By Devan Mighton – Originally published in the Lakeshore News on May 18, 2017
Photo: Windsor Warlocks peewees celebrate a goal on May 7, 2017 at the Forest Glade Arena. DEVAN MIGHTON / LAKESHORE NEWS
(WINDSOR, ON) – The boys and girls of summer are back at it again and the lacrosse season is already in full swing. On the first weekend of May, the Windsor Warlocks travel lacrosse teams took to the floor of the Forest Glade Arena for their season openers, hosting the clubs of the Sarnia Pacers, London Blue Devils, and Wallaceburg Griffins.
Players ranging six to 20 took to the floor from Friday to Sunday, while the arena was packed with their friends and family. A fundraising barbecue flooded the hallways with the smell of fresh hamburgers and hotdogs and the mood in the lobby was jovial and enthusiastic.
This is typical of a game weekend for the closely knit Warlocks family. An organization that begins with players as young as three and four in the paperweight division and ends with college students in either Junior B or the intermediate level.
“Currently, the Windsor Warlocks are in good shape but could always improve,” said rep team director John Salaris. “There are approximately 350 players registered, which has been steady for the last couple of years. Unfortunately, we are viewed as a fringe sport in Windsor and we typically lose as many players as we gain each year which is a trend we would like to reverse.”
Very often skilled lacrosse players turn away from the sport due to the demands and time constraints of hockey, football, and baseball.
Famously, NHLers Wayne Gretzky, Adam Oates, Joe Nieuwendyk, Kyle Turris, and John Tavaris were all considered talented lacrosse players before jumping to hockey exclusively.
“As an organization, we would very much like to see our registration numbers increase to the point where we could have at least four teams at every house league age group and full rosters at all travel lacrosse ages,” said Salaris. “If we could raise numbers to about 500, that goal would certainly be achievable.”
This year’s Warlocks organization is fielding eight travel teams and 14 house league teams, spanning all age brackets.
“I think we’re on the right track,” said Warlocks’ president Jerry Kavanaugh. “We’re doing a better job of getting some former players back in as coaches, which is good. You love to have volunteers, like parents. There’s a lot of dads that love to come out and swing doors but don’t necessarily know the game as much.”
Both Salaris and Kavanaugh put emphasis on the expansion of the house league program and how it will add to the success of the organization.
The Warlocks recently added former Hamilton Junior B player Jay Capton to their lacrosse family.
“Jay Capton has come in this year as the house league director and really had an impact,” said Salaris. “Jay is passionate about the game and is driven to improve the house league system. This was an area that needed some improvement and I can’t say enough about what Jay has been able to accomplish in such a short period of time.”
The girls’ program is entering its fourth year and is stronger than ever. The Warlocks have sent three girls in the past three seasons to play for Team Ontario in the national championships.
In 2015, Jamie Land became the first Warlock to play for a Canadian women’s title, taking bronze. A year later, Reese Stewart headed out to Calgary and returned with a gold medal. This year, the honour has been bestowed upon Avery Garant.
Women’s lacrosse has seen a surge in Ontario in recent years, with bantam, midget, and intermediate teams popping up across the province.
Locally, the support of the Warlocks organization, volunteer coaches and managers like Lloyd and Colin Land, as well as Barry Garant and Jackie Jamieson, have made the program a success.
The team expanded from a single midget rep club with a house league to include an intermediate travel team in 2016 and has potential to continue growing if interest can keep up.
“Lloyd [Land’s] been doing a great job with [the girls’ program],” said Kavanaugh. “If more girls can see the game, if we can get some success there and get some media coverage of that, they’re going to see that it’s available.”
But bantam, with players aged 13-14, is not quite on the radar.
“I don’t think the numbers are there at bantam yet,” said the Warlocks’ president. “But a lot of it starts with a group of [girls showing interest] and then you fill it in from there.”
The current crop of girls playing Warlocks lacrosse are a group of tight-knit friends, who have backgrounds together in winter sports like broomball and hockey.
“I think you need a group of friends that want to do it, whether it’s five, six, seven, eight of them, and then you’ll fill in the rest,” said Kavanaugh. “I’m sure there’s a ton of girls in this city that don’t even know it exists yet, it’s just getting the coverage and getting the word out.”
The Warlocks have made a big dent in the national scene in recent years. Jeff Rivait, Noah Bushnell, Patrick Kaschalk, Brayden Mayea, and Zane Dalpe have all made Team Ontario in recent memory, and the success has caught the eye of scouts and recruiters.
Currently, Connor McManus, Nathan Salaris, Jackman Schooley, Jake Rosa, Will Cecile, and Andrew Clark are trying out for Team Ontario’s field clubs, with McManus a lock for the final tryout in net.
These players have developed well in the Warlocks program and the Windsor Clippers organization has benefited greatly from the high calibre output. Players like Rivait, Kaschalk, and Lucas Ducharme have made the best of NCAA recruitments, while Brett Hickey, Kellen Leclair, and Logan Holmes found their way into the National Lacrosse League Entry Draft.
“I think it is the success here, the teams come looking,” said Kavanaugh, who doubles as head coach of the Junior B Clippers. “If you’re a mediocre team every year in Junior B, you don’t get those guys to come to see you play. I think the fact that we’ve had some good, deep playoff runs, and we’re knocking off some of the really good teams in Junior B, we’re getting looks from the Junior A managers and coaches.”
“It started a few years ago with Lucas Ducharme going to Orangeville and [Kellen] Leclair going to [Six] Nations [in Junior A] – and they get there and they’re really successful there. We’re doing the groundwork here, but if we get a couple guys to go there and get successful right away, [the scouts] are gonna come back looking for more of them.”
Kavanaugh credits the strong coaching staffs in the rep program for the output of high calibre talent showing up each winter at the Clippers’ training camps.
“Having John Rosa here is huge with the [midgets], Chris Derkatz with his [peewee] group, they’ve been really good at getting the kids ready,” said Kavanaugh. “When they get [to the Clippers], you aren’t teaching basic stuff.”
Rosa, along with intermediate coach Nick Trudeau, played professionally in the NLL and Derkatz was a NCAA scholarship student-athlete. In fact, a large percentage of the travel program’s coaching staffs are comprised of former college and junior players.
Kavanaugh also gives credit to former Clipper Cody Holmes for his input into the organization.
“[Cody] tries to teach a lot of the same offensive systems and stuff, so that when they get [to junior] they are ready to step right in, which you can see with the guys we’re getting now out of midget.”
But the season is now in full flight and these teams, Warlocks big and small, are now pushing to qualify for the big prize, a berth into the Ontario Lacrosse Association’s ‘A’ division qualifiers.
The kids have been training all winter to take advantage of the short summer season and take a run at boxla glory. But, the Warlocks also have a strong support group of parents and volunteers that are driven to make their season a success.
“We have a great team of dedicated people who make up the board of directors for the Warlocks,” said Salaris. “It has been an honour to work alongside these great people who sacrifice a lot of time for the players, families, and organization.
“On the floor, it has really been great to see kids loving the game, be it at the house level or travel.”
For more information on the Windsor Warlocks program, please visit: WarlocksLacrosse.com