OCEAN CITY – The 14th Annual Ocean City Lacrosse Classic descended on the resort area this week, providing local fans with an opportunity to see some of the sport’s top professional and collegiate players in action, but with loads of young talent roaming area fields at all levels all year long, the tournament is no longer the only, once-a-year opportunity in the area to showcase lacrosse’s brightest stars.
In the not-so-distant past, lacrosse was largely an afterthought in the resort area and across the Eastern Shore and the annual showcase event in Ocean City each August was the best and only opportunity for local fans to see some of the sport’s brightest and best without going across the Chesapeake Bay to tradition-rich places like Baltimore and Annapolis. But things have changed over the years as the sport’s popularity has soared and the local area has produced more than its share of lacrosse prodigies.
It began slowly with fledgling youth programs such as Beach Lacrosse, formed and run largely by lacrosse transplants from other areas who wanted an outlet for their own children to enjoy the game. As Beach Lacrosse grew and spawned a handful of other youth programs along the way, the success began to feed on itself and produce talented boys and girls ready to take their game to the high school level.
As a result, the local high school programs at Stephen Decatur and Worcester Prep, for example, got better and better and began to be able to compete with long-established programs on the other side of the bridge. Many of those players are now moving on to play lacrosse in college at several different levels from Division I to Division III and the feeling is that some will soon return home as members of the elite teams competing in the annual Ocean City Lacrosse Classic each summer.
The formula is working here as evidenced by the success of the various youth lacrosse programs in the area that travel to and compete in tournaments against some of the top programs in the country. One good example is the Greene Turtle Elite boys travel team, made up of some of the area’s top high school players in grades 9-10.
The Greene Turtle Elite team has swept through its summer tournament season, winning championships in showcase events like the Summer Exposure tournament in Annapolis, the prestigious Gait Cup in Gettysburg, and most recently, the Notre Dame Summer Camp. The Greene Turtle team did not lose a game in any of those three events and won the championship in each against some of the top programs on the East Coast including those in tradition-rich areas like Baltimore and Long Island.
The success of the Greene Turtle team is just one example of how far the local youth programs have come in a relatively short time. Other elite travel teams from the Beach Lacrosse and OC Lax programs have duplicated the success in similar events all over the country.
Ocean City Lacrosse Classic Director Bob Musitano, who coaches Decatur’s highly successful girls’ varsity team, knows first hand how the sport has grown in the local area and how the success of its youth programs are garnering the attention of the sport’s elite.
Musitano said this week he has traveled to events with local teams this year and has seen how much respect the area’s young players are getting.
“We’ll go to this tournament and that tournament and be surprised to find out we’re the top seed or the second seed,” he said. “The tournament organizers will tell us, ‘hey, you guys won this last year. You’re not the poor little sisters from the Eastern Shore anymore.’”
Musitano, whose team reached the state championship game two years ago and returned to the state’s Final Four again this year, graduated 12 seniors this year, each of whom are going on to play at the next level including four who will play at Division I schools. The Decatur men’s team continues to send its top players to the next level, and across Berlin at Worcester Prep, the school’s top players are attracting a lot of attention from the sport’s elite collegiate programs.
In the past, Musitano said graduating 12 seniors from his top-level program would signal a rebuilding year, but he doesn’t expect to miss a beat next year. With the success of the youth programs in the area, the pipeline of great young players moving up through the ranks will continue to supply his roster.
“It’s really an amazing thing,” he said. “It’s like this monster that keeps feeding on itself. We lose 12 great players to graduation and we have 12 more ready to step in and take their turn. It’s really a credit to the youth programs in the area and their coaches.”
While the youth programs continue to crank out talented young players that feed the local high school teams, and the local high school teams are sending more and more players to the next level, it hasn’t reached the point where the area’s brightest and best are returning to play in the Ocean City Lacrosse Classic’s elite division yet. The elite division features dozens of professional players and hundreds of players from the top collegiate programs in the country from schools like Hopkins, Virginia, Maryland, Duke and Syracuse, for example.
“It’s going to be neat when we see some of our talented players from the local area come back to play in this tournament as accomplished college players or even professionals,” Musitano said. “That day is coming sooner than we would have believed just a few short years ago.”
While it isn’t the largest summer tournament in the country, the Ocean City Lacrosse Classic held in the resort each August is certainly in the top two or three. It could be the biggest showcase of the sport’s best players, however, with 35 teams in the Elite Division this year, up from 17 last year. Tournaments in places like Vail, Colorado and Lake Placid, N.Y., are among the sport’s biggest summer events and the tournament in Ocean City this weekend is certainly in that category.
The annual tournament got underway yesterday with opening round games in the Masters and Grand Masters divisions at the Northern Worcester Athletic Complex in Berlin. Northside Park in Ocean City continues to be tournament headquarters and most of the action all weekend will take place there, but because of the growth of the tournament in recent years, some early round games have been played at the Berlin venue in recent years.
This year’s field is one of the biggest ever with 72 teams playing in four divisions. The Grand Masters division features players age 45 and older, while the Masters Division features players age 35 and older. The Elite Men’s and Elite Women’s Divisions are open to players of all ages and feature some of the top male and female lacrosse players in the country. The Elite Men’s Division more than doubled in size this year from 17 teams last year to 35 this year.
From modest beginnings in 1993, the Ocean City Lacrosse Classic has grown to become one of the sport’s most highly anticipated events each year. Tournament action got underway yesterday with early round action in the Masters and Grand Masters Divisions at the Worcester County Athletic Complex along Route 113 in Berlin.
Masters and Grand Masters action continues today in Berlin, while the early round action in the Men’s and Women’s Divisions got started this morning at Northside Park in Ocean City. The games will go on night and day throughout the weekend and culminate with title games in each division on Sunday. The premiere final in the Men’s Elite Division is tentatively set for Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. at Northside Park.
Last year, the Smart Link/Fager’s squad took the title in the men’s Elite Division for the fourth year in a row, beating the Hobbit, 11-2, in the championship game. In the women’s Elite Division, it was the Hero’s team taking the title, beating James Madison, 11-3, in the championship game.
The action was no less exciting, if not a little slower, in the Masters and Grand Masters divisions last year. For the record, Lacrosse Homes took the title in the Masters Division, beating the Greene Turtle, 4-3, in the championship game. In the Grand Masters Division, Team Toyota took down Touch of Gray, 7-2, in the championship game.
Throughout the tournament, young players will be given a chance to participate as well. In many games, half-time will feature mini matches involving young players from programs such as Beach Lacrosse.
While the action on the field is clearly the big draw, the entire Northside Park complex will become the center of the lacrosse universe throughout the weekend with food and drink vendors, lacrosse equipment and clothing vendors and live music, turning the athletic complex into a weekend-long celebration of the rapidly growing sport of lacrosse.