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This is the first of what we in Brussels hope will be a series of blog entries about lacrosse and youth lacrosse in Europe from the perspective of the coaches and players of the only lacrosse team in Belgium and what we think is the only high school team on continental Europe (the island nations of Great Britain and Ireland excepted).  It is kind of ironic for North Americans like Greg and I to have to move to old Europe in order to enjoy a pioneering experience, but that’s precisely what we are doing, at least in lacrosse terms.  We’ll blog later about the roots of Lacrosse at the International School of Brussels, from where we are writing.

We’ve conducted a little research about the roots of the game in Europe, which is probably the best place to begin our own story. It is said that story of lacrosse in Europe begins in 1867 after Queen Victoria watched 27 Canadians including 13 Iroquois, led by a certain W.G. Beers, play a match on the grounds of Windsor castle.  The queen’s diary entry that day noted that “The game was very pretty to watch.”  Her aristocratic entourage apparently got the hint, and within months lacrosse was being played by the daughters of the great and the good at England’s most posh boarding schools. The men’s game also took off, and when Beers returned with another Canadian team in 1883, he discovered that some sixty clubs had been formed in Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Lancashire Middlesex and Yorkshire.  It was the first lacrosse boomlet in Europe, but one that stopped at the frigid waters of the English Channel.

There are two points to remember here.  1) In lacrosse terms, the green pastures of Buckingham Palace may well be as hallowed as the artificial turf at Hopkins’ Homewood Field and, 2) Lacrosse in Europe is most deeply rooted in England.  Not surprisingly, the best lacrosse in Europe is still played there even as the game begins to take root in Germany, the Czech Republic, Finland, the Netherlands and elsewhere. England, of course, is the only European nation competing at the highest levels of world lacrosse. The rest of Europe is playing catch up.

But things are moving quickly here.  Just the other day, we noticed that NLL lacrosse is now shown on European cable television. Nothing will raise interest like that. Both Greg and I play ice hockey here in Brussels with a bunch of Finns, Swedes, Russians and Czechs.  We can tell you that lacrosse quickly catches the eye of hockey players and there are a lot of hockey players in northern and Central Europe! The Czechs are picking up box lacrosse very quickly and developing stick skills that are surprising advanced although stylistically more similar those practiced by kids from Ontario than those from Baltimore. You can tell that a game is growing and taking root when national styles of play begin to become evident.

It’s the end of January in sun starved Belgium. The weather has been uncharacteristically cold and obviously we are now in the interstices between Fall Ball and the spring season. Practice begins only in March and our hope is that our 45 or so kids are occasionally taking their sticks out to work on their left hands. My suspicion is that if they are taking out their sticks they are shooting around on their strong hands which will make our challenge all the greater come March.

We will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Paul Cook is the Assistant Lacrosse Coach at the International School of Brussels in Belgium. During the day he is the Director of the Economics and Security Committee at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. He began his lacrosse career as a midfielder playing for the legendary coach, Heb Evans, at what was then known as Governor Dummer Academy but which has since become the Governor’s Academy. He went to play attack for the B Lacrosse Team at Johns Hopkins and was one of its captains in 1982. He played some club ball in Washington afterwards,  coached ice hockey in the Italian Alps for two years, and  returned to the game of lacrosse two years ago when, to his amazement, he discovered that it was being played at the International School of Brussels where his son had just enrolled.

Greg Murawsky is a Science teacher at the International School of Brussels.  Seven years ago, three students had discovered that he was a former “Box Lacrosse” player from Ottawa, Canada and enlisted him to be the coach for the new “club” at the school.  Seven years later, the lax club has grown into a a legitimate team and Brussels has been working to create youth lacrosse opportunities for its students and anyone who’ll play us all over Europe and in the UK.

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