Lacrosse is a popular sport among many people today, with its origin traceable centuries back to the Native Americans. Ever since it was first played in the Americas, lacrosse was considered a healing and spiritual sport. To the Native Americans, lacrosse was a game given to humanity by the creators of the world. When France colonized the northern region of the US, they recognized the value of the game, discovering that it was the ideal way for them to get closer to the natives. Such emphasis on team spirit and the lacrosse’s natural ability to bring people together still outshines that of other sports and continues to encourage people to connect with their communities.
Won Jae Park is one of the countless individuals who have been deeply impacted by lacrosse, as the sport helped him “adjust to the different culture in the United States” after moving from Korea. Park explained that at first, it was difficult for him to connect to the American community because “my English wasn’t so good at the time,” but lacrosse helped him “integrate with the society in America.” He felt that he owed a lot to lacrosse, but upon his return to Korea in 1997, he realized that there was no official Korea lacrosse association. Determined to start a professional lacrosse association in his home country, Park simply began by “asking around and finding some people who were interested.” Starting with a group of just three people, Park was ultimately able to establish the very first Korea Lacrosse Association (KLA) through his persevering passion and effort.
[Photo of the KLA women’s team playing in the 2019 Asia Pacific Lacrosse Championship (ASPAC).
Park explains that the organization “progressed very organically” towards its current success, starting off by simply recruiting people who knew at least roughly how to play lacrosse, by word of mouth. A team was formed, and Park soon got in contact with people in Japan and Hong Kong to hold regular friendly tournaments. Through this, the association was able to gain some publicity and recruit more skilled lacrosse players in Korea. Gradually, “people started to contact us,” and “the association began to grow large enough to hold official tournaments in Korea,” Park explained. Now, the KLA participates in both friendly and competitive tournaments all over the world, with professional players of various age groups. Domestically, the association has a high school league, “which consists of a little over 30 teams,” as well as a senior league, “which includes university teams and club teams.” Internationally, KLA is a member of the APLU (Asia Pacific Lacrosse Union), which hosts the ASPAC lacrosse tournament (Asia Pacific Championship). Every four years, the KLA also participates in the World Lacrosse Championship. Besides these major tournaments, there are also a number of smaller friendly tournaments of which the biggest one in Asia is the Hong Kong Lacrosse Open. Through their growing participation in such tournaments, KLA now holds a significant presence in the Korean sports community.
|[Interviewing Park about the Korea Lacrosse Association via Skype due to COVID-19.
Photo taken by the author]
While the KLA expanded globally, the lacrosse community in Korea also saw solid growth. Park explained that “one of our biggest prides is that the human resources in our association are probably the best quality of all the sports in Korea.” He mentioned that “we always have a lot of skilled students participating in the sport,” as the Korean-American culture of lacrosse naturally attracts elite students. He believes that this comes from the fact that KLA decided to approach foreign language high school students for their high school program, instead of going through the athletic channels that most Korean sports associations use, with many of these foreign school students ending up going to the most prestigious colleges and universities around the world. As a result, after these students graduate, they are able to support the lacrosse community “as lawyers, accountants, and very capable professionals.” Although many foreign language high schools in Korea are currently members of the KLA, international schools in Korea are yet to join the association.
However, perhaps the biggest difference between the lacrosse community and that of other sports is the spirit of social integration. Lacrosse greatly values the unification of the whole community, including the team, the coaches, the families, and even the supporters. According to Park, “in the international lacrosse community, the Spirit of Lacrosse Award is considered one of the most prestigious awards.” This award is given out in almost all of the major competitions, and the recipient is decided by the team members themselves. One award is given to each team, and “not only are the players and the coaches eligible, but the entire staff, fans, and really anyone who is involved in the lacrosse community” can also receive this award. This value that is placed on community inclusion is truly incomparable to that of any other sport.
|[Group picture of the Korea Lacrosse team that participated in the 2019 ASPAC lacrosse championship.
Photo courtesy of the official Korea Lacrosse Association (KLA)]
Park experienced this inclusive, healthy community during his time in the States, and he wishes to keep this spirit alive in the KLA. He explained that one thing he is truly aiming for is “to create an environment where weekly lacrosse games can gather all family members together and give them something entertaining to talk about.” Especially after realizing that “many of the current Korean sports organizations are geared towards winning and creating a very hostile, competitive community,” Park is even more determined to build “a friendly sports environment that Korea often lacks” through lacrosse. For anyone who wants to join a close-knit and fun community, lacrosse may just be the perfect fit for you. Lacrosse now holds a large presence amongst many teens in Korea, as more and more high schools are being introduced to the sport. Understanding how valuable this sport is, I hope that international schools in Korea will also start to participate in lacrosse. As the KLA continues to grow, we can all expect to see the sports community moving towards a healthy culture that appreciates team spirit over victory.
Sophomore (Grade 10)
Seoul Foreign School
Stephanie Park firstname.lastname@example.org
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