It was Tom Raleigh’s first collegiate lacrosse practice. The Bellarmine Knights were preparing for their 2008 Division I campaign – the program’s third season in their now 13-year history.

Growing up in Troy, Michigan, Raleigh was never too far from the Canadian boarder, but it wasn’t until he arrived at the Kentucky-based school that he got his first true introduction to his northern neighbors.

What he witnessed that day would leave a lasting impression on him to say the least.

“Coach Jack (McGetrick) put me in drills with all the Canadians,” said Raleigh. “I was stunned by what these guys could do. Every pass was on a rope. Everything they did with their sticks was just so precise and perfect.

“They made me look probably as bad as I was,” he joked.

In 2008, that Bellarmine roster was deep in box lacrosse-bred Canadian talent. In fact, no DI program had more Canadians in their 2008 lineup than the 13 that featured for the Knights that spring. These players came from all over Canada, representing three different provinces and hailing from places like Victoria, Calgary and Orangeville. While they arrived from different cities, there was one strong similarity that all 13 shared. They had played a ton of box lacrosse before landing in Louisville, and it showed. Without even checking their passports, Raleigh, and every other American at practice that day, could easily point each Canuck out by their silky-smooth skills alone.

“After just one drill, I saw with my own eyes what box could do for someone playing field,” said Raleigh. “There is no denying the benefits playing box provides. I’m not sure how you could argue against it anymore.

“Box lacrosse makes you better.”

Today, Raleigh is working on exposing Charleston field lacrosse players to the same version of the sport he was turned onto almost a decade ago. In recent weeks, his Sea Islands Lacrosse program has become an official US Box Lacrosse Association member.

The only thing this new South Carolina club is lacking, however, is a rink, but more on that in a bit. The story includes cows, pigs and donkeys. Trust us. Keep reading.

PLAYING FIELD LACROSSE WITH CANADIANS

Although Raleigh caught a bit of National Lacrosse League talent on the tube while growing up in Troy (the Detroit Turbos played in the league from 1989 to 1994), it was only after he started at Bellarmine that box lacrosse really made an impact on him.

He probably wasn’t the only one either.

Even though the Knights currently don’t have a single Canuck listed on their 2017 roster, prior to this spring, it was difficult to walk on the Bellarmine campus and not here “eh” on a daily basis.

Since 2005, no Division I program has seen more Canadians on their roster than Bellarmine. In fact, 48 Canadians have spent anywhere from a single season to their entire four-year collegiate career as a Knight. Players from Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and even Saskatchewan (yes, lacrosse existed there before the Rush arrived) have suited up for Bellarmine since the school hit the DI circuit over a decade ago.

Impressively, 20 of those 48 players have been drafted into the NLL. After Raleigh’s first season at the school in 2008, five graduating players were selected in that year’s entry draft alone, all of whom were Canadian. Below, check out every former Canadian-born, box-balling Knight that has or still does play in the NLL (*still active in 2017).

Player City Province Drafted NLL Teams
GP
Shawn Evans* Peterborough Ontario 2nd overall (2005) ROC, CAL, NE
187
Jarrett Davis* Port Moody British Columbia 5th overall (2010) ROC, EDM, SSK
104
Kyle Sorensen Peterborough Ontario 2nd overall (2006) SJ, WSH, VAN
98
Bobby Snider* Calgary Alberta 16th overall (2009) PHI, WSH, COL, CAL
91
Dillon Ward* Orangeville Ontario 3rd overall (2013) COL
59
Tom Johnson Delta British Columbia 7th overall (2007) SJ, WSH, EDM
56
Karsen Leung* Victoria British Columbia 10th overall (2013) CAL
50
Jamie Floris Niagara Ontario 4th overall (2008) EDM, COL
25
Derek Hopcroft Toronto Ontario 17th overall (2010) CAL, COL, BUF, ROC
19
Colton Clark Nanaimo British Columbia 9th overall (2012) COL
18
Sean Thomson Burlington Ontario 9th overall (2008) PHI, MIN
8
Justin Norbraten Prince George British Columbia 9th overall (2007) MIN, EDM
7
Taylor Stuart* Port Moody British Columbia 35th overall (2016) COL
7
Marc Burton Mississauga Ontario Not drafted NY
2
Dilan Graham Toronto Ontario 27th overall (2008) BOS
1

Note: Games played stats up to March 3 2017

Raleigh would later play for Limestone College, another school known for their strong Canadian connection. So far this season, five of Limestone’s top ten point producers come from Canada. The Saints, maybe not so surprisingly, sit 4-0 and are ranked second in the nation heading into March. Not bad.

