“That was a legitimate box lacrosse tournament,” said US Box Lacrosse Association co-founder Shaydon Santos shortly after the final medals were handed out at the 2016 Resolute Lacrosse Midwest Classic.

As simple and straightforward as that statement is, it’s an extremely powerful one, and not one many in Midwest USA or really anywhere in America have been able to truthfully make over the years.

Box lacrosse – real box lacrosse – is not just a trendy training method. Well, to some maybe, but for those playing under the USBOXLA umbrella, box lacrosse instructed and played the way it was meant to be played has made a world of difference on a variety of levels.

“To see the skill development even just since the inaugural Midwest Classic to what I saw this past weekend, the transformation in these players and teams has been unbelievable,” added Santos. “I am extremely impressed with what many of these groups have accomplished.”

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The tournament, which saw 36 teams in four separate age groups competing in Columbus over President’s Day weekend, has quickly become one of the premier box lacrosse events in not only the region but across the country.

The level of competition really was that good.

“I think this year’s success is definitely a testament to USBOXLA and the attention they’ve received, plus we try our best at Resolute to run a first-class event,” said Resolute co-founder Greg Bice, who also played collegiately in the area at Ohio State and professionally in Major League Lacrosse. “But if you want to know the main reason why this year’s Midwest Classic was so great… it’s because the pendulum has swung in the US.

“Everyone understands now what box lacrosse can do for their field game, what box lacrosse can do for their overall skill development. It’s impossible to debate anymore. I think the growth of the box game, in large part due to USBOXLA, was a huge reason we had so much interest in this tournament. It’s why the level of competition and skill was the strongest we’ve seen yet.”

“When you walked into the rink here, you knew these kids were playing legit box lacrosse.”

While skill was definitely being showcased at Ohio’s premier indoor training facility – the Resolute built three-rink Resolute Athletic Complex – Santos, again, was impressed with the little things you just don’t see at every “indoor” tournament today. “Every keeper was decked out in the same box lacrosse goalie gear you’d see kids wearing in Canada or even the National Lacrosse League,” he said with excitement. “When you walked into the rink here, you knew these kids were playing legit box lacrosse. It was done right from top to bottom.”

Resolute, a USBOXLA charter member, hosted their first Midwest Classic three winters ago. Bice is amazed at the transformation he’s seen both within Resolute and the USBOXLA member clubs his group played against last week. “The level of skill and competition over the three years has been tremendous,” he said. “With kids’ box education and experience level going up every year, the games are absolutely amazing to watch.

“No one has the level of coaching experience USBOXLA members have, and it shows on the floor. Kids are learning how to play this sport properly in the US, and the quality of lacrosse on the floor last weekend is proof of that. The kids want to learn real box lacrosse and USBOXLA has great coaches all over the country teaching it the right way.”

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Each division – from grade five all the way up to high school – played three games in their pool stages and then continued to the knockout rounds, needing three straight wins in the quarters, semis and final to grab gold. “Winning a medal at this tournament meant you earned that medal,” said Santos. The 2016 Resolute Lacrosse Midwest Classic gold, silver and bronze medalist include:

Grades 5/6

GOLD Bucktown Lacrosse
SILVER North Stars
BRONZE Resolute Lacrosse

Grades 7/8

GOLD Texas United
SILVER Resolute Lacrosse
BRONZE Penn*Lax All-Stars

High School A

GOLD Resolute Lacrosse
SILVER Fusion Lacrosse
BRONZE Penn*Lax All-Stars

High School B

GOLD Resolute Lacrosse
SILVER Project Missouri
BRONZE Cleveland Demons

USBOXLA.com will profile top players in each division in coming weeks, highlighting some of the most impressive, dominating and skilled solo efforts the Midwest Classic has seen in it’s three years.

While it maybe wasn’t evident when you looked at the scoreboard or stat sheets after each game, one of the most significant strides USBOXLA sanctioned events continue to see is the development of their officiating, by far the strongest referee stable in the US.

