Welcome to indoor lacrosse: low salaries, high impact
Evan Bush, 23, grew up in the Dallas suburbs and played high-school lacrosse. He is now an associate producer for The Seattle Times. He went to a recent Washington Stealth game to see what indoor lacrosse is all about.
EVERETT – Eight years ago, as a junior in high school, I first stepped on a lacrosse field with a wooden stick I borrowed and not a clue of what to do with it. My high school had just started a lacrosse club composed of football castoffs, hockey has-beens and kids more suited to playing the trumpet than defense.
I’d compare us to the Mighty Ducks, but at least some of those kids knew how to play hockey. We were just a scrappy bunch looking to run off excess energy and hit each other every once in a while.
In a few short months, though, we upgraded to aluminum sticks, learned how to throw the ball around and actually had some semblance of a team by the time spring games began. We scored a few goals and started more than our fair share of fights when we weren’t scoring. We even won a game or two.
I had my best time in sports playing with that wild band of misfits, so you can imagine the pangs of nostalgia I felt two weeks ago as I took in my first-ever professional lacrosse game Feb. 9.
At a half-filled Comcast Arena, with a layer of dark green artificial-turf carpet in need of a good ironing, I watched as the Washington Stealth faced the Colorado Mammoth with sights set on stopping a two-game losing skid. I witnessed a ragtag team, not unlike mine in high school except it was made up of world-class athletes who chase collisions, score acrobatic goals and fight to the end for the love of the game.
Lacrosse junkies call it the fastest game on two feet. They aren’t kidding.
Even with an understanding of lacrosse, I struggled to keep up with the flurry of stick checks, diving goals and, of course, the fistfights. In the 10 minutes it took me to catch up to the speed of the game, the Stealth had already cruised to a 5-1 lead.
For most players in the National Lacrosse League, this is a second job. Most players make less than $25,000 a year, which often serves as a supplement to 9-to-5 jobs. Coaches, a teacher, even an Army officer comprise the Stealth roster.
“For most of their life, they played it as a labor of love,” said Stealth coach Chris Hall after the game. “Now they get a few bucks for it.”
Players, fly in from across Canada and U.S. to play for the Stealth. Mitch McMichael, a transition player (indoor lacrosse’s equivalent of a midfielder), laid out the typical schedule:
“We have a practice Friday night. A walk-through Saturday morning. Then a game Saturday night,” he said.“Then fly back Sunday. Rest for the day. And then back to work [at their normal jobs] Monday morning.”
Said Stealth assistant coach Jason Bloom, “All these guys would do it for free.”
Ten-year-veterans and rookies alike give up their weekends to compete in the sport they love and pal around in the locker room. They would have played with the same ferocity had it been a pickup game, or if they’d been on my high-school team.
Take, for example, the final minutes of the game.
With about three minutes left and the game well in hand, Stealth defenseman Billy Hostrawser, in his first professional game, picked a fight with a Mammoth player and was thrown to the floor and appeared to have been knocked out from a flurry of fists.
And with 30 seconds remaining in the game, the Stealth’s McMichael barreled toward the goal, split dodged (the lacrosse equivalent to basketball’s crossover dribble) to the left, and then dived Superman-style. In midair, he faked a shot, somehow managed to keep the ball corralled in his stick and then stuffed it into the net while flying through the crease to put the team up, 13-6.
All in a day’s work – or rather, play – for McMichael, a Cornell graduate and financial analyst at AT&T in Seattle.
The Washington Stealth,5-4 and tied for first place in the NLL West, plays Sunday, March 3 at 2:45 p.m.at Comcast Arena against the Minnesota Swarm. For more information, go to stealthlax.com.
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