The Anti-Tournament

The early Sunday morning mist was hanging heavy and thick over the glassy and steady flowing waters of the Beaverkill River in Roscoe, NY.  I could feel the cool water pressing hard against the legs of my waders as I stood waste deep in one of the most famous trout holding zones in the east, Junction Pool – where the Beaverkill meets Willowemoc Creek. The water rolls and swirls there as the two flowing waterways converge and create an absolutely ideal environment for fish both young and old.

The ancient art of fly fishing is often times referred to by those that do it as artful meditation because of its minimalist nature and calming tempo. There’s obvious technique and grace involved in the method of fly fishing, however its the ethos and the deep understanding of nature required to catch fish on a hand tied bug that’s unmatched. I’ve always viewed fly fisherman less as anglers and more as artists.  It’s an activity that requires rootedness and a connection with mother nature. It’s not a competition between you and a fish,  its a exercise that forces you to understand that nature works with you, not for you.

I shot my fluorescent fly line out in front of me and landed a small caddis beside a smooth rock I’d been sneaking up on for a few minutes now.  I stripped my line in just a bit and bang – fish on! I let the fish take a little line and do some running up stream  before I started to slowly reel it in.  For the next thirty seconds or so I let it pull a bit more line and we continued to go back and forth. I pulled the net off my back and raised my rod tip to pull the fish closer to me and just then the fly freed up from it’s mouth and the trout swam away. I put the net back on my back and smiled at the moment and just how lucky I was to be in such a beautiful area of our planet. One of my favorite things about fly fishing is it slows everything down and allows you time to breath and think proper. On this particular fishing trip my thoughts were focused heavily on the people I’d met over the course of the two days prior.  

On Friday I left my house in Cazenovia and rolled through the Catskill Mountains, eventually arriving at a unique little boutique bed and breakfast called the Arnold House in Livingston Manor. The smell of woodsmoke filled the air and created that wonderful and familiar feeling of outdoor life that I love so much. I met my Brother Ryan at the front door and we walked into the lobby together to check into our rooms for the weekend. As we were getting our room keys we looked out the back window at a rustic pavilion topped with a tin roof that sat at the back of the property.  The pavilion was filled with people eating and conversing over picnic tables while a 3 piece band played by the bar. Just to the right side of the building was a large bonfire surrounded by dozens of young kids with lacrosse sticks. Immediately the scene felt right to me and I knew I was in the right place.

When I think of lacrosse I don’t think of stadiums, famous players or big games. I think of family, fun and tradition. The backyard of the Arnold House on this particular day exemplified those three elements perfectly. 

After Ryan and I put our bags in the room we went straight out to the pavilion.  As we stepped through the doors we were greeted warmly by the tournament organizers and the family that had invited us both down to spend the weekend, Pete and Lisa Ruggiero. I am admittedly bad at a lot of things, however I’m very confident in my ability to read people and can often times figure them out within just a few moments. Pete and Lisa shook our hands with gigantic smiles and I knew immediately there was nothing left to figure out – they were salt of the earth. The Ruggiero’s are real.  I’ve noticed something about people that science may never be able to prove and it relates to the look in their eyes. People that have a deep passion for life and a truly authentic spirit have brighter eyes than most. I know that “brighter” is a broad term and not exactly a tangible thing to look for but if you see that look once you’ll know it and its easy to identify moving forward. Pete and Lisa both have piercing bright eyes filled with soul and energy. 

For the rest of the night we hung out, ate good food, listened to good live music and met a bunch of great people.  One thing you have to understand is that at this point of the trip I had no idea what we were doing there. Ryan had been talking to Pete for several weeks over the phone and they had developed rapport. Ryan asked me a couple weeks prior if I wanted to go to Roscoe for the weekend to a lacrosse tournament and to do some fly fishing. Thats all I knew but I obviously said yes to the opportunity to spend time with my Brother in one of the most beautiful locations in our home state. So I just hung out that night and had a wonderful relaxing time meeting new people. And although I didn’t know it at the time, that was the sole reason why all of us were there together. Pete and Lisa had created an atmosphere that was very much different from the lacrosse events I had attended over the past 10 years, it reminded me of the way it used to be and what I fell in love with.

Let me explain…

4193The next morning Ryan and I woke up and made a 5 minute drive down a curvy country road and arrived at a cool field nestled in a quant little valley between two ridges. Plush forests in every direction.  The field was beautiful but it was way different than what people would expect a lacrosse tournament to be.

