Competition, camaraderie in South Suburban lacrosse league

Posted 3/20/16

It’s Tuesday night at Family Sports Center on Arapahoe Road. An intermittent droning throbs from planes descending into Centennial Airport. Men leave their cars, SUVs and pickup trucks and walk through the doors of the Sports Dome, some on their …

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Competition, camaraderie in South Suburban lacrosse league

Posted

It’s Tuesday night at Family Sports Center on Arapahoe Road. An intermittent droning throbs from planes descending into Centennial Airport. Men leave their cars, SUVs and pickup trucks and walk through the doors of the Sports Dome, some on their own, some in groups of two or three. By day, their occupations range from teachers to executives to laborers.

But tonight, they are warriors.

And they come from as far away as Colorado Springs to play in South Suburban Parks and Recreation’s weekly Adult Recreational Lacrosse League, now in its fourth season at the Sports Dome and open to anyone 18 or older.

“It’s a good time. It’s a pretty tight-knit group,” said John Regan, a member of the military in his 30s. “As long as you can find a league, you can jump in and immediately have a connection there.”

The interior of the 45,000-square-foot dome at 6959 South Peoria St., Centennial, is reminiscent of an airplane hangar, with its ceiling arched high above the AstroTurf and airport noise filtering through the walls. Despite the brown landscape of winter outside, the field inside is green and the air is warm, with a faint but distinct aroma of rubber. What isn’t clear is whether the smell is coming off the synthetic turf or the solid rubber balls whizzing through the air as players snap bullet passes to each other and fire shots at nets on either side of the field.

As the game starts, the buzzing of planes is muted by the pounding of running feet and clacking of carbon fiber sticks as players charge across the field, whacking at opponents to dislodge the ball.

The aggressive action highlights the minimal protective gear the players wear — a helmet, gloves, elbow pads and as a few players mentioned, a cup. It also makes it difficult to believe these guys don’t actually want to kill each other.

“The players here have developed a community, everybody gets along,” said Brad Stafford, supervisor of Sports Programming at the Sports Dome. “We don’t really have any problems among the teams.”

Regan, who traded a baseball mitt for a lacrosse stick in high school and never looked back, agreed.

“Everyone’s got to go to work in the morning,” Regan said. “No one’s trying to break arms out here.”

Sure enough, players help each other up as quickly as they knock each other down throughout the game. They all shake hands when it’s over, and as soon as jerseys come off the smiles they wear make it impossible to separate opponents from teammates.

Outside the dome, it wouldn’t be easy to distinguish a lacrosse enthusiast from any other recreational athlete. But the players will tell you they’re a unique group.

“I guess you could say the culture” is different, Stafford said.

“I’ve heard that everywhere,” said Colorado Springs resident Nicola Bevacqua, who began playing youth lacrosse on the East Coast. “It’s a different breed. I love the lacrosse community. I don’t think there are better athletes, blue-collar people who want to have some fun, get together. Yeah, they can party.”

Jared Lustig, the Sports Dome’s athletic coordinator, said the common trait among lacrosse players he manages is their relaxed attitude toward an intense sport.

“Each sport has their own culture, for sure,” Lustig said. “I’d say (lacrosse players) are more laid back. They’re out there to have fun and get a good workout in.”

Though lacrosse lacks the popularity of the “big five” sports — football, baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer — Stafford expects that to change.

“I think lacrosse is… definitely one of the most quickly growing sports, among youth and adults as well,” Stafford said.

Statistics back Stafford up. In a 2013 study, U.S. Lacrosse, the sport’s Baltimore-based governing body, found that participation across age groups almost tripled between 2001 (253,931 players) and 2013 (749,859 players.) High school athletes totaled 290,046, and children age 15 and younger comprised the largest segment of the total at 403,770, suggesting a promising future for lacrosse in the United States.

Two people on the field every Tuesday who would like to see more players get into the action are referees Steve Villarreal and Daniel Dureski. Villarreal has been officiating lacrosse games for 35 years while Dureski is in his first season.

“It’s a great league to join because all skill levels are welcomed,” Dureski said.

“You get out in the middle of the week,” Villarreal said, “and you get to be with your friends and have a little fun.”

He smiled.

And he said, “It beats watching television on a Tuesday night.”

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