Minor lacrosse building a field program

Russ Sheppard, a coach who has worked with professional athletes, is heading up a field LAX team.

Coach Russ Sheppard addresses his team before practice at Parkland Middle School last week.

Coach Russ Sheppard addresses his team before practice at Parkland Middle School last week.

Cranbrook has a pretty thriving minor box lacrosse scene, as the Outlaws organization has been growing and adding more players over the last few years.

Now, the association is trying to grow the game in another area, and is in the early stages of setting up a field lacrosse program.

Field lacrosse is very much a different sport from it’s indoor counterpart, and the Cranbrook has been lucky enough to land a coach who has some extensive experience in the game.

Russ Sheppard, who is articling at the Rockies Law Corporation after receiving his law degree from the University of Alberta this year, is working alongside minor lacrosse president Tammy Tait to get a field lacrosse program off the ground.

Sheppard has worked with some of the biggest names at the professional level in box and field,and decided to volunteer with the program after meeting with Tait.

“I’m a master learning facilitator for box lacrosse and field so I train learning facilitators and coaches, so I told her I’d really like to get involved in lacrosse,” Sheppard said.

He was first introduced to the game over a dozen years ago from Al Luciuk at the University of Saskatchewan, and has worked and coached with guys like Brodie Merrill and Chris Sanderson, both professional lacrosse players who have competed in the NLL and MLL.

“I’ve been lucky in lacrosse, both in box and in field, to be able to kind of work with some of the best,” Sheppard added.

With a box lacrosse program via the Outlaws that has done nothing but grow over the last few years, Sheppard hopes to attract box players into the field program.

“I believe that hybrid lacrosse players are the future of lacrosse, both box and field lacrosse,” said Sheppard, “so without a field program here and with so much opportunity for field, I thought I could spearhead that with Tammy and fill in some gaps in the box season.”

Sheppard compares box lacrosse—in terms of X’s and O’s—to basketball, which share similar philosophies on offence and defence in a tight, confined area, while field lacrosse is played on an open field and very positional in nature, like soccer.

“One of the things thats very interesting is in the United States, they play a very individual game with field lacrosse, where it’s me versus you and I try to dodge around you,” noted Sheppard, “but the Canadian hybrid field lacrosse game is much more of a team game where we try to use our quick sticks inside to get that one look for a quick shot, because we know we can get the ball in tight spaces and out, because of our box skills.”

Why set up a field lacrosse program when there’s already a box lacrosse in Cranbrook?

Because field lacrosse is where the scholarship money is.

Two Cranbrook lacrosse players in Dakota Hollister and Tanner Rennich have landed significant scholarships with American NCAA universities, despite the fact that there was no local field lacrosse program for them growing up.

The team is wrapping up their practice season as it gets closer to winter, and will have to wait until hockey is over to get back into the arenas without the ice surfaces.

From there, the box and field programs will have find ways to coexist without taking anything away from each other, while also dealing with the draw to hockey once September hits.

“I think the challenge will coordinating with box in the spring and getting box on board and then promoting within box sector to try and get more out,” said Sheppard. “And then, trying to get more kids to come from box lacrosse to field and understanding that there are alternates.”

Sheppard is just beginning his law career following a 10-year stint as a teacher, where he taught in Edmonton and up north in Nunavut.

He taught in Kugluktuk in the early 2000s, a small hamlet in the northwestern part of the territory. The community had an alarming suicide rate, and students at Kugluktuk High School also struggled with violence and drug and alcohol issues.

Instead of ignoring the problems, Sheppard and school staff got together and created an athletic program—the Kugluktuk Grizzlies—which included sports such as lacrosse, basketball and volleyball.

Over time, school attendance increased, while violent incidents and the suicide rate fell significantly. Sheppard attributed the results to the students embracing a different culture, created through team sports.

“The culture up there is very ingrained in certain ways and I think it was very important for us to break down some of those barriers,” Sheppard said.

“…The basic message was work hard, put in what you can control, which is the effort, and doors will open. And that’s the culture that sports creates, because if you work hard and put in the effort in sports, it opens doors.

“It’s kind of a thing in life. It’s kind of a neat story in the way that it came out very Hollywood-esque in some ways, but I think it’s just the way life is. Put in the effort and see what happens.”

If anyone has any questions about the field or box lacrosse programs, contact Tait via email at: taito@shaw.ca