Everyone who plays in the Richmond Summer Lacrosse League knows about the T-shirts.
Each summer, the winning team gets shirts with the words “RSLL champions” spliced by a drawing of a lacrosse stick.
Two years ago, they added the Ed Stover Trophy as a prize for the winning team — named after the league’s founder — but the shirts remain the mainstay.
“For years, the running joke has been that it’s the most sought- after T-shirt in the city,” said Taylor Moorman, the league’s assistant director.
With the “brag shirts” comes boasting rights for a year, and sometimes even longer, said James Ireland, a 50-year old who’s been playing in the league for 20 years.
Eric Moore, the league’s director, describes the group of eight teams and 275 players as “the most competitive noncompetitive league out there.”
Founded in 1989, the summer lacrosse league is one of the longest-running ones in the region, Moore said. Through the years, the Henrico County-based league has played a role in lacrosse’s exponential growth. Players said it draws more athletes each year, the level of play has increased, it’s become more competitive and it’s helped increase the sport’s diversity.
“It’s been pretty cool to see it grow from back in the late ’80s to now,” Moorman said, who’s been playing in the league since 1994. “[But] it has the same kind of vibe.”
The RSLL’s staple has been its men’s open division for players ages 16-65 (it introduced a boys high school division last summer with approval from the county when seasons were canceled because of COVID-19).
There’s nothing like the feeling of assisting a 45-year-old guy who’s being guarded by a current Division I long pole, said Will Tazewell, who plays at Richmond.
He added he’s frequently guarded by his best friends’ dads. Moore said he played in the league for two years at the same time as his son. The age difference doesn’t prevent teams from meshing.
For collegiate players, such as Tazewell, Gabriel Alexander, who plays in Division III at Bridgewater, and Walker Everhart, who plays club at Virginia Tech, the league is a fun way to stay in shape during the offseason. Alexander said it’s funny to chirp back and forth with players he typically faces in conference play, too.
For older players, there are opportunities to share knowledge and take younger players under their wing, many said. It also serves as an outlet to stay active and channel competitive juices.
Andrew Kennedy, 35, who previously played club lacrosse at UVA, said the muscle memory comes back quicker than expected. Wednesday at Glover Park, after his defender turned over the ball in his own half, Kennedy made a diving save to cut off a long-range shot on an empty net.
Vince Evans, 52, said sometimes experience can outweigh speed and agility. After a collision with a younger player where the two violently clattered into one another at the midfield line, Evans rose to his feet and said, “I like that.”
The league’s veterans contribute as much as anyone else, Tazewell emphasized. Those who are new to the game improve vastly because they’re playing with so many experienced players, he added.
“I look forward to this every Wednesday and Sunday night,” Everhart said.
“Highlight of my weeks.”
Year to year, each team has a core group of “protected” players that typically remains the same, Moorman said. But the rest of the rosters are built through a draft process led by team captains.
The process ensures there’s some consistency, but also keeps the league competitive by shuffling teams.
The league’s organizers also stress that they have officials because it “legitimizes” the games. RSLL is more serious than pickup games where players make their own calls, and by hiring mainly collegiate officials from the Central Virginia Lacrosse Officials Association, the level of competition is further elevated, Moore said.
The teams don’t practice ahead of their Wednesday and Sunday games. But Tazewell said the summer league brings out the way lacrosse is a “players game.” Most on the field understand the same basic principles, but beyond that, there isn’t a coach to create game plans or make substitutions, Tazewell said.
“We all just come together and we play off of each other and kind of just with the flow of the game,” Tazewell said. “That’s also one of the most fun parts, just playing free.”
Since the league was started, central Virginia has been growing into a place to find quality collegiate lacrosse players, said Ireland, a former president of Richmond’s US Lacrosse chapter. Last summer, there were 150-200 players in the league who currently or previously played college lacrosse, Moorman estimated.
Evans, who has been playing lacrosse in the region for almost four decades, said he’s watched the game get passed down from generation to generation. In particular, Richmond’s summer league keeps the older players involved and interested, he said.
“A lot of the guys that come out bring their young kids, and those young kids have grown up into teenagers and youth lacrosse players — they see their parents playing and they kind of catch that ‘lacrosse bug,’” said Kennedy, who estimates he’s been in the league since 2005.
This year there were about 25 first-time players, the league’s directors estimated. The new players found it online or through word-of-mouth from others in the lacrosse community, including high school and travel coaches and players.
Moore hopes to continue growing the league back to 10-12 teams, as many as they had one recent summer. He remembers when rosters were so thin years ago that some teams didn’t have a goalie — instead, they’d turn the goal over and players would have to score into a trash can. Now, teams have as many as three goalies.
“As long as the game keeps growing, which I don’t see it slowing down, I think this league will grow and will exist, hopefully forever,” Moorman said.
Wednesday evening, Ireland stood on the sideline during the first half of the Vegas Gold vs. Royal Blue game and gazed out at the various helmets across the Glover Park field. The league’s directors order jerseys for each team, part of the preparation process that begins in February each year, but players have always been responsible for bringing their own helmets. When Ireland started playing in the summer league 20 years ago, he mainly saw high school helmets and a small handful of collegiate ones.
Now, he sees a greater variety of colors and stickers. There are ones from Hermitage, Susquehanna, Cosby, Atlee, JMU, Virginia, Penn State, Randolph-Macon and many more.
To him, the helmets array is a testament to how much the sport — and the summer league — has grown over the years.