WINSLOW, Ariz. - A group of young Winslow athletes have been playing a sport for the past four years that has been played longer in North America than any other. The Winslow Warriors began play in 2005 with only nine players. The team has had as many as 26 since then and had 23 last season.
Lacrosse was the first sport developed in North America and was being played by Indian tribes prior to 1492. The sport was played by a number of tribes in what is now the northeastern United States and southern Canada. It is still a popular sport in that region, especially among colleges and some high schools.
The sport was named by a French explorer and was known among the Indian tribes which played it as "the Creator's game." It was played for religious purposes to resolve conflicts, heal the sick and prepare strong young men. Ironically, it was also used by some tribes to prepare them for war.
According to some estimates, lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in North America today. The number of people playing lacrosse is said to have grown by some 500 percent since the late 1990's. Many high schools in the east have both boys' and girls' lacrosse programs and there has also been a significant growth in the number of players in leagues not affiliated with schools such as the program in Winslow.
The game is played with a stick equipped with a small basket that is used to catch, control and throw a small ball approximately the size of a baseball. There are goals similar to hockey goals but at six feet by six feet in outdoor lacrosse are larger. A standard field is approximately the size of a football field. Skills developed ay and used in the sport are similar to some associated with baseball, football and basketball among other popular sports.
The Winslow team is, and has been, coached by Arizona Highway Patrol Officer Gordon Beyer. Beyer has been and is assisted by Richard "Meaty" Smith, Mike Rivera, Bill Noble and Wes Davis. The Warriors have played teams from Flagstaff, northwest New Mexico, Las Vegas, southwest Colorado as well as Phoenix team including Horizon and Notre Dame Prep. According to Beyer, they are working to become affiliated with a valley league for the 2010 season.
Before the next season starts around the first of the year, the team will need to work in scheduling, setting up tournaments, issuing equipment and breaking in new players. Beyer said that the team is always looking for new players and that so far a way for all who want to play has been found. The equipment is not cheap, but fund raisers have made it possible to help needy players afford to play.
The team will be having fund raisers of several kinds and does plan to host a major tournament in 2010. The tournament will likely be held at Emil Nasser Stadium and should benefit Winslow economically by bringing in approximately seven visiting teams which will stay in Winslow motels and eat in Winslow restaurants.
Beyer played college lacrosse at the Citadel in Charlestown, South Carolina for three years. He also played football at the Citadel one year and played four years of lacrosse. His son, Kurt Beyer was one of the original nine players on the 2005 team and remains active on the team.
Smith is a Winslow native who played football and baseball at Winslow High School. Like many lacrosse players, he was a talented multi-sport athlete. His son Matt Smith was also a member of the original team and still is.
Coach Mike Rivera is from the Globe-Miami area and his son Mike Rivera Jr. was also a member of the original team and still is active.
Coach bill Noble is originally from Flagstaff and attended the University of Arizona. His son Hunter Noble was also a member of the 2005 team and is still active.
Davis handled the defense with Rivera and his son Colton plays midfielder and handles the long pole on occasion. He is a senior at Winslow High School and is competing for an air force ROTC scholarship and is considering Norwich University, a military school in Vermont.
The only other member of the original team still playing is John Ortiz.
The Winslow Warriors have been featured in the sport's national magazine, U.C. Lacrosse Magazine. The team has also managed to issue equipment to all players and has taught Winslow athletes this ancient American sport.
Beyer is well versed on lacrosse and explained that American Indians played a number of different versions of the sport. The version used most by colleges today is that which was played by the Iroquois tribe.
The Warriors' coaching staff stresses the goal of the team representing the community in a positive manner which translates in being good sports never acting in a way that would not be polite or bring dishonor to the community.
The coming of lacrosse has brought the most ancient of American sports to Winslow. Bayer said that it is not a new sport to this area. There is said to be an ancient lacrosse field near Second Mesa at Lukachukai. Perhaps the return of the sport to the area will result in seeing Navajos and Hopis playing the sport their ancestors played before the time of Columbus.