By Ottawa Sports Pages, for Gloucester Lacrosse Association
Leave it to some of the littlest Griffins to deliver some of the biggest inspiration this lacrosse season.
The under-11 Gloucester Griffins delivered the association’s first provincial title since 2004 when they topped the ‘E’ division at the Ontario Lacrosse Festival, and the first U11 crown since 1986.
“It was huge,” recounts GLA President Stephanie Pagan. “In their U9 year, they didn’t win a single game. And their U11 year, they didn’t win a single game in their entire season until they went to provincials. And then they won all four games and took the championship.”
The Griffins lost their first game of provincials 11-8 to the North Perth Outlaws, but then they beat Midland 8-1 to snap the streak. They carried that momentum on to best Six Nations 9-4 and then took down North Perth by the same score in their rematch.
Gloucester lost a 8-5 lead by surrendering four straight goals, but drew even and then got the winning goal with just over a minute left in a 10-9 championship game barnburner against Stayner.
“Their growth was amazing,” underlines Pagan. “Their tenacity and their resiliency was fantastic. We were all so proud and inspired by that team.”
The GLA had a lot to celebrate in 2023, despite plenty of ongoing challenges prompted by the COVID years and persistent facility access difficulties.
Competitive success came in spades for the Griffins’ representative teams. The U17 squad earned their way into Ontario Lacrosse’s ‘A’ division as the fourth-ranked team in the province. They ultimately missed the Final Six but provided “phenomenal representation” overall, with many players set to move up and play junior lacrosse next season.
The U13 Griffins were finalists at their home tournament, won the ‘C’ zone and were provincial quarter-finalists. The U22 team won Gloucester gold and were finalists at the Conradi-Engemann Memorial Tournament in Niagara, while the U22 Lady Griffins won Whitby’s tournament and were finalists in Gloucester.
Chloe Chalmers and Zach Chevalier were both U17 Canadian champions for Team Ontario at the box and field lacrosse nationals, while Avery May earned silver at the U13 box nationals and 10-year-old Samuel Pagan was the youngest member of Team Ontario’s new U13 field program.
A number of GLA alumni excelled at the top levels of the sport too. Among them are Julien Belair, who helped the Orangeville Northmen to an Ontario Jr. ‘A’ regular season title, Hayden Fox, selected by the Philadelphia Wings in the National Lacrosse League draft and the Buffalo Bandits’ Cam Wyers, a 2023 World Lacrosse Championship silver medallist with Team Canada.
“All those players from our association and our zone playing on these big stages is amazing,” signals Pagan, who was also thrilled to see lacrosse added to the Olympic programme for the Los Angeles 2028 Games.
“There is so much excitement for the announcement that lacrosse is going to be in the Olympics,” she adds. “It definitely gives our players something to strive for.”
With a big pile of local players competing professionally, internationally and on scholarship (in NCAA men’s women’s field lacrosse programs), Pagan says lacrosse in Ottawa is a hidden gem in many ways.
“I’m hoping other people are hearing about all this too, because for us it’s all about growing the game, and there’s so much promise there,” indicates Pagan, whose organization is working to attract more players to its house league and girls’ teams in particular.
One initiative that’s introducing lacrosse in a unique way is the GLA’s Elementary Lacrosse Program, which received a Community Partnership Award from the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.
The two-part program begins with a virtual session about the history and origins of lacrosse led by Indigenous Six Nations player Brendan Bomberry of the NLL’s Georgia Swarm. Then facilitators show classes the basics and give students a chance to try playing Canada’s national summer sport.
The program reached over 3,800 students from Grade 3-6 at 39 schools earlier this year.
“This is really a huge initiative for the future of the sport locally,” highlights Pagan, noting it’s drawn interest from other local school boards, universities and across Ontario too. “It allows us to promote this game, but it also allows us to educate students on the Indigenous connections to our sport, which has been really powerful.”
The sport’s Indigenous roots were on full display during the GLA’s biggest Ray Broadworth Tournament to date in July, when 44 teams of nearly 900 players contested 96 games over three days in nine divisions, including three debut girls’ categories.
Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation artist and TV producer Jay Odjick designed an Indigenous-inspired logo, which became a popular item on T-shirts seen at lacrosse events all over the province.
“The message of it is so, so important,” underlines Pagan, noting leaders spoke to every Griffin team and their families about the logo’s meaning. “It wasn’t just putting a sticker on a helmet for the sake of putting a sticker on a helmet.”
With the GLA’s annual general meeting bringing the season officially to a close earlier this month, there remain many opportunities available to help out with the GLA next year, including board of directors positions and other roles such as communications, risk and safety, operations, equipment and scheduling.
“We can’t run this organization without volunteers and without the support. We want to give great thanks to everyone who has given their time,” states Pagan. “What I love most about the people involved is it’s always a growth mindset. It’s always, ‘This works really well, OK, now, what can we do next year?’
“There’s always a lot of optimism and excitement when we start another season.”
Registration will open next week for the Griffins’ 10-week winter program starting in late January, including a planned snow lacrosse day. Look out for free hour-long try lacrosse sessions in advance, as well as the free Grifflings U5 program, run in partnership with the Gloucester Jr. ‘B’ Griffins, come May. Details will be posted at Gloucester-Lacrosse.com.