What started as a fun adventure, something to do in the summers when the mountain was closed, has become a lifelong passion for Jon Urbana—and thousands of young lacrosse players are winning as a result.
Twenty-five years ago, Mark Foster, the father of one of young Jon’s friends, started a lacrosse (lax) team in Denver. This was well before the popularity that the sport is enjoying today here in the Rocky Mountains—it was more of an East Coast thing. It was one of two teams in the area; they played each other a lot.
“We took it seriously and fell in love with it. From those two teams, sixteen of us went on to play Division 1 lacrosse,” Urbana says. Playing with Division 1 athletes doesn’t usually happen until, well you’re also a Division 1 athlete. This isn’t the case for young laxers who sign up for Urbana’s Next Level Lacrosse Camp. The kids, some as young as seven, get to learn the basics from some of the top athletes from around the country. The energy is palpable, the excitement obvious and the skills they learn take them to the next level of their game.
After playing Division 1 lacrosse, Urbana founded Next Level Lacrosse Camps