Weyburn, Sask., lacrosse camps aim to put city back on the map, despite coronavirus pandemic

The Weyburn Lacrosse Association is navigating through the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic to give kids the opportunity to learn the sport and come out well-rounded athletes.

President Randy Labrecque said he feels they have a strong development model for kids and it’s just going to be a matter of time until you start seeing Weyburn on the big stages with the big cities.

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The association started because a handful of families didn’t want to travel an hour to play the sport and now caters to about 115 players that range from three to 16 years old.

“We started up the last four seasons primarily playing box lacrosse and just last year, with COVID and the loss of our facilities, it really accelerated our plan to start playing field lacrosse as well. So we added a field lacrosse program this year,” Labrecque said.

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National Lacrosse League (NLL) veteran and Saskatchewan Rush forward Jeff Shattler is set to run another one of his camps in Weyburn.

“We’re pretty fortunate about that. I think our whole province is pretty fortunate for that. Having (Shattler) in our province as a pro player, working with kids … he’s been to every corner of this province from north to south, east to west, into the schools, just helping promote the game,” Labrecque said.

“Turned out to be phenomenal … just to learn from the best. It’s not every day a 15-year-old pro decides he wants to invest in the kids in your province by teaching them lacrosse.

“The Shattler academy is another big step for us, bringing him in for 15 hours to work with two groups of kids so that’s a big deal. Not new, perse, but exciting nonetheless. And we’re bringing in a fellow by the name of Eric Kratz, and he’s an accomplished Saskatchewan box lacrosse goalie that’s been drafted down into the NLL.”

Saskatchewan Rush forward Jeff Shattler (top middle) at one of his camps with young lacrosse athletes.
Saskatchewan Rush forward Jeff Shattler (top middle) at one of his camps with young lacrosse athletes. Weyburn Lacrosse Association / Supplied

Having facilities to train in through the pandemic has been a challenge during the pandemic, according to Labrecque.

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“In probably January of 2020, we were going to do our … program with (Shattler) throughout the off-season and then kind of COVID hit us. So a lot of our programming was halted for a good jag of time,” he said.

“The big knock for us is that I think everybody in the province, is that we lost facilities through schools. In Weyburn here, we rely really heavily on the schools to rent their gyms so we can have lacrosse in the off-season … so that kind of, has dried up for us for this year.”

Labrecque said they been fortunate enough that there’s been a group of Weyburn businessmen that have put together a spot for them to train. The association announced the return of its winter training sessions at the All Sport Training Center on Sundays starting last weekend.

“We have a nice little indoor facility that we can go, abiding by the current and ever-evolving COVID regulations. We’re hoping we’re scheduled to start our off-season training programs in there and we’ve got a lot happening this year, so we’re pretty excited about it,” he said.

“The fact that we’re running, I think is, sets us unique. That we have a full slate in front of us, I think is unique in itself. I know that other communities aren’t as fortunate as us to have facilities to move into and if they do move into them, their cost is quite high for indoor facilities right now.”

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Labrecque said the sport helps the kids in more ways than one during these uncertain times.

“We had success running our program through July, through COVID, which was nerve-wracking for a lot of us but we were able to successfully follow all the guidelines,” Labrecque said.

“It was really important to get our players active again, get our youth up and rolling, get our coaches back active with our kids again, just for the mental health side of things, getting kids active and rolling and honestly giving them something else to think about for a couple of hours a week.

“The big thing for us, especially for us, is to maintain as much of normal status quo for our players as we can … We’re here to make sure that our kids are active and that their health is looked after, mentally and physically, and we’re not adding to the problem with COVID.”

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Having a professional athlete come out of Weyburn, a small city roughly 105 km southeast of Regina, wouldn’t the first time.

For instance, there’s Minnesota Vikings centre Brett Jones, former Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup winner Derrick Pouliot and professional golfer Graham DeLaet.

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“I will say that in the lacrosse front you’re going to hear a few names in the next five years that are going to catch your attention, that’s for sure. We’ve got some pretty committed kids. We’ve got some pretty committed families. We’ve got some big kids that run like deer and that are starting to pick up their hands,” Labrecque said.

“We have a lot of these rural, tough, hard-nosed, blue-collared farm kids and oil patch kids coming from oil patch families. There’s a lot of kids, the work ethic is there, and I think (Shattler) just recognized that we need to maybe just get a little bit more lacrosse-specific skills into our players.

“I think everybody has their own secret formula for off-season training programs and whatnot. And we’re just fortunate enough to be within the proximity of some highly touted lacrosse players that are open to working with our community so win-win for us for sure.”

Creating opportunities for future student-athletes is key, according to Labrecque.

“Everybody talks about playing pro and wanting to play pro and that’s great but there’s a big step that goes between high school and turning pro and that’s becoming a student-athlete. So that’s something that we really, really push and strive for our kids. Is that the (Weyburn) Thrashers isn’t the end-all-be-all,” he said.

“That next step is finding a (post-secondary) school that’s going to invest in our players because they can run or throw or because they’re mean or whatever the case may be. And I think that’s where we’re going to ultimately measure our success from.

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“Tough to say if you’re going hear of any pros, but I sure hope that we’re going to be a main stop for some schools to come check out some high-quality players, that’s for sure.”

A typical regular season in the South Sask Lacrosse League doesn’t start until April so, in the meantime, it’s a waiting game.

“It’s tough to see what’s going to happen between now and then … The whole thing for us is to make sure that we’re prepared to make sure that we’re kind of ahead of the curve,” Labrecque said.

“Whatever the restrictions are going to be, the (Weyburn) Thrashers will be ready to take care of business, to make sure they’re looked after in order for us to play … as long as the order isn’t ‘stop playing altogether,’ we’re going to have to adjust and move forward in a positive fashion.”

Click to play video 'National Lacrosse League hopeful long runway will lead to successful restart' National Lacrosse League hopeful long runway will lead to successful restart

National Lacrosse League hopeful long runway will lead to successful restart

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

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Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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