SISTERS — Thanks to thousands of lacrosse players and enthusiasts, the town of Sisters practically tripled in size this weekend.
An estimated 1,400 players and 2,600 supporters converged on the athletic fields of Sisters High School, Sisters Middle School and Reed Stadium for the Sisters Annual Lacrosse Invitational, a two-day tournament that began on Friday afternoon and concluded Saturday evening.
The tournament, often referred to by its acronym of SALI, is now in its eighth year, according to Andrew Gorayeb, chair of Outlaws Lacrosse and the Sisters High School junior varsity head coach. Outlaws Lacrosse, along with the Sisters Park and Recreation District, manages youth lacrosse in Sisters and the SALI tournament.
SALI has grown from humble beginnings. The original tournament — not yet christened SALI — began when Sisters varsity coach Bill Rexford brought in a handful of high school boys teams from Southern Oregon and the Willamette Valley. Over the years, the invitational expanded, drawing 61 teams this year. Many hailed from the Willamette Valley and Portland areas, while programs from Bend, Mountain View, Summit, Harney County, Sisters, Redmond and Hermiston represented the east side of the Cascades. Squads from Washington and Nevada also competed.
“It’s been exploding over the past years,” Sisters varsity team captain Beau Fitzke said. “The past three years, actually, we’ve seen huge jumps in the amount of people here, the amount of community help we get. It’s a great fundraiser for our teams.”
The festivities kicked off on Friday afternoon, when a number of high school varsity games took place. Held in conjunction with the event, the High Desert League staged its postseason tournament Friday, when Summit grabbed the league’s No. 1 seed for the Oregon High School Lacrosse Association playoffs with an overtime win against Sisters.
A veritable lacrosse city served as evidence of SALI’s growth on Saturday afternoon. At Sisters High School, every available patch of grass was lined for a field, while spectators lounged in folding chairs along sidelines. Some were tempted by the food vendors set up on site, and the Bend Lax Shack peddled merchandise. Dozens of youths warmed up or just whiled the time away by practicing their passing and cradling skills.
With a total of eight fields scattered across three playing sites, games were going practically from dawn until dusk on Saturday. Contests began as early as 8 a.m., and started every hour, concluding with a masters game in the evening. Gorayeb estimated that during the tournament’s two days, more than 150 games were staged.
SALI also serves as a fundraiser for Outlaws Lacrosse. Proceeds from the event, including from concessions and a taco feed staged on Friday night, will go right back to local lacrosse players. The revenue helps Outlaws Lacrosse players with playing fees and equipment purchases, especially for younger participants.
The tournament also serves to put a spotlight on junior varsity teams, which make up a significant portion of the SALI field. JV programs just wrapped up their seasons, Summit manager and junior varsity coach Jeff Melville said. He added that the additional play is helpful developmentally.
“Lacrosse is a great sport. The kids love it,” Melville said. “It’s one of the funnest sports to practice, but they get better in games.
“They get better by competing against other teams. And it really helps bring them together from a camaraderie standpoint and a teamwork standpoint. And it’s good for them to learn the game, because there’s a lot of things that go on in a game that you can’t simulate in practice. And so the best way to prepare your JV boys for varsity is to get them some competition.”
With some high-caliber varsity squads on hand, that portion of the tournament, at least to Fitzke, also has its benefits.
“It’s just really awesome, I guess, just being able to go against that level of play, rather than just the Central Oregon normal that we’re used to,” Fitzke noted. “So it’s awesome to see where we compare when we’re headed towards playoffs because it’s later in the season now.”
Of course, the “Central Oregon normal” is not so bad. At least in the case of SALI, it involves a tournament that draws thousands of participants and spectators, and a high level of community involvement.
Says Gorayeb: “We’re kind of becoming a force to be reckoned with, which is really fun.”