Vote for Ontario Jr A Commissioner is an Important Challenge and Opportunity for Lacrosse

Junior, Opinion -

Vote for Ontario Jr A Commissioner is an Important Challenge and Opportunity for Lacrosse

[Pictured: Outgoing Ontario Lacrosse Association (OLA) Junior 'A' Commissioner Dean McLeod as he sits outside a hearing during the 2018 Minto Cup in Calgary, AB.]

The lacrosse world seems like it’s going through tumultuous times with the upheaval of separate entities all within the cluster of about a year. In print and in discussion I’ve seen countless sources lament what a bad year it has been for Canadian lacrosse and the black eyes we are wearing. 

Be it the Minto cup affair with the referees or the world field games last minute glitch after the drama of getting a team to Israel and now the NLL labor strife. Our Canadian game has been right in the middle of all that ails us. 

When writing about the game in general I have been constant in my warnings of how box lacrosse has regressed in massive fashion over the last five years or more in Canada. This is it all levels. I could repeat the stats I’ve learned about registration numbers in Alberta or Manitoba or even at Saanich Minor lacrosse in my hometown of Victoria but it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the lacrosse community improves itself in every way possible so the sport can change directions and get back on track. 

This dramatic slide of our Canadian summer sport is due in part to a lack of leadership and vision about where the game is going and how that should look in our fast-paced digital era. As it is, the CLA and its governing bodies are in a reactive state and are behind on any initiative to tackle the promotion of lacrosse in Canada on a national level. 

For at least 10 years I’ve been part of a discussion with people across the country about how to improve our sport and how to clean up some of the issues around its derailment. The obvious factors are well known now. The fact we didn’t water our house league garden and all the crops dried up comes to the forefront. The game became elitist and supported Provincial travel teams or field tournaments and other money generators. The Canadian championships have the same teams competing year after year, it seems. The sport really got away from working hard in its own centres to keep the fire stoked close to home. 

Identified in discussion as a solution to the problem was that Junior A lacrosse in Canada needed to be the beacon of light to bring the game to the masses. 

A Canadian Junior A league run by a professionally skilled organizer may have a chance at getting some TV recognition and sponsorship, creating an entity that minor lacrosse can promote in home associations, creating better associations everywhere. Jr A would become a vehicle to get more players playing the game through having something to aspire to. 

I am a realist and I know this would take an ungodly amount of work and organization and only Ken Wood in Vancouver and David Fehr in Calgary were willing to start and grow the conversation which eventually was abandoned. 

Through discussions with both men it was incredible to learn of the stories of how many people opposed them and their initiative. It wasn’t so much that these others opposed them; it was that they did it with no good foundation or argument for opposition. This is what comes up time and time again in Canadian lacrosse. No one wants to think about going forward or wrap their heads around new concepts unless it's a way to circumvent rules to help them win. 

I see so many people clinging to what they’ve carved out for themselves as a little piece of the lacrosse world they affect from their own perspective. These agendas are Canada wide and while there is some good in these actions for the advancement of these individuals or volunteers serving their team, they are still self-serving. If you think I’m wrong just look at the numbers in the game over the last 10 years and how far we’ve slid. It’s not even up for debate; we're in deep trouble. 

Jr. A Lacrosse should be our purest form of competition in the sport in Canada. It should be untouched and not subject to the manipulation that comes with adults playing the game at the Sr. A level. 

Instead, Junior A tries to replicate its big brother. Junior A lacrosse is all about what’s good for a few, not for all. No powers that be have stepped in to create rules that would ensure everyone has the ability to compete on an even playing field. A guiding force has to limit the power teams have on protected lists and other resource building measures that help certain teams but hurt some participants and drive kids away from the game. 

As a measure to commit to your own association and take pride in it, players should not be allowed to be “sold” every year as the season winds down. As numbers recede my fears are that in the near future we will see Junior A teams in every province folding for various reasons. 

If you understand Canadian lacrosse, most of its membership comes from the province of Ontario and Ontario is king. Along with the numbers comes talent in every aspect of the game and in my mind there is no doubt most of the best people in our sport of box lacrosse came up through the Ontario system. It’s just the fact that competition is stiffer and resources are wider, which has created a deeper understanding and ability to play the game out East. 

