Coming off its 25th anniversary in 2018, the 1812 Shootout continues full speed ahead.
The event, which returns on Saturday, remains the largest lacrosse gathering in the area and a yearly tradition.
“We did very well last year,” event co-organizer Tom O’Brien said. “We take a lot of pride in this.”
This year, the boys competition with various age groups will be held Saturday and Sunday, with the girls competition to follow next Saturday.
The 1812 Shootout, which features tournaments in various scholastic age groups, draws teams from across New York state as well as Canada.
“It’s a huge deal,” Watertown boys lacrosse coach Brian Navarra said. “Like before the whole club lacrosse scene got huge, the 1812 Shootout was like the original summer lacrosse tournament.”
Fittingly, the event takes place on Sackets Harbor’s Madison Barracks Polo Field grounds not far from the famous battle that took place in the War of 1812.
“Teams were coming in from all over New York state, Canada and even the south,” said Navarra, who will again coach Watertown’s varsity boys team in the event. “So it started with high school teams, and now there’s so many club teams going on, that they come. And I think it’s persevered throughout the years being that there’s so many summer tournaments nowadays everywhere.”
In all, eight fields will be used for the three-day competition, which will include more than 200 teams this year, according to O’Brien.
O’Brien said participation in the event has “leveled off,” mainly because of bigger lacrosse events being held the same time of year, including a prestigious event in Maryland.
Yet that doesn’t temper the enthusiasm for the 1812 Shootout, which includes participants from first- and second-grade levels, all the way up to varsity-level teams.
“We wouldn’t miss this tournament with it being right in our backyard,” Navarra added. “It’s a wonderful venue being at Sackets Harbor and I wouldn’t miss this tournament for the world.”
Teams from Pennsylvania will take part this year as well as teams from Ontario, Canada.
“It started as mainly a lot of the varsity teams and now it’s all the youth levels from kindergartners right up to the high school teams — it’s amazing,” Navarra said.
All games in the tournament will be in a 10-versus-10 player format on the field.
“I definitely played in my high school years and that’s when it was just like phenomenal,” said Navarra, whose nephew Jack Adams, a sixth grader, will take part in the event. “All the best teams from Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo definitely came up. Going into my senior year, we played Penn Yan in the finals and that was awesome.”
He added: “And coaching at the JV level and now at the varsity level, it’s been awesome, it’s just such a well run tournament. They’ve done an amazing job.”
In addition, former Carthage and Syracuse University standout Mike Powell and his band — Mike Powell and the Black River Band — will perform on Saturday at the Sackets Harbor Ballroom, with doors opening at 8 p.m.
“He contacted us and he has fond memories of 1812 growing up and he wanted to do something,” O’Brien said. “I know a lot of our families are planning on heading over to that afterwards — it’s a tie-in with 1812 and he has a pretty good lacrosse following, so I’m sure it will be a packed house.”
O’Brien worked alongside Mike Greene and Allen Dingman in the 1990s to establish the event when O’Brien was the head coach of the South Jefferson lacrosse team.
Four teams from the Frontier League and four teams from Syracuse competed in the first tournament.
“They were all happy with it and wanted to come back,” O’Brien said.
The next year 16 teams competed, and the next year the number increased again.
“We went up to 32 teams and two days and then it snowballed from there,” O’Brien recalled said.
Through the years, the event has attracted teams from as far away as Texas.
“We haven’t grown in like five years,” said O’Brien, who was recently hired as athletic director at Immaculate Heart Central, replacing retired AD Mike Delaney. “We had a couple years, where we decreased a little bit, but we’ve really leveled off the last three or four. I don’t think we’ll ever grow that much bigger anymore, because there’s so many tournaments and camps and travel teams that there are a lot of opportunity for kids to do lacrosse.
“When we started we grew so fast because we were the only gig in town and everybody was coming to us like from Texas and Michigan and Jersey and Pennsylvania. But those coaches that came to our tournament went back to their home states and started their own tournaments that are very, very successful now.”
O’Brien shared a memory from last year’s 1812 Shootout when a pair of grandparents said they had been attending the event for quite some time.
“They were telling my partner (Mike Greene) that they’re really sad because this is their 17th consecutive year coming to the tournament with their younger sons and their daughter and now their grandson,” O’Brien recalled. “But now their grandson is graduating, so they won’t be coming anymore. So they were a little bummed out and they made it a yearly ritual.”
Now O’Brien is hoping more memories are on the horizon for the event.