“The refs were keeping the kids safe, they were consistent and that made a huge difference…”

“The officiating was also a big reason the Midwest Classic was as good as it was this year,” said Bice. “I had multiple parents, completely unprompted, tell me they’ve been at other tournaments and that the Midwest Classic hands down had the best officials they’d ever seen.

“The refs were keeping the kids safe, they were consistent and that made a huge difference to everyone. You do not get that anywhere else today outside of USBOXLA. You just don’t.”

While other non-USBOXLA sanctioned events in the US this year have been marred with unsafe play and fighting – one recent east coast tournament was not even able to complete games due to out of control and dangerous play – USBOXLA continues to make referee education a top priority. “Without structure and safety, any sport will spiral out of control,” said Santos. “At USBOXLA we take the training, certification and continued education of our officials very seriously. Player development is a priority for us, but each athlete’s safety is as well.”

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Every official at the event was fully certified through a unique and first-of-its-kind online sanctioning process and educational platform – the USBOXLA Academy Backstage PASS. This cutting-edge, digital training and certification program has allowed USBOXLA to properly educate and instruct officials (and coaches) effectively and efficiently. “We invested a lot of resources into this platform,” said Santos. “So far it’s been a complete game changer on and off the floor.”

The Midwest Classic, like any other USBOXLA sanctioned event or game, must adhere to the 2016 USBOXLA Rules and Situational Book, a document Santos says is essentially the box lacrosse officiating bible in the US. “Officiating is a integral part of our four pillar approach at USBOXLA, which also includes player, coach and game development.

“Other groups in the US often don’t put a high priority on proper officiating education and development, and that’s a big reason why parents and players all over the country were turned off by the sport. It’s important. Without it you lack the structure needed to not only established an association, but also help put on amazing events like this one.”

“Player development is a priority for us, but each athlete’s safety is as well.”

Officials arrived early in Columbus, taking part in an almost two hour pre-event refresher course, focusing on communication. procedures of administering penalties, examining various game film from the USBOXLA Nationals and reviewing both good and bad mechanics. The officiating crew included former National Lacrosse League referee Tim Cave, who also serves as the Resolute Lacrosse referee in chief and local assingor, plus NCAA and other local officials.

Running the session and providing feedback and individual evaluations the entire weekend was USBOXLA Eastern Director of Officiating Adam Gardner. “This group of officials as a whole is the most advance base of officials we have had at a local event,” he said. “The time we had at the Midwest Classic allowed us to work together to improve in a variety of areas and to help dedicated players, coaches and spectators understand and grow the box game the right way in the US.”

Gardner will be taking two officials from this group to this summer’s USBOXLA Nationals in San Jose, where the association will be offering a new, elite officiating tier for select referees.

“Referees were briefed on new issues and developments in officiating when it comes to box, had questions answered, and again, were given good guidance by USBOXLA,” said Bice. “Who else is doing that today? I don’t think anyone is, and if they are, I haven’t seen it.”

“Our kids know how to run a pick and roll, and just as importantly, they know how to defend it.”

What Bice has seen first-hand is the advancements his players have experienced since joining USBOXLA. “At Resolute we talk about it all the time, the difference box lacrosse has made for our kids in our field program,” said Bice. “Their lacrosse IQ is improving dramatically. The amount of touches they get in box has sped up their skill development 100%.

“Their passing is crisper, they’re more accurate in their shooting and their ability to get ground balls has also improved. Our kids know how to run a pick and roll, and just as importantly, they know how to defend it.”

Already considered one of the top lacrosse development outfits in not just Ohio but throughout the US, Bice feels box lacrosse has helped his players take their game to the next level. “The level of play we’re seeing here on fields in Ohio can be directly attributed to the fact that we have kids in the state playing box. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

It’s a statement many if not all USBOXLA members have communicated, and Bice can’t wait to see what that continued evolution provides at next year’s Midwest Classic. “Next year is going to be even bigger and better,” he said. “We’re so thankful to the teams that have come out so far, and we’re already expecting other big clubs that are adding box lacrosse to their program to be out here next year. We’re already talking about making this a three day tournament in 2017.”

We’ll be there.