I believe that the Ontario Junior A league is the most powerful body of lacrosse in the country and the only vehicle we can all ride in the right direction to set an example from. 

OLA Junior A has been part of the problem with no solutions for a very long time. As a league, it could have been a leader in setting the bar high and organizing itself to become a mini professional league by following the Canadian junior hockey model or any organized sport model. Instead it has just drifted for over a decade with little response to the changes around it. 

This year’s Minto cup was another conflicted time with an issue that should have been dealt with years ago and that reared its ugly head in the name of competition in August. I’m not here to say who is right or wrong in what they did; I just knew it should never have come to that. The situation was born from apathy towards upholding rules and rules are always tested in the highest levels of competition. 

The year before, there was an assault in a Junior A playoff pregame brawl that resulted in not one minute of suspension time to the player who was charged with the offense. That player played the whole series while the player he assaulted missed multiple games from injury. The Commissioner, Mr. Dean McLeod, failed to act. His lack of action shows that he supports very loose rules around the league he has governed for the last 25 years. 

McLeod has been opposed to change in any ways to his league over a long period of time. The only thing you can count on in life is change but not in the Jr A circuit in Ontario. 

A few weeks after the OLA finals incident, in Game 1 of the Mann Cup, Peterborough Lakers player Holden Cattoni was ejected from the contest for wearing a gold chain around his neck. That should lend some perspective to how out of whack things have become in our sport. No one will admit they're wrong until it’s obvious. That means nothing is getting corrected until it’s too late and damage has been suffered. 

On November 14, the Junior A teams of Ontario will elect a new commissioner from a cast of three eligible possibilities. Those three are Mike Hancock, Lindsay Sanderson and Mark Baldini. 

The reason I’m writing the story is to put everyone on notice that this is a big decision and a huge possibility to move forward in Canadian Lacrosse. The sport is hemorrhaging in multiple areas and needs some hope in the fashion of leadership to pull it out of this dark time. 

It shouldn’t be up to one man to take this on but it will take one man to stand up for what’s right for the game for the first time in a long time. The OLA Jr A commissioner will need to make some people uncomfortable by telling them the truth and then getting to work on operating in a way that everybody has to deal with the truth. The game has to become transparent and competitive for all teams and associations at every level. Otherwise, box lacrosse’s credibility will never be regained. 

It shouldn’t be up to one man to take this on but it will take one man to stand up for what’s right for the game for the first time in a long time. The OLA Jr A commissioner will need to make some people uncomfortable by telling them the truth and then getting to work on operating in a way that everybody has to deal with the truth. The game has to become transparent and competitive for all teams and associations at every level. Otherwise, box lacrosse’s credibility will never be regained. 

The sport has become exclusively about the haves and the have-nots, even in minor centre associations with thinning registration and the lack of ability to compete. Ontario lacrosse holds all the power in the sport in our country and always will because of its membership and tax base. 

This election isn’t just about the Commissioner, it’s about starting a workout plan so the game can get back in shape by creating a Junior A league our youth desire to be a part of so we can prop the game back up. 

If the game doesn’t raise its fitness level it will be dependent on back room dealings and money from sources who want to control their own agendas in the name of winning. No one is really understanding the fact that while two or three teams are competitive each year, eight or 10 are not. That is the devil in the details of what isn't working. 

Continue on this current path and in another 5 years’ time there will be nobody interested enough to bother writing about these things. I know I'm getting tired of my own voice. 


2 comments

  • DSC

    I think one of the symptoms is volunteer burn-out. Often it feels like there are too few people spread out doing too much. I saw this firsthand at team level and at the league level in c-ball. People want this or that done but either don’t want to step up and do some heavy lifting or they think the money required will just magically appear from nowhere. People love to bitch and grip about the CLA and provincial associations all the time but then won’t step up and commit the time and means required for these organisations to operate.
  • Paul

    I’ve said it for years. Make the JR A draft an open draft for Midgets or at the most allow teams to protect a small limited number of local players. Let’s allow smaller area teams to prosper so we dont see the same New West – Coq final. Let’s have equity so we can go watch a 10-10 game and not a landslide.

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