Homegrown Summer: How a Revived Tournament Boomed in Minnesota

PHOTO COURTESY OF HOMEGROWN LACROSSE


This article appears in the November edition of US Lacrosse Magazine, available exclusively to US Lacrosse members. Join or renew today! Thank you for your support.

Homegrown Lacrosse in Minnesota was swift to act. Recognizing the desire by local lacrosse players to play after missing their spring seasons because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the non-profit organization resurrected the Champions of Summer tournament in early August. The event had been on hiatus since 2017.

“We wanted to offer something this summer for all the high school and youth teams that didn’t get a chance to play,” said Jing Peng, director of leagues and events. “We are all coaches and a lot of us also still play. We know how much sports matter to kids. On paper, it’s an extracurricular. But it’s so much more than that.”

Champions of Summer, which at its peak featured more than 100 teams, was a challenge to put together in the current climate. Peng said Minnesota’s COVID guidelines made the event safer, but stressful to put together.

Attendance at each game had to be fewer than 250 people. Each player could have just one spectator at a game. Spectators had to remain socially distanced from anyone not in their households. To make the numbers work, teams were capped at 22 people, a number that included coaches.

What originally added stress to Peng’s plate eventually became a tremendous help. The event was first scheduled to take place at Hopkins High School in Minnetonka, but a combination of issues just two weeks before the tournament forced Homegrown to pivot.

Homegrown shifted to the National Sports Center in Blaine, a 600-acre sports complex that features more than 50 full-size soccer fields. It was the perfect place for a large tournament needing to abide by strict guidelines.

“It’s the largest sports complex in the world in terms of the number of fields they have,” Peng said. “That really helped us because people are able to have more space outdoors than we would have had at any other high school facility.”

Peng scheduled two, two-day tournaments as part of Champions of Summer. From Aug. 3-4, summer travel club teams participated. From Aug. 5-6, the focus was on high school teams and youth associations.

Eighty-eight teams took the field during the four-day period — 28 boys’ varsity teams, 18 boys’ JV teams, 11 girls’ varsity teams, five boys’ travel teams, six girls’ travel teams, four 14U boys’ teams, six 12U boys’ teams and five 14U girls’ teams.

“People were very happy,” Peng said. “Our refs were really happy, too. I didn’t get any complaints from anyone. Everyone, all the coaches and parents included, were happy their kids could play. At Homegrown Lacrosse, we really pride ourselves on being able to pivot quickly to offer what the community is looking for. We would love to bring this back again.”







Aron Lipkin, Homegrown’s executive director and co-founder, said the Champions of Summer tournament was discontinued when it became increasingly difficult for high school teams to play over the summer. With travel and club programs taking players away from their local teams over the summer, participation had dwindled.

Champions of Summer began in 2009 after Homegrown started high school summer leagues the year before. The beginnings of the tournament were a perfect storm of time and place.

“An early board member of ours, she worked for a PR firm that had a contract with [General Motors],” Lipkin said. “GM was coming out of the recession and was promoting the new Buick LaCrosse. She pitched them, and all of a sudden, we were 23-year-olds working with GM and creating an event around this.”

It grew from there. In 2015, Peng said the event featured 93 youth teams and 15 high school boys’ teams. Peng has been with Homegrown Lacrosse for three years, and Lipkin credited her with the success of this year’s revived event.

“Jing came in as a league director and she’s grown our leagues and events tremendously,” Lipkin said. “She’s been awesome.”

And although the opportunity to bring back Champions of Summer was a response to an unprecedented sports landscape, it could return in future years thanks to renewed interest.

“At the end of the day,” Peng said, “Homegrown is here to grow the sport.” 

LOCALLY GROWN: MIDWEST

Indiana 

Originally founded in Columbia, South Carolina in 2018, Palmetto P.R.I.D.E. Sports is a low-cost club and travel sports 501c3 registered nonprofit organization dedicated to minority youth who play sports with low minority representation. Circle City P.R.I.D.E. Sports is the Indianapolis affiliate established this year. CCPS is working with Indy Parks and Rec, US Lacrosse and other community partners to establish an inner-city lacrosse league.

Michigan 

With the help of University of Michigan coaching staffs, Detroit United Lacrosse introduced the game of lacrosse to more than 20 youth participants in August. A relationship that originally began with the UM women’s program in the summer of 2019 continued in 2020 with clinics on back-to-back weekends this summer. The socially distanced clinics took place at Gabriel Richard Park and were run by each of the UM coaching staffs.

Ohio 

The Barack Community Recreation Center teamed up with the Urban Lacrosse Academy in central Ohio over the summer. The ULA helped facilitated six clinics to teach the sport to an underrepresented community. In an effort to bridge a gap, the clinics were administered by officers from the Columbus Police Department. The CPD is home to at least seven officers that have lacrosse-playing experience.

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