By Justin Lafleur
Lacrosse is a growing sport, there’s no doubt about it. There’s not only continued expansion at the high school and college levels, but there’s also a significant sign of growth at the game’s highest level. Major League Lacrosse is now enjoying success in the south, and its southern franchise will take center stage this weekend, hosting the Major League Lacrosse All-Star Game. Opening faceoff Saturday night is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
“We started off a long time ago saying that lacrosse is huge in Charlotte,” said Hounds’ General Manager Wade Leaphart. “It actually is the truth. There’s been a 37 percent growth in youth participation since last year.
“We were able to package the All-Star game with the season ticket packages, so that’s a nice base for the game. We’re having groups of kids, coaches, families and friends call as far as Nashville and Atlanta. We’ve seen a big interest in this game.”
Charlotte is enjoying success in just its second season. Attendance at games has been strong, and the team is right in the postseason mix.
“It’s great to see them in year two battling for a playoff spot,” said MLL Commissioner David Gross. “Tough weather so far with rain, but they’ve had good crowds at the games. It’s a passionate fan base down there, which bodes very well for us. We think it’s a great market.
“We played two games in North Carolina before putting a team there,” he continued. “We like to play test games. We thought the market was ready, and they’ve proven that they are.”
“The lacrosse community travels very well,” said Leaphart. “There have been expansion talks about places like Florida and Atlanta. We’re sandwiched in between and getting people down south excited. The nice thing about the Hounds is a lot of people down that way didn’t have a team. Now there is a team. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Consider the All-Star Game a nice reward for the franchise.
Saturday night will feature the game’s best. It marks the second straight year the MLL All-Star Game has been in the south – a sign of the sport’s growth – after being played in Boca Raton, Florida last summer.
“We think the south is a huge market for the league to continue to expand and grow,” said Gross. “The more events we can put down there, the better it’s going to bode for the league. We’ll have a nice crowd; it’ll be a great event. We couldn’t be more excited for what it’s going to produce.”
This year’s game will take the format of 2011 with two ultimate fantasy winners selecting the teams. The All-Stars have been selected, but don’t know which side they’ll be assigned.
“The ultimate fan fantasy winners will be picking the teams the night before the game which is always a fun piece,” said Gross. “It was a great game when we had that two years ago and we expect a great game again this year.”
In that game, Team Warrior defeated Team Authority, 21-20 in front of 11,186 fans at Harvard Stadium. It was certainly an All-Star Game to remember.
The weekend consists of much more than just Saturday night’s game. There’s a youth clinic on Friday, selection of the teams Friday night, youth tournament Saturday, ultimate lunch experience Saturday and more. For the complete schedule of events, please click here.
For any lacrosse fan, Saturday is as good as it gets. Stars like Paul Rabil, Brodie Merrill and Jesse Schwartzman will be on display to celebrate not only the league, but also the fastest game on two feet. Not to be forgotten is a skills competition at halftime (which will also be shown live on ESPN2) featuring several contests like fastest shot and freestyle competition.
“I’m going to hold my breath, put my head down and get to work,” said Leaphart before last Saturday’s game at Boston. “There’s a lot that goes into it. We’re excited for the exposure for our corporate partners locally in Charlotte. It puts a national spotlight on Charlotte as a city.”