Special to the Gazette by Robert J. Galbraith

The coach of a Montreal junior league lacrosse team has pulled his players out of the championship final series due to an increasing level of violence that over the last few seasons has all but decimated his team. Five players have left the team with season ending injuries; including broken bones, concussions and a life-threatening check to the throat of the team captain, which resulted in a severely bruised and swollen larynx. Five other players were withdrawn by their parents. In fact, the Quebec Junior Lacrosse League (QJLL) is considered the most violent lacrosse league in North America, according to lacrosse officials.

“Every player on our team steps onto the arena floor each shift knowing they may exit the arena on a stretcher,” explained National de Montreal coach, Ken Cave in an open e-mail to his team members last Monday, the day before he officially withdrew his Dorval-based team from the Quebec Junior Lacrosse League cup finals, a four-team league of 16-21-year-olds. The teams include the National de Montreal, Aigles de Windsor, Extreme de Sherbrooke and the Patriotes de Longueuil.

 “Our team is comprised of young intelligent men. You go to school, have jobs, goals and lives outside of lacrosse,” Cave explained in the mail. “One of you is going to lose all of this. One of you will be severely hurt, paralyzed or worse. It is not a question of if – but when, unless something is done.”

Cave made his decision to withdraw his players from the finals series after a sleepless night filled with recurring visions of the attacks perpetuated upon his players. In one such incident in Windsor, a week before the letter, “three Windsor thugs knock a player to the ground and then all three commence to apply successive full axe-like blows to various parts of his body while the referees watch and don’t intervene,” stated Cave, a resident of Les Cedres. “This shouldn’t be happening. It’s not what the sport is about. It’s about speed, skill and physical endurance,”

The afternoon before his e-mail was sent out; the team was playing in Windsor against Aigles de Windsor, when another violent incident was carried-out on one of his top players (viewed by thousands on YouTube). That was the last straw for the 50-year-old coach.

Cave knows that lacrosse can be a very physical and rough and tough sport where injuries do occur, but he is unreserved when he says that aggravated assault and mindless violence has no place in Canada’s National summer sport. “We are not always completely innocent in our play. We do get dirty at times. The difference is that we don’t intentionally try to injure the opposition.” He says that non-calls on dangerous plays are the major problem they face. But Cave is perhaps most perplexed by the lack of acknowledgement concerning the violence from the QJLL.

Pierre Filion, Technical Director and lone staff for the Quebec Lacrosse Federation explained that, “It’s not just the staff, it’s not just the league that has a problem, it is everybody at different levels of responsibility that has a problem. Collectively, we have a cultural problem of delinquency.  We lack respect for opponent’s rules, ourselves and the game, which we are collectively hurting. There’s a need for everybody to sit down and put aside our conceptions and realize we are the enemy of the game,” explained Filion. “Coach Ken Cave is not a crazy man, I can vouch for him. I am sure he is acting as a good father for the safety of his players. Ethically speaking, let’s say Ken Cave has given everyone an opportunity to look in the mirror. We cannot go on the way we are,” he said.

“There is a problem here boys,” Cave said in his letter, “the President (Ghislain Roy) of the league (FCQ) saw what happened to Charbo (Stephane Charbonneau was hurled to the concrete floor) and told me it wasn’t that bad. No more than a 2 minute penalty….5 at the most!  The league has promised over and over again to protect all its players. More hollow promises. I can go on for pages but you all know the story.”

Dr. Gordon Bloom, Associate Professor of Sport Psychology, in the Department of Kinesiology & Physical Education at McGill University, explained that, “If a coach feels his players were at risk and he pulls them out; then I commend him. It takes a very strong person, like coach Cave, to pull his team out of the league. But I don’ think people, like lacrosse players, are born with violent tendencies. I think it is more the culture that is being allowed to permeate, causing people to do things that they wouldn’t normally do, if say walking on the street,” stated Dr. Bloom.

“Like the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers (also known at the time as the Broad Street Bullies) in the 70’s, they behaved like animals on the ice. Why don’t you see that type of behavior anymore; because the NHL enacted rules and regulations to stem the violence?”

The doctor said that if the league is not adequately policed, this will continue to happen. “What happens if young kids are watching this, are they going to learn that this is acceptable? The message I would say is good for the coach for going against the grain and standing up for what is right or wrong. We must remember that young kids are watching and absorbing it.”

