-13.2 C
Niagara Falls
Friday, February 3, 2023
Letter: NOTL Thunderhawks lacrosse club forced to fold

Dear editor:

In 1969 the Niagara Warriors lacrosse club started playing in the Ontario Junior B lacrosse league.

Historic Warriors lacrosse names such as Conradi, Ignatczyk, Engemann, Hope, Skubel, McCready (coach), Bissell, Henry and French, to name only a few, led the Warriors in 1973 and 1981 to two Canadian championships for Junior B lacrosse, The Founders' Cup.

In 1984, due to reduced player population the Warriors were turned over to the St. Catharines Spartans lacrosse club to be rebranded the Niagara Spartan Warriors and playing out of the Centennial Arena in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The Spartans moved back to St. Catharines and won a Founders' Cup in 1996, leaving no Jr. B team in NOTL until 2003.

It was at this time that Mike Jones and numerous other volunteers brought lacrosse back to NOTL and rebranded it as the NOTL Thunderhawks. The team was made up of players from the NOTL minor lacrosse system, including players from both NOTL and Tuscarora Reservation, located 10 minutes from Queenston-Lewiston Bridge in New York State.

The Thunderhawks weren’t immediately competitive but did develop a culture of respect for the game, their opponents and especially their teammates. Their persistence, unfortunately, didn’t lead to any Founders' Cups, but it did develop players who were recognized by teams at the Jr. A and professional levels as future stars.

The new core of Thunderhawks, like Devin Sartor, Corey Fowler and Bryan Neufeld moved to the professional level in the CLAX (Canadian Lacrosse League) while their teammate Jay Thorimbert moved on to the NLL (National Lacrosse League), achieving success as a prominent faceoff specialist till this day.

More recently we saw the Wagner brothers (Ryan and John) achieving success while in the recent NLL drafts, Chris Weier (2020-Toronto), Hunter Lemieux (2021-Philadelphia) and Aidan Buis (2021-San Diego) all achieve a lifelong goal of playing in the NLL.

The years of success couldn’t hold back the hands of time. The Thunderhawks executive recognized, after the 2018 season that NOTL’s growth in the demographic of lacrosse players had reduced and the number of kids graduating to Jr. B was limited.

Knowing this scenario, a one-time leave of absence from the league was requested to hopefully build the numbers during the 2019 season. However, limited players and the two-year COVID-19 shutdown of sports eliminated the opportunity for players to participate, causing a detrimental effect on all aspects of the Jr. B Thunderhawks.

During COVID, most of the members of the team executives have stepped down, core players are too old to play junior, players lost developmental years for their opportunities to move to Jr. A, minor players lost exposure to Jr. B and a general movement to opportunities outside of lacrosse due to the lockdowns has brought the team to a unfortunate situation.

Sadly, after several pushes to promote and bolster a roster, the number and commitment of players is just not enough to run a team in NOTL.

Opportunity for players who wish to continue is still available if they travel to St. Catharines, but the family-like atmosphere, the opportunity to play with their school friends and teammates throughout minor lacrosse, and, finally, being part of a local legacy has been lost.

We would like to thank all the sponsors, fans, volunteers, parents and especially players for the years of experiences and memories that helped build a community and connection among lacrosse enthusiasts which will last a lifetime.

Andy Boldt


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