Lacrosse teaches Austin From a lot in regards to structural play, systems and strategy. However, he and the rest of the Manitoba Gryphons junior B lacrosse team learn just as much outside the arena as in it.
The Gryphons are hosting this year's Founders' Cup, the junior B lacrosse national championship, at St. Norbert Arena from Aug. 20-25. Rather than taking a day off to prepare for the championship, From and his teammates were changing light bulbs at the arena on Monday and helping with any last-minute issues before the tournament.
The lacrosse club doesn't make their players pay any type of registration fee. Money is raised by donations and sponsorship, so players don't have to pay their own expenses. All that's asked in return is a 100 per cent commitment to games and practices, and for players to volunteer in the community.
"It's all about growing the sport. I think lacrosse in Manitoba is on the rise and the talent is getting better," From said. "We've got to start by giving back to the community and getting kids involved in the sport at a young age. It helps to breed good players for the future."
The players, aged 17-21, sign autographs, read to children at hospitals, volunteer at soup kitchens and run lacrosse clinics in other cities to make up for any costs incurred. This method turns the players into responsible role models for children and the hope is to grow the game into the future.
This has been a big year for lacrosse in Manitoba. The Canadian Lacrosse Association hosted a semi-annual general meeting in Winnipeg, the 2013 Bantam National Box Lacrosse Championship was held in Winnipeg and now the season will be topped off with the Founders' Cup.
Gryphons head coach Ken Stuebing will leave the team at the end of the tournament. Stuebing has spent six years with the Gryphons organization but will be moving to Ontario with his family to become the chief of the Chatham-Kent Fire Department. However, he plans to still contribute to the organization in any way he can.
In the meantime, he's focused on advancing as far as possible at the Founders' Cup.
"That's been our mantra all year long. We've played very hard to produce solid defence, trying to hold their offence to as few goals as possible. It allows our offence to put the ball in the net," Stuebing said. "Also, in this game, power plays are a deadly weapon, so when playing the best teams in Canada, you've got to minimize the amount of power plays they have."
From, 18, and his teammates have seen the effort Stuebing has put into the Gryphons organization over the past six years. Manitoba has never medalled at the Founders' Cup, but taking home a medal of any colour would be an ideal thank you gift to their coach.
"He's got a vision and is so passionate about the sport and building it in our province. It's so hard not to get inspired just by the passion he demonstrates day in and day out," From said. "He's our leader and he's been pointing us in the right direction. He's steered us to victory for sure and we hope to continue it."
From promises the Founders' Cup will present some of the most exciting lacrosse action Manitoba will see for a long time.
"It's high-paced, fast-moving and hard-hitting the whole way through. It's so awesome. That is what people should expect and that's what they'll get this whole week," he said. "Lacrosse is a great sport and people have the opportunity to see some of the best players across the country right here in Canada. This is the one thing that everyone works towards in the sport -- and it's here in Winnipeg."