Lacrosse keeps tough tradition alive

When 14-year-old Dylan Beard realized that his grades were slipping because his involvement in both lacrosse and hockey dominated his time. He knew one of the sports would have to go. For Beard, the decision proved a no-brainer.

“I didn’t really like hockey, (but) I loved lacrosse,” he said. “So, I decided to keep my grade level up and just play lacrosse.”

Beard demonstrated his abilities at the Lacrosse Skills Competition, part of the annual Canadian Aboriginal Festival over the weekend at the Rogers Centre. He said he chose lacrosse even though hockey enjoys a higher profile. For Beard, a lacrosse goalie, Canada’s national game provides a greater challenge.

“I find that it’s tougher than hockey. In hockey, you can just glide (across) half the ice,” he said. “But in lacrosse, you have to keep moving.”

Jacob Bomberry, 14, plays centre for the Six Nations Arrows, and also took part in the skills competition. Bomberry still plays hockey in the winter, but called lacrosse one of the biggest priorities in his life. However, unlike Beard, he said his love for the sport transcends the game itself.

“Aboriginal heritage has a lot do with (lacrosse),” he said.

Bomberry, whose father Cory Bomberry played in the National Lacrosse League, also competes nationally on a team composed of Iroquois lacrosse players from across the country. He said the game holds a special meaning for him because of the positive impact it can have on the aboriginal community.

“When I get older I kind of want to help with my community and help kids with lacrosse,” he said.

Shelley Burnham-Shogonosh, co-ordinator of the Lacrosse Skills Competition at the Aboriginal Festival, said the game represents more than athletic competition for aboriginal people.

“Lacrosse originated with our people and it’s a game that has a lot of spiritual significance to us,” she said. “We’ve always believed it’s been a game of medicine and it brings a lot of healing within our communities.”

Though not aboriginal, Beard ranks the skills competition at the festival as the second biggest lacrosse event of the year, after the annual national tournament. He said what makes the event so special is not just the high level of competition, but also the exposure to aboriginal culture.

“Every year you walk around and you learn something new. It’s really fun,” he said.

As a goalie in this year’s competition, Beard could well face shots from centreman Bomberry, who will compete in the hardest shot and breakaway events. Both said they enjoy the competition, but Bomberry – who, at 14, has already earned the nicknames “Jake the Fake” and “The Legend” in his Six Nations community – said the attention the players get doesn’t hurt, either.

“It’s just fun to go show my stuff,” he said.

“A lot of the other centres know me by name, so that’s kind of cool too.”