ULAX Buffalo: Building A Lacrosse League

Slipping on a championship t-shirt after a long summer of lacrosse alongside your friends is an incredible feeling. Leagues like ULAX give players young and old a chance to chase that feeling.

Winning a championship is the cherry on top of having the opportunity to play in a lacrosse league as friends stay connected, new friendships are made, and brothers or sisters even get a chance to play together. In the ULAX Buffalo league this past summer, there were four brothers playing on the same team for the first time on the championship winning Team Rickan. ULAX leagues all over the country help make these experiences possible.

ULAX has only been around a short time in Buffalo, but over the past six years it has become a place for players young and old to have another opportunity to have fun playing lacrosse.

“I think there are many things that make the Buffalo lacrosse community so special.”

Chris Yaeger is the ULAX Buffalo League Manager and with the support of ULAX, as well as the Buffalo lacrosse community, he has helped establish men’s and women’s leagues in this sports crazed city.

“I started ULAX Buffalo in the winter of 2013/2014 with the box league and in the first couple of years we saw some solid growth, especially in the summer,” Yaeger said. “We went from eight teams in 2014 to ten in 2015 for the men and from four teams in 2015/16 to six in 2017 for the women’s league.”

A big part of this growth and commitment comes from the storied history of the high school, college, and professional teams in the Buffalo area as well as the special connection the region has to the sport.

“We live in a unique location that provides us opportunities to see and learn the game from not only professional players like the Buffalo Bandits, but also from the Native Americans where the game originated from,” Yaeger explained.

Talented native players from the nearby Tonawanda, Cattaraugus, and Tuscarora reservations are regulars in the ULAX field and box leagues. The Basom Bombers are five time champions of the ULAX box league.

The strong high school and club programs in Buffalo also regularly produce some of the top talent at the college and even professional level. When those players return from college in the summer you will likely find many of them playing in ULAX along with the large amount of post-collegiate players still living in the area.

Yaeger recalls some great battles over the years between established teams with the most memorable being, “in 2016 when the Lacrossetitues took down the reigning back-to-back champs, the EX-LAXers, in double OT, while man down. It was absolutely insane.”

ULAX founders Tim Leonard and Neema Kassaii have helped start leagues in over 30 cities in North America thanks to their almost 15 years of experience organizing lacrosse leagues. Yaeger gives a lot of credit to Tim, Neema, and the ULAX system for helping the ULAX Buffalo league hit the ground running.

“Tim was very helpful when things were getting started,” Yaeger said. “Not only did he/ULAX provide a solid infrastructure to help start things (access to the site for people to sign up through, player insurance, jerseys, etc.), but the knowledge, advise, and guidance really helped.”

“When faced with a road block that seemed daunting or insurmountable Tim would be able to put my mind at ease by saying simple things like ‘I’ve seen this before.’ From there we’d work together to form a new plan or he’d tell me how he’s overcome that type of issue in other cities, and sure enough things always worked out well.”

City managers are crucial to the success of the ULAX leagues in each community as they oversee scheduling, get refs for games, rent out the facilities, and do everything they can so that all the players have worry about is playing lacrosse. Chris Yaeger is one of the best as everything was always run smoothly every weekend.

Until this past summer, I had never played in a ULAX league, but I had friends who would say how fun it was and as I wrote articles about ULAX this year I knew I had to see what it was all about for myself. Luckily, my former teammate and roommate at Canisius College, Blake Rickan, asked if I wanted to play on the ULAX team him and his three brothers were putting together.

As the team came together Blake was cautiously optimistic knowing that, “going in to the season, we expected to compete and hopefully be one of the better teams, but with a lot of our guys not playing for 10+ years winning definitely wasn’t a guarantee.”

Our team was a mix of current college players, recent college graduates, and the guys who hadn’t played lacrosse in a decade. We would be going up against some teams with similar make ups, but there were also teams full of all young players. We knew it would be an interesting summer.

The games were always competitive, but the atmosphere was relaxed as everyone was there to have fun playing lacrosse with and against friends. However, it would only take a big slash, a chirp, or missed call by a ref to immediately turn a lighthearted game into a grudge match.

The summer was extra special for the four Rickan brothers.

Pictured above: Blake, Eric, Grant, and Brent Rickan.

“It was definitely a cool experience,” Blake recalled. “With them being all a bit older than me, we never got to play together in high school or college. So to finally have all 4 of us on the field together was a ton of fun.”

Eric is the oldest at 32 and Blake is the youngest at 24. Eric and Blake both played at Canisius, while Brent and Grant played at nearby Medaille College. Having the brothers on our team added a whole new element as they weren’t afraid to call each other out on a bad play or shot and sometimes we would have three Rickans out on defense at the same time.

Team Rickan made it all the way to the championship game where we defeated the defending champions the EX-LAXers. It was a hard fought game with a completely different feel to it with the championship t-shirt and bragging rights on the line.

“It was cool to see my brothers and the older guys get better as the summer went along and ultimately win the championship.”

Looking back on this past summer, Chris Yaeger points out that, “a really cool thing about our lacrosse community is seeing guys like Colin Greenway playing ULAX now who used to hang out at my high school practices as an 8 year old when I played for his dad at Williamsville East.”

“It’s just awesome seeing things like four brothers winning a championship together and seeing what a great player that 8 year old turned into.”

Yaeger hopes to add more teams in Summer 2020 as well as a high school league.

“My goal is to eventually have ULAX going all four seasons, year round.”

If you are interested in joining a ULAX league near you or starting your own head to https://www.ulax.org/ for more information.

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