There was no signage, sponsors, yelling coaches, pissed off parents, fist fights or wild kids.  Their was no bracket system or age divisions…in order to play you had to be “somewhere around 10 years old” people said jokingly. This tournament in many ways was created to be the anti-tournament.  Without diving too deeply into the problems with the world of youth lacrosse I can confidently say that this experience was all about what youth sports should be about, the kids. It wasn’t about the money, the wins, the uniforms, the goals or the saves. It was about purity and positivity.

A perfect example of this was at 11:30 in the morning, just a couple games into the tournament, the directors decided that rather than find a champion it would be more beneficial for the kids development as people to play a game all together. So the four teams comprised of players from four separate communities were divided up equally into two teams and the kids played a game with players they had never met or played with before. It was an amazing lesson for the players and the families. 

4355After the games wrapped up Ryan and I had fun showing the players some trick shots including but not limited to the Lama, the Deadleg, the Tea Party, the Pizza Delivery Man, The Weird Shot and of course the world famous Ostrich. After that we all made our way back to the beautiful Roscoe Campsite Park to jump in the river, fish, listen to more live music, eat another amazing dinner, have s’mores and tell some campfire stories. It poured rain for hours and yet everyone was excited and in such a fantastic mood. 

I would personally like to thank the Ruggiero’s and all those volunteers (way too many to list) for not only the creation of such a wonderful event but embodying everything that is positive about sport. After speaking with almost every family at the tournament the overarching theme that came through from the weekend was how their kid will not stop smiling and they wont put their stick down.

As our sport grows we must never forget that youth lacrosse exists to build the next generation as human beings and should act simply as a vehicle for life long lessons that help to enhance their life experience. There is lacrosse and there is life.

4419So all in all, I took a trip to Trouttown USA and didn’t catch a single fish. But wow, what a fun journey filled with many great memories and moments that I will never forget.  And just like the combining waters that flow into Junction Pool to create a perfect hot spot for east coast best fish – when you combine family and fun you are creating the ideal environment for worlds best lacrosse players. I encourage all tournament organizers, youth coaches, and organizers to focus less on competing with the fish and more on the environment in which you create. If you have a positive platform and a message focused on the big picture, you are presenting proper lacrosse and breeding better lacrosse, better players, and better people, with brighter eyes. 

Thanks to Kyle Lowe for the photos.

8 replies on “The Anti-Tournament

  • Dan Keller

    This is fantastic in every way. Thank you for taking the time to share this with us. “There is Lacrosse and there is life” may be my new favorite quote. I coach U8 lax, and I may start putting that little reminder at the end of all messages I send out to parents. Great stuff.

    Reply
    • Dave

      Mark – the best compliment I ever had in my 14 yrs of coaching youth lax was when a Dad came up to me at the team party (5th graders) and said he watched closely and could not tell by the way I coached which boy was my son. Teach them the ‘history’ of the game and a love for all aspects. And they will surprise you. ?

      Reply
  • mark winter

    Mike: Your articles are great. I appreciate that you get “inside” your subjects and give the reader a feel like they are standing next to you while you are doing something, whether it is fly fishing, eating s’mores or playing lacrosse.
    It was such a treat for me to be able to see you, Ryan and Casey at the Centennial celebration.
    Everytime I hear the opening chords to “Ohio” or even think about the lyrics, the hair stands up on the back of my neck. You brought back a lot of bittersweet memories for a lot of old guys that night, and they appreciated it.
    My best to all the Powells,
    Mark

    Reply
  • Gary Joblon

    What a great article. We were present at the tournament and what a wonderful experience it was. I can not thank Pete and Lisa enough for what they not only did for the kids but for the parents as well. They really taught us all and especially the parents what lacrosse is all about. The last game with all the kids coming together to play as one team while never playing with one another before is a testament to that.
    Thank you Pete and Lisa, all the volunteers, the Powell brothers and all the teams and families. This was an experience that my family with always remember.

    Gary

    Reply
  • Linda Morgan

    Wonderful article. It’s what all youth sports should be like. Also, a great example to follow. I wish my grandkids could attend an “anti-tournament ” just like this. I’d go to watch and support all those involved.

    Reply
  • Michael Vallone

    MP – I really enjoyed reading this publication. Thanks for sharing! Your characterization of a fly fisherman’s connection to mother nature and the artistry with which one must embrace was so on point. I loved it.

    i have been flying fishing several times on the mighty Beaverkill and its fabled Junction Pool — absolutely beautiful area with world-class trout. I actually picked up a nice hat from Roscoe’s Fly Fishing shop — obsessed with it.

    I do recall being a little luckier than you on the water though and caught a few 20″ browns:)

    #tightlines

    Reply
  • Stephen Morgan

    Thank you for this. As my kids get older and progress to higher levels, it is difficult at times to stay connected to the reason we started playing to begin with. What an awesome way to rekindle the joy. Thanks man

    Reply

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