she said.

“Lacrosse is the funnest sport I’ve watched,” she said. “Everybody I’ve talked to says the same thing. It’s the fastest sport, and it takes a lot of skill.”

Raleigh scores as host

This year was the second in a row that Raleigh has hosted the regionals and last week US Lacrosse, a nationwide umbrella organization headquartered in Baltimore, announced last week that they will be back in 2013 and 2014.

“Raleigh is a great location,” said US Lacrosse spokesman Paul Krome. “It’s a city that’s easy to drive to and the venue is great.”

Moreover, “it’s right in the middle” between the traditional lacrosse hotbeds in the Northeast, and the southeastern states where the game is riding a wave of popularity.

For the tournament, teams came from as far north as Long Island, N.Y., as far south as Palm Beach, Fla., and as far west as Houston. The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau expected the guests to generate more than $500,000 in direct spending.

“It’s a natural fit here,” said Jason Philbeck, sports marketing manager at the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The sport is booming.”

On the rise

The boom is not just in the Southeast, according to US Lacrosse figures. Since the organization was formed in 1998, its membership has risen from 44,000 to 401,000. Since it began tracking in 2001, players on organized teams of all ages has risen from 254,000 to 685,000 – including growth of 9.6 percent from 2010 to 2011.

“For kids, lacrosse is just a very cool sport,” Krome said.

US Lacrosse itself has something to do with that, as a promoter and sponsor for the sport, especially for youngsters. TV exposure for college games “obviously helps at the younger levels.”

Another factor could be, he said, that, unlike baseball, basketball or soccer, a lot of youngsters’ parents never played the game themselves – so they aren’t so apt to criticize and give advice.

“Their parents can’t tell them what to do,” Krome said.

Fast and fun

“I just like how competitive it is and how fast, you’re always moving,” Colleen O’Connell, 14, of Atlanta, said.

Her sister, Courtney, a 13-year-old goalie, likes the adrenaline rush when she goes to stop a shot.

“Fast and fun. Once girls, and boys, too, start playing, they never look back,” their father, Patrick O’Connell, said. He played lacrosse for Georgia Tech “ages ago.”

Camaraderie and sportsmanship are other qualities that both players and parents said are among the sport’s attractions.

“There’s not a lot of selfish play. These boys pass so well, there is a real team effort,” said Maria Young of Raleigh, whose son Nick was a defenseman for the champion Cannons.

“It’s fun to score and check,” Nick, 10, said.

“I like just running through people,” said Ryan Levy, 10, of Chapel Hill, who played attack for the Cannons.

For the record:

  • The No Limit Ballers from Long Island beat the Triangle-area Tar Heel Lacrosse for the boys’ U15 title, 12-7.
  • In the girls’ U15 championship, the StickBenders from Vero Beach, Fla., beat the Lightning from Marietta, Ga., 12-4.
  • The Baltimore-area Integrity Lacrosse Club won the girls’ U13 championship over the Atlanta-area Georgia Outlaws, 11-8.
  • For the boys’ U13 title, Penn Select of Philadelphia won over the Palm Beach Storm, another Florida club, 14-1.
  • In the boys U11 finale, the Triangle-area Carolina Cannons topped the Baltimore-area Thunder, 12-7.

After his last game as a Cannon, Will Bryan stood wearing his medal by the US Lacrosse tent. He was holding up the bracket chart, with all the weekend’s U11 scores leading up to the championship, for his teammates to sign before he moved away.

“This is just the best,” he said.