While going to graduate school in Albany, N.Y., George Leveille had a friend ask if he wanted to go for a hike in the Adirondack Mountains. Right away, he fell in love with the region and became an outdoors enthusiast.
Then in 1990, Leveille traveled to Vail, Colo., for a lacrosse tournament and had a thought: Why can’t we bring this exact format to Lake Placid? So Leveille, father of former Team USA players Kevin and Mike Leveille and a longtime volunteer with US Lacrosse, met with the proper folks upstate and got the ball rolling.
Except the first year they had seven teams, played about a dozen games and there was rain.
“We thought nobody would ever come back, but I was dead wrong,” Leveille said. “Then it just kept growing.”
That it did. The Lake Placid Summit Classic celebrates its 30th anniversary this week. Games start Monday and conclude Sunday. Leveille estimates there are about 6,000 athletes across 250 teams that will come out, spanning all different divisions.
The teams range from a 65-and-over division to about two dozen “girls commits” teams, where high school-aged girls get to compete with their future NCAA teammates. There’s also a strong Native American presence, Leveille said, paying tribute to the game’s tribal origins.
The event, part of Summit Lacrosse Ventures, has come a long way from the early 1990s, when the Sailin’ Shoe lacrosse teams dominated. They were always recognizable for their fuchsia-colored shirts, standing out well above the crowd.
“We wanted to share the region with the lacrosse community and combine this beautiful outdoors environment with the game we love to play,” Leveille said. “We wanted to marry the sport we love with a region we love. That was the vision, to share this experience and destination in our lacrosse community.”
Leveille has done exactly that, with the Lake Placid Summit Classic going somewhat against the grain on the summertime lacrosse circuit. With the growth of club lacrosse, many of those events are oriented around recruiting and showcasing a player for college.
But in Lake Placid, the emphasis tends to lie elsewhere. As Leveille put it, it’s all about enjoying the game in what’s nearly become a “summertime rite of passage.”
“We’re a destination. We’re just trying to let the game be played in this beautiful space,” Leveille said. “While we do have a strong club presence, we’re less oriented around that and tend to draw the community-based programs or alumni-based groups who know each other and want to come together through lacrosse.”
And with three decades of history come plenty of lacrosse luminaries who have taken to the fields in upstate New York.
The event has a Legends of Placid Lax group that will add former Syracuse men’s head coach Roy Simmons Jr., the late Paul Rose and New England Knights leader Phil Kessler added to its ranks. Past inductees to the Legends group include the Powell brothers, coach Dom Starsia and longtime RPI and Cornell coach Ned Harkness, plus many more.
The only downside, Leveille said, is fewer professional players come out now that the Premier Lacrosse League and Major League Lacrosse are full steam ahead on the men’s side. As for the women’s side, there’s the Women's Professional Lacrosse League that continues to grow.
“The pro [game] has changed the dynamic because those top players can't come out to the summer tournaments unless they're not on a roster,” Leveille said. “So we've seen a decline in the big names, but we've had some of the legends come through. Almost anyone you can think of, they’ve played up there at one point in time.”
There’s also some innovation at this Lake Placid Summit Classic. The annual MLL Legends Game will experiment with a new discipline of the sport that was put forth by World Lacrosse (formerly the Federation of International Lacrosse) in March. There will be a seminar Friday that includes a question-and-answer session with World Lacrosse CEO Jim Scherr and US Lacrosse CEO and World Lacrosse vice president Steve Stenersen, followed by a live demonstration in the MLL Legends Game.
Notable rules on the docket include 6-on-6 play, shorter games (four 8-minute periods of running clock), a 45-second shot clock, smaller roster sizes (10 per team), no backup rule for shots (possession changes based on team that touches the ball last) and draws only at the beginning of each period and overtime.
While World Lacrosse’s goal with the new discipline is to get lacrosse back into the Olympics, Leveille feels the format also could help grow lacrosse in cities and other communities where access to full-sized fields is hard to come by.
“We’re really excited about this, and I've personally been an advocate of the small-field game,” Leveille said. “We’re trying to use our platform to help to promote awareness and conversations of what's being proposed. We hope the lacrosse community finds some consensus that it can be a good way to grow the game internationally and to help develop players who are already in the full-field format.”
Whatever changes arise, Leveille couldn’t help but reflect on how far the Lake Placid Summit Classic has come in three decades. There was perhaps no better example than a few years ago, when the timespan really hit home.
“We had a grandfather, his son and then the grandson all playing all in the same week,” he said. “That’s one of the things that has been great to see, the continuity.”
As for 30 more years?
“Man, that’d be great,” Leveille said. “That’s all we could ask for.”