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It's fast-paced and surprisingly physical, with minimal whistle interruptions disturbing the flow.

The action starts with a "draw" - two individuals vying for a solid rubber ball in the center of a field, sparring like bucks. Gain possession of the handball-sized sphere and control play with adept moves and passing.

The sport is lacrosse, and it's catching on in the Garden City. On Saturday five teams from Missoula Elite took part in the youth club's second annual jamboree at the Dornblaser fields.

"When I first started as a freshman there were like 10 people in the entire program," raved Joel Colbert, a Missoula Hellgate senior who also plays football and basketball. "Now there's over 60. It's grown rapidly."

That undoubtedly has everything to do with lacrosse's crossover allure.

"It's like a combination of hockey, football, basketball and soccer," said Matt Gosselin, who has played football and soccer at Missoula Big Sky. "A lot of contact, hitting like football and hockey and moving the ball around.

"The amount of goals is a lot higher than soccer. It's my favorite sport by far."

Kevin Flynn has been arguably the best advertisement for lacrosse since he arrived in Missoula to attend the University of Montana. As a Grizzly, his club team went 35-0 over a three-year span and won a national title in 2007.

Flynn also spent two years on the sidelines coaching for Montana, compiling a 22-6 overall record and one conference championship.

Lately the Chicago native has his hands in everything from Elite varsity boys' coaching to assisting college recruiters to Missoula's men's league.

"We're always trying to get more kids involved," he said of the Elite club, which includes three boys' teams and two girls' programs, including a high school squad that had a big win over Gonzaga prep on Saturday. "We think everybody should try out the game because it's good for all types of athletes."

The greatest challenge for Missoula Elite, which just finished its spring season, is finding competition within a reasonable driving distance. The team plays in places like Spokane and Kennewick, Wash.

Other than teams from Bozeman and Whitefish, the pickings are slim for Montana competition.

"Our big offseason mission is going to be the rest of the state," Flynn said. "To just make sure they can be fielding teams in the spring."

Colbert envisions a setup similar to those of other high school sports in the Treasure State.

"It would be nice to kind of have a state tournament," he said.

One of lacrosse's attractive aspects is that size isn't a factor the way it is in football and basketball. Flynn says there's a place for those of every size.

"You don't have to be the biggest or the tallest or the fastest player to be effective," he said. "When I used to play at Montana we had a three-time all-American who was like 5-foot-6, maybe 140 pounds. He found a role and did really well."

Flynn says the basics of lacrosse - passing and catching - don't take long to learn. Mastering those skills to the point where you gain an advantage in game situations is more of a process.

Historians claim lacrosse is the oldest sport in North America. It is rooted in Native American religion, and long ago it was played to resolve conflicts, heal the sick and develop strong men. To some Native Americans, lacrosse is still referred to as "The Creator's Game."

Flynn favors the sport because it rewards the "complete athlete."

"They're only getting half an experience if they play another sport," he said. "This combines the elements of a lot of sports that are tough."

Colbert, who is considering trying out for the Grizzlies next season, has a slightly different way of promoting his specialty.

"It's kind of like soccer, but you can hit the guy."

To learn more about Missoula Elite, log on to:

Bill Speltz can be reached at 523-5255 or


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