By Jim Calder and Paul Swanson
Girls lacrosse has become a vibrant and popular sport in Toronto, strongly represented by the Mimico Mountaineers in Etobicoke and by the Toronto Beaches in Central Toronto, North York and Scarborough. Over the past two decades, Toronto teams have won a multitude of Provincial Medals and helped populate Team Ontario and Team Canada. Even more significantly, many women have gone on to play the game in university in both Canada and the USA. It is a story of success for the greatest sport in the world.
To properly understand the roots of Toronto Beaches Girls Lacrosse, tribute must be paid to the pathbreakers at the Toronto Stars and to the visionaries, builders and dedicated volunteers in those critical early days who helped the Toronto Beaches take flight. The Toronto Beaches Hall of Fame honours several of these individuals.
The history really starts with a few daring girls playing on predominantly-boys box lacrosse teams for both the Toronto Beaches and Toronto Stars lacrosse clubs in the early 1970s, an era when female athletes often did not receive the respect that they deserved. The Stars’ President Ron Parkinson created a girls’ box lacrosse program in the early 2000s playing out of Scarborough’s McGregor Arena. It operated as a house league and eventually evolved to include a growing rep program.
Girls’ box programs were forerunners to the field sport that would soon surge in popularity in just a few years time. The skills learned by these players translated well into girls field lacrosse, which is favoured internationally and at the university level. The Ontario Lacrosse Association and the Ontario Women’s Field Lacrosse association — the sport’s governing bodies — conducted “Play Days” that introduced the sport to more and more young athletes. The Toronto Stars joined OWFL and started to compete against other Ontario clubs. McCowan District Park became the home of the Girls Field Program featuring house league games and practices. By 2008, the Stars U15 team won the Provincial silver medal in the B division.
Toronto Beaches wanted to grow a girls program organically, and the experienced Toronto Stars volunteers served as mentors. The two clubs openly worked together to promote girls lacrosse, with the Stars focusing on adolescents and the Beaches growing a program organically by offering programs to younger ages.
The first Beaches team to compete in OWFL finished sixth at 2010 Provincials in the U11A category. This team was the first seed planted in what would become a forest.
Back row (left to right): Mary Ormsby (trainer), Michael McCauley (coach), Elisha King (coach), Susan Tung (coach)
Middle row (left to right): Adèle Swanson, Lochlahn March, Morgan McEachen, Riley McCauley, Asia Reid, Bryanna Phillips, Reilly Hunter
Front row (left to right): Bailey Jacobs, Amy Nicoloff, Madelyn Farmakovski (goalie), Margaux Williams-Kelly, Lauren Raney
Subsequent Beaches U11 teams would go on to win the bronze (2011, 2014, 2016) and silver (2012-13) in the A-division and gold in the B division (2015). Their success would carry on into the formation of medal-winning U13, U15 and U19 teams. At the same time, the Stars captured a number of Provincial Medals including the 2013 U19 D Silver, the 2014 U19 D Gold and the 2014 Senior B Bronze.
In order to introduce the girls to higher levels of the game in the USA, Stars coaches and later Beaches coaches regularly brought their teams to compete in U.S. tournaments and camps, such as the Goblin Games in Ithaca and Hobart College, respectively. Beaches and Stars teams and players became a common sight in upstate New York and the U.S. eastern seaboard.
Due to the common purpose shared by Beaches and Stars volunteers, the idea of blending the two field programs caught on. This would come to fruition in 2015 when the Stars provided players, coaches and volunteer administrators to Beaches Lacrosse, and Beaches Lacrosse reciprocated with players and a very solid administrative organization.
An important offshoot of the program both before and after the merger was the creation of a vibrant Toronto high school league throughout schools in the east end. As young players reached high school age they helped pioneer girls field programs. The league blossomed from 2 teams to 12 teams over the years. The Stars and Beaches girls played a significant role in starting high school programs, and later in populating Ontario University teams.
A level of excellence has been reached since the humble beginnings in the early 2000s. Many of the players have gone on to become Coaches, Officials and Builders of Programs in Ontario and elsewhere. The work of hundreds of volunteers over the years has been well worth it for those who enjoy it today.