“The style of play Limestone possesses is tremendous,” said Raleigh. “In my opinion, that dominating style has been shaped in large part by of some of the amazing Canadian box talent they’ve had there over the years. How could it not?”

It was while playing for Limestone that Raleigh fell in love with South Carolina, a state he and his new club now call home.

BUILDING BOX AND BUILDING A BOX

Raleigh felt lacrosse-playing youth needed more options and something different than what the existing Charleston climate was offering.

“Kids here needed another opportunity and another place to play,” said Raleigh. “No one in the area is doing box lacrosse right.”

Not until now that is.

Sea Islands Lacrosse will offer both adults and youth nothing but box lacrosse starting this April. Just one small snag. As of right now, there is literally nowhere to play box lacrosse anywhere near where Raleigh was hoping to set up shop in Charleston.

Time to dust off the drawing board.

“I’ve never been happier shoveling up cow crap in my entire life.”

“When I started looking around, I quickly realized there was no arena in the Charleston area that could host box,” said Raleigh. “There was one indoor soccer facility that maybe had some potential, but they were just purchased by Whole Foods, so that idea was crushed pretty quickly.”

Plan B?

He then looked into purchasing plastic boards, similar to what the NLL’s New England Black Wolves use, but besides a lack of character and soul, Raleigh wasn’t loving the price tag either. “I was told I’d be spending at least $35,000… for that?”

Maybe box lacrosse in Charleston just wasn’t meant to be? Or, maybe he just wasn’t thinking outside the box enough?

Pondering what his next plan of attack might be, Raleigh’s girlfriend Kristina (Connolly) made an out-of-left-field suggestion, asking, “How about Legare Farms?” Like literally anyone reading right now, Raleigh responded, “What farms?”

A real estate professional today, Connolly had also worked at her suggested site as an early childhood educator several years ago. Established in 1725, Legare Farms is the oldest farm in Charleston, one of the oldest working farms anywhere in the country, and spans a massive 300 acres. “They must have land available for something like this,” she thought aloud.

Building a box from scratch on an operating farm? Maybe.

After spending the better part of an hour trying to explain to the farm’s sibling owners, Helen Legare-Floyd and Linda Legare-Berry, first what box lacrosse was and then what an outdoor box might involve, the pair agreed to let Raleigh and Connolly use a portion of their land for this ambitious project. A deal was struck.

“They mentioned that someone from New York had already inquired about setting up a massive multi-field lacrosse tournament on the farm, which they didn’t like the sounds of at all,” said Raleigh. “This is a working farm that needs to be respected and not destroyed.

“As long as we could keep loose balls out of the pastures and away from the animals, they were OK with it.”

Yup, animals. While crops are grown at Legare, farm animals also freely roam, grazing on much of the land during the day. During their box build, the couple has encountered cows, pigs, donkeys, buffalo, goats, horses, chickens and of course sea gulls, who often swoop in for a closer look. “The donkeys come up to us looking for attention a lot,” said Raleigh. “The pigs are annoyingly curious, but they’re great.

“The cows are always grazing, walking right by us. Considering how big they are, those Asian water buffalo can really fly. We’ll always have spectators interested in what’s happening in our games I think.”

Extremely fortunate to have found this spot and a new relationship with the Legare family, Raleigh says with a smile, “I’ve never been happier shoveling up cow crap in my entire life.”

That, however, would be the easy part.

Raleigh now had to figure out how someone actually builds an outdoor box like he was proposing. “I had no idea how to do this or where to start,” he said. “I did a ton of research. I contacted a bunch of contractors and carpenters for a quote. The responses I got were either extremely expensive or they had no idea what I was talking about.”

Quotes ranged from $100,000 to over $150,000, something Raleigh wasn’t ready or likely able to spend.

After hitting several dead ends and flurry of frustration, a Kristina-related connection would again help Raleigh keep his vision pushing forward. Connolly’s brother Bill (Burgmeier) had previously worked as a field engineer, contractor and carpenter, a background Raleigh didn’t really realize he possessed. He asked him if he’d be interested in helping him out. “Well, no one else is, so count me in,” he answered.

“He is the only reason why the construction of this box is even possible,” Raleigh said. “Frequently the three of us just laugh how this has all fallen into place. I feel so fortunate. They are wonderful, wonderful people.”

“Some people might think this is all kinda ridiculous, but for me… it’s all been worth it.”