Montreal West resident Chad Fairfoull is a well-respected coach and organizer with the Ontario Lacrosse League (OLA) and has played and coached lacrosse across North America and has witnessed the fall of the QJLL over the last 5 years. “As a former player, coach, referee and administrator in the OLA, I was appalled when I first came here and saw what went on at the junior league especially, and I can tell you that I won’t take 90% of the players from this league to play in the OLA or provincial teams, solely because of their attitudes towards the game,” he confessed.

 “I am a firm believer that this league should be shut down and a new league started with proper administration that will clamp down hard in this kind of dangerous behavior. I actually don’t fault the players because this is not discouraged by the adults running the league and the teams. Something needs to be done. It is now the inmates that are running the asylum; and that’s no secret. I wouldn’t want my son playing in that league, because they are not really addressing the safety issue. So everybody loses.”

 Born in Brantford, Ontario, Fairfoull played Tyke League Lacrosse at ages 4, 5 and 6, with Keith Gretzky, brother to Wayne Gretzky, “The Great One!” Numerous other NHL stars, including Wayne, played lacrosse in the summer months to hone their hand-eye coordination and physical endurance. “Wayne Gretzky is a huge supporter of lacrosse and played the sport with the Brantford Minor Lacrosse Association. I played House League Tyke with Keith Gretzky and Wayne would referee some of the games. He said he learned how to move with a hit by playing lacrosse,” explained Fairfoull.

Lacrosse is a religion to many native players and non-native players and is called the ‘Healing Game.’ The Mohawk name for lacrosse is Tewaarathon, which translates into English as, “Little Brother of War.”But lacrosse is also referred to as “The Creator’s Game,” played to entertain “The Creator,” who watches down from above.

Kahnawake Mohawk, John Cree has played lacrosse professionally and coached it for over five decades. He had a lacrosse stick in his hand since he started walking as young boy. “When we formed the Iroquois Confederacy, over 500-hundred-years ago, we would play lacrosse games to settle arguments and differences; instead of battling it out to the death. Lacrosse helped keep the Six Nations Confederacy together,” explained the 68-year-old Cree.

 “My grandfather used to tell me that the game will take you from a boy to a man. It also teaches one how to control their temper and respect other players.”

The Cree family has lacrosse streaming through their blood, not unlike many native families. His daughter Kristin is the President of Kahnawake Lacrosse, and his sons and grandsons all play the sport. Most native people play the sport as part of their culture and for the plain fun and competitiveness of it.

Chad Fairfoull notes that the Quebec Juniors were averaging 45 minutes a game in penalties while the Ontario Juniors had less than 20 minutes in penalties per game. On the other hand, the QJLL averages 45 per game, more than double the penalties. The OLA gives a 5 minutes minute penalty for a violent infraction or fight and you’re tossed from that game and the following game, but depending on the circumstance it could be more. In Quebec, you are given a 10-minute penalty and thrown out of the game. There has been more respect for the game and fighting has been reduced since the OLA brought in the new rule this season, endorsed by the Canadian Lacrosse Association.

Another part of the problem is that referees in Ontario follow through a process of training that starts in the younger leagues, then working their way up to the junior level and are accessed at every level by their peers. In Quebec anyone can walk off the street and take the one day clinic and become a qualified referee.

René Kendall is a former coach and player whose son Kevin plays for the Aigles de Windsor. “No I don’t endorse violence in sport and I blame a good portion on the style of play being conducted in the arena, the offence-defensive style, and a lack of experience by the players.”

He said that half of the Windsor team doesn’t have much lacrosse experience and that, “this violence didn’t come from the coach. It’s the style of play. I know these coaches well and they are good people. This is a negative thing for lacrosse in Quebec. The Montreal National is less violent and plays the game more by the rules. That’s for sure.”

Kendall obviously loves lacrosse and wants to see the game continue in his community. He commented that there is more than meets the eye in the Eastern Townships region of Quebec and believes that part of the problem may be a social issue. “The kids in Townships are less disciplined than those in Montreal. The parents in Montreal have more control over their players. Here they don’t listen to their parents and coaches. When it’s like this what can we do?”

A spokeswoman for the CLA, the overseer of Canadian leagues, stated that they are aware of, “the issue of increasing violence within the sport as demonstrated by the recent incident in Quebec. We have been in contact with the FCQ requesting they step forward to take action. We, the CLA, will be releasing further comment soon.”

It is a time of much soul-searching in Quebec lacrosse, but it is hoped that the future will bring out the best of the game and those who play it, and the game will once again become the – “Healing Game.”

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