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Ski Town Shootout widens its scope

This year, the Park City Ski Town Shootout is expanding its horizons and returning to its roots all in one weekend.

In just four short years of existence, the regional lacrosse tournament has found a way to add a bit of everything. A far cry from the small 13-team inaugural youth event of 2004, this year will feature an expanded adult tournament, more youth teams, a professional lacrosse player and a Native American squad.

Headlining this year’s Ski Town Shootout, which will be held June 12-14, is U.S. men’s national team player Kyle Harrison. The former Johns Hopkins University standout is being brought in by tournament sponsor STX to run clinics for the participating athletes. According to a press release from the Utah Lacrosse Association (ULA), Harrison was a three time All-American, won the McLaughlin Award as the nation’s top midfielder, led Johns Hopkins to the 2005 NCAA championship, and brought home the Tewaaraton Trophy as the National Player of the Year. He was also the No. 1 draft pack in Major League Lacrosse (MLL) draft in 2005 and plays for the Los Angeles Riptide, where he was selected as an all-star in 2007.

According to ULA president Paul Larkin, Harrison’s attendance is monumental for the tournament.

"We haven’t had any big names come out," he said.

"A player of this caliber is really exciting," agreed Ski Town tournament organizer Michael O’Malley.

Harrison will run clinics on Friday afternoon at the fields at Quinn’s Junction and Saturday morning at Ecker Hill.

"The theme of Ski Town is all about learning," said O’Malley. "We’re about friendships and learning to play together."

Harrison is just one component of what could be a very educational tournament. The ULA, in conjunction with the Colorado Lacrosse Foundation, is bringing Native Lacrosse, a team from inner-city Denver, Colo., that is comprised entirely of Native American players. O’Malley said that the team’s head coach contacted the ULA a few months ago wondering if any there was any way to reduce costs to allow the financially disadvantage team to make the trip to the tournament. Seeing this as an opportunity, the ULA immediately decided to meet the Colorado Lacrosse Foundation halfway to bring the team to Park City.

"We want to help out teams in need," Larkin said. "Lacrosse started with Native Americans, so we are excited to have this team come out. We will reiterate that fact through the Native team talking about the game’s origins."

O’Malley also sees the addition of such as team as important because it supports the expansion of what has traditionally been a "preppy" sport across socioeconomic lines, benefits youth, and adds a historical component to the tournament.

"The idea that kids from all walks of life learn this game is what it’s all about," O’Malley said. "When I played, it was an East Coast preppy sport."

Some of the other people who may remember those days will be out on the competition field this weekend. The tournament has added a sizable graduate-level division for both men and women. Most of the players are former high school and college players who are eager to play in tournaments. Many officials and high school coaches will be playing on the Utah teams. According to O’Malley, the tournament gets a lot of its direction from the Vail Tournament, which is the following weekend and an adult component. O’Malley hopes to fill a niche by providing a far less competitive adult tournament than in Vail that will attract a lot of regional squads.

"We’re experiencing some growth in the adult segment," O’Malley said. "We think there’s a market need for this tournament."

In the youth divisions, U-12, U-13 and U-15 boys’ teams will compete throughout the weekend. In girls’ competition, U-15 and U-17 teams will be represented. Teams are coming from Colorado, California, Texas, Washington, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, and Oregon. According to O’Malley, some of Utah’s top high school players will play on the Utah squads, so fans may be able to pick out some of their favorite players from the recent high school season. In fact, O’Malley said that about 25 percent of the participants in the tournament hail from Utah.

"That’s what’s great about this tournament," O’Malley said. "We get to see lots of Utah kids."

With all of the growth this year, the tournament’s only concern is space. After this year’s heavy snowfall, many of the Ecker Hill fields were damaged. Snyderville Basin Recreation has been working to rehab the area and has salvaged four of the five original fields for teams to play on.

"They went out of their way with creative solutions," O’Malley said.

Other games will take place at Quinn’s Junction. Larkin said he hopes to eventually see the tournament grow to a week, which will require even more planning with area fields. O’Malley said that the Ski Town event isn’t up to the level of the Triple Crown softball tournament just yet, but they are working on it.

The competition will begin with the traditional "Running of the Balls" ceremony, where each team places balls into a pyramid. O’Malley hopes to make Native Lacrosse a central part of the ceremony to specifically honor the sport’s native roots.

"We randomly distribute those balls, but something tells me that one of our Native boys will crown the pyramid," O’Malley said.

The Ski Town Shootout will begin Thursday, June 12, and run through Saturday, June 14. Only boys’ games will be held at Ecker Hill. Boys’, girls’ and adult games will be held at Quinn’s Junction. For a complete tournament schedule, including Harrison’s clinic schedule, visit http://www.utahlax.org.


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