The list of required material for their box build was lengthy, but most of which they were able to purchase at their local Lowe’s. After leafing through all his receipts, Raleigh confirms the following has been used by their small team, which also sometimes include Connolly’s son Spencer, as they assemble one of the few outdoor boxes that exist in the country (Note: take a breath before reading this list): grass seed, barn and fence paint, wooden stakes and rope (for laying the initial field dimensions), grass edger, trash receptacles, garbage bags, rakes, Gorilla Carts, a lawnmower, a wheelbarrow, a backpack blower, severe weather pressure treated 4x4x6 posts, folding tables, folding chairs, a scoreboard, shot clocks, field stakes, canopy tents, 10-gallon water coolers, striping paint, flag poles, flags, tarps (for painting), pneumatic framing nails, a nail gun, nails, hammers, saws, field spray paint marking wand, severe weather treated plywood panels (for the boards that are attached to the…), 4x4x16 feet severe weather pressure treated posts, galvanized steel chain link fencing rolls, Quikrete (used for cementing the 16-foot posts into the ground), two generators (for powering saws and paint sprayers), a laptop (mainly used on Saturdays when they’re trying to keep their eye on college lacrosse scores), a professional level, a sight gun, rebar, a theodolite (to properly lay out the field), tape measures and wheels, shovels, a professional grade paint sprayer, paint rollers, decking panels, gate hardware, a shipping container (which will serve as a viewing deck once construction, in addition to actually storing a variety of items inside it), and corrugated steel (for a shed roof for their 700 square foot weight room).

You didn’t see the weight room coming, right? Same. The weight room will include (Note: get ready for another lengthy list): plyo boxes, ladders, adjustable weights, free weights, benches (flat and adjustable), long bar, plates and weight tree, kettlebells, excursive bands, full & half size exercise balls, medicine balls, power training ropes, a heavy rope, racks, balance pads, gym mirrors, cones, sleds, and parachutes (for agility training).

All of the above, the team now owns, but they also needed to rent a 1.5-ton as well as an 8-ton field roller (to flatten the land), a two-man auger, and a Ditch Witch (to dig the 4-foot holes that the posts and cement eventually was poured into).

The farm’s third owner, brother Thomas Legare, Jr., is having electrical work done at his nearby skeet shooting range. The certified electrician is swinging by Sea Islands’ coming-soon box afterwards. Yup, box outside, on a farm, and under the lights. This is real life.

Like other outdoor boxes in both the US and Canada, this box will be exposed to the elements, but like only a select few still around today, the playing surface will be grass. “It’s about as firm and solid as a grass or dirt surface could possibly be,” Raleigh said. “Between the 8-ton roller and the fact that for the past 60 years that portion of land has had heavy cows and pigs using it as their pasture, the surface is pretty solid.”

The box is scheduled to be fully complete sometime this month, and Raleigh says the final cost for the build will be somewhere in the $30,000 range, significantly less than anything he was quoted.

“Some people might think this is all kinda ridiculous, but for me, all these purchases, all the hard work… it’s all been worth it,” said Raleigh. “I cannot wait until we can actually start using it.”

DOING BOX LACROSSE RIGHT

In addition to joining USBOXLA, Raleigh is also excited about his new staff members.

Both Connolly and Bergmeier do more than just manual labor. The two will serves as the club’s Director of Operations and Strength & Conditioning Coach, respectively.

Former Bellarmine teammate and current USBOXLA Director of Officiating, Adam Gardner, is also helping get USBOXLA-specific requirements up and running.

Raleigh is also in the process of adding Sea Islands’ first coaches, and they’re pretty big gets. The Georgia Swarm’s Shayne Jackson (a teammate during his Limestone days) and Randy Staats, two of the league’s premier offensive players, will be joining Sea Islands shortly after the end of the NLL season concludes.

“I really wanted to do this right,” Raleigh said. “Adding Shayne and Randy and becoming a USBOXLA member will allow Sea Islands Lacrosse to provide players with really elite level coaching. I can’t wait for this to get going.”

With the box fully built in coming weeks, Raleigh will start an adult league in April, and then once school is done, will launch youth programs across the board throughout the summer. He plans on putting together elite/travel teams at the high school and potentially middle school age levels too. The club’s leader is also looking at adding a Thompson Brothers’ clinic later this year.

He hopes all of this will help Charleston-area youth become better players, period.

“The ultimate reason I decided to start a box club in this area is solely to enhance the field players, improve their skillsets, and help them become better players in field through box,” he said. “We want to help these kids take their game as far as they possibly can.

“We’re not trying to take kids away from the field game. In fact, we’re trying to make them better in field by playing box.”

Play box. Get better. Have fun.