The community of Wisconsin Dells is a microcosm for the next big thing in sports, thanks to all the sports facilities, tournaments and general comings and goings of close to the over four million visitors annually.
This sport, invented by Native Americans, rich in history and a more common sight on the east coast, is now gaining popularity nationwide at the high school, collegiate and pro ranks. In fact, some claim it is the fastest growing youth sport in the U.S.
On a sunny summer day at the Wisconsin Dells Center, better known among athletes as "The Bubble," boys from grades 5th through 12th were on the field running drills during a camp put on by True Lacrosse. Required gear includes helmet, shoulder pads, elbow pads, gloves, stick, cleats and mouth guard. This fast-paced, high-scoring sport has elements of hockey and soccer. And, according to the organizers, attendance at the camp nearly tripled from the year before. "Landing on a college team is a motivator for some, for others it's the chance to be part of something," said Paul Aubuchon, a former ice hockey goalie and college lacrosse player and director for the Wisconsin camps. "There is a place for every kid on the field."
Kids at this development camp were particularly tuned in to Mike Gabel, co-owner of True Lacrosse and a four-time all-star with the Rochester Rattlers pro team, who did as much encouraging as instructing, and the kids ate it up. During a break he mentioned this was his second time in the Dells – he also came here in 8th grade on a fishing trip with his dad.
While the kids were clearly enjoying the rigors of the morning drills, the best moment was perhaps the one leading into the noon break. The coaches had the kids gather round on the bleachers to give them instructions for the afternoon - walk back to Chula Vista Resort where they were staying, have lunch, meet in the designated spot and, just when they were expecting a rundown of more drills, the coaches told them they were all going to the waterpark. Talk about a cheer going up from the stands. Gabel even offered coaching tips on the finer points of the racing slides.
"The waterpark atmosphere helps motive the kids," said Gabel. "Kids choose this camp over a camp at a college campus for that very reason."
While this was an all-boys camp, organizers say to look for girls' lacrosse development camps in the coming year.