|Lacrosse Head Coach Frank Clark with camp participant Connor Simpson of Eagan, Minn. on UMD's Griggs Field. Photos by Brett Groehler.|
It is one of the fastest growing team sports in America and, with its roots deep in American Indian culture, it is also one of the oldest. Each year, upwards of 150 young men in grades 9-11 converge at UMD for five days to revisit the game's basics and master its finer points. The sport is lacrosse and this summer, youth from Vancouver, Thunder Bay, Maryland, Illinois, and Texas joined young men from Duluth, the region, and the state for UMD’s summer lacrosse camp.
The camp is in its seventh year. Head Coach Frank Clark knows what brings youth here: UMD's excellence on the lacrosse field. UMD’s lacrosse team has won the Upper Midwest Lacrosse Conference (UMLC) championship 15 years out of the last 19 years, they’ve won the last seven years in a row, and they've been to nationals thirteen times. This past season, the team had four All Americans and 12 All UMLC honored. UMD lacrosse alumni remain remarkably active in the sport. “There are about ten alumni who are head coaches in the Twin Cities. There are elite programs run by UMD alumni,” Clark said. In fact, all of the staff at the camp, except Clark, were past or current UMD players. At one time or another, Clark coached every one of the men who were part of his camp coaching staff.
What makes UMD’s lacrosse program so special is a consistent theme, voiced in variations by coach and staff, but with the same focus – every day you should be better.
Lacrosse for American Indian Youth
The camp also has a classroom component, which covers culturally specific issues about health and wellness, nutrition, diabetes and obesity awareness, and leadership development. “This camp strengthens our region’s American Indian community. UMD is please to help it continue,” said Chancellor Lendley C. Black.
History of the Game
The sport originated with American Indian tribes. Teams could consist of as many as 1,000 players on each side and games sometimes ran for several days. Jesuit missionary Jean de Brebeuf observed the game in 1636 and named the sport “la crosse” meaning “the stick.” French pioneers played the game and in 1867, a Canadian dentist, W. George Beers, established written rules for the game.
Lacrosse is a total sport. “It is physical like hockey and football. It has sets and plays like basketball, and requires the finesse and conditioning of soccer,” said Clark. At one time, tribes used the game as a way to settle disputes and conflicts. American Indian players were like warriors on the field. There is a deep sense of camaraderie and warrior spirit that continues among players to this day. It is evident in the words of UMD coaches and players.
Scott Stark, assistant coach and recruiting coordinator who will graduate from UMD in December 2012 with a degree in business organizational management and minors in education and coaching, stated, “When I came in, it was like I entered a brotherhood. You walk on campus, and there are 45 guys who have your back, who help you transition from high school to college. You want to leave better as a player and leave the program better. Not just for four years, but for the guys that come after.”
Former members of the lacrosse program have a long-standing history of working with the program, keeping it going. Assistant Coach Casey Mithun, who played for four years on the team from 2006-2009, worked at the camp. “It’s a chance to give back to the community,” he said. “We have a strong tradition both on the field and off the field. We have a really strong alumni following.”
UMD’s camp is a development camp. “Some camps are competition camps,” Clark said. “We focus on fundamentals.” Clark thinks of the camp as a cumulative exam. “We start with the basics. They all think they have it down. We don’t let them slip on the little things. Then we start adding in more complex elements. High school coaches tell us their players come back better prepared for the next year.”
Coaches evaluate each player and at the end of the camp, players are given an overview on what they do well and where they need to improve. “The one- on-one work is invaluable,” said Clark. “I tell them ‘I’m not here to be your buddy. I’m here to push you. I want you to be better.’”
In addition to the camp, the young people are also exposed to the campus. “Five or six of the staff were campers at one time,” Clark said. As a recruiter, Stark sees his job as two-fold. “We bring guys on campus. We have one of the top [lacrosse] programs in the state. But I’m not just selling the lacrosse program, I’m also selling the education. It’s the full package. UMD is a great place."
Stan Drutowski, who will be a senior in fall 2012, will also be the lacrosse team co-captain this year. He assisted in coaching at the camp. “I love to coach,” he said. Among the things he strives to instill in the players are “hard work, practice what you’re not good at, be a good fundamental player, and play the team game.” Drutowski reiterated the UMD lacrosse motto and stated, “Leave it better than you found it – the team, the program, the school.” The tradition continues.
For more information, visit the UMD lacrosse website or contact Head Coach Frank Clark.
|Players at UMD's summer lacrosse camp.|
Written by Kelly Kemper and Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann, July 2012