Junior lacrosse alive and well in Okanagan
Much like the growth of one of his own children, Dan Wray has watched the Thompson Okanagan Junior Lacrosse League survive its share of bumps and bruises on the way to becoming a healthy teenager.
Founded by Wray in 2000, the junior B circuit recently kicked off its 14th season with five teams competing—Kelowna Raiders, Armstrong Shamrocks, Kamloops Venom, Vernon Tigers and South Okanagan Flames.
Just as it was in the beginning, Wray said TOJLL continues to provide a quality lacrosse environment for players aged 16 to 20.
"The numbers of players and teams have fluctuated over the years, but we still have a great product," said Wray, the commissioner of TOJLL. "We have five solid teams and some really great people in place, so we're pretty happy with where we're at right now.
"Kamloops won the provincial title last year," he added, "so that tells you how strong our league is."
Wray first launched the concept of organized lacrosse for players in Grades 11 and 12 with an intermediate league in the Interior for three years in the late 1990s.
Then in 2000, with a large and talented crop of 1983-born talent coming out of the midget ranks, Wray felt the time was right to launch a junior B circuit for players in the valley.
"I wanted to expose the game to people in the Okanagan and give our young players a place to play after the minor level," Wray said.
Three of the teams were based in Kelowna—the Rutland Raiders, Kelowna Dragons and Kelowna Braves.
Over the years, the number of junior B teams in the Central Okanagan was eventually whittled down to one—the Kelowna Raiders—due to fewer players enrolling at the minor level.
Like so many other sports over the last few years, Wray said it's been a constant battle to keep adequate numbers of kids in minor lacrosse.
"It's been a rocky ride at times and some of it has been economics," Wray said. "Parents tend to put their kids in sports that are cheaper, like soccer."
"Hockey has also taken its toll on lacrosse a little bit in that a lot of kids are now playing hockey 12 months of the year, so a lot don't play both sports anymore. Hockey is more of a business in that way.
"Lacrosse…we're still the Canadian original, a grassroots national sport," he added.
Still, Wray said there are many positive indicators coming from Kelowna's minor lacrosse system which, in turn, will benefit both of Kelowna's junior and senior programs in the future.
After years of dwindling registration, Wray said the Kelowna Minor Lacrosse Association executive is finding creative ways to restore interest in the game and drive the numbers back to workable levels.
"The (KMLA) is working really hard and they're bucking the trend of the last few years," said Wray. "Alisa Brownlee has done a great job as president and they're moving things in the right direction. With the losses of players other minor sports are having, we're very happy with the way lacrosse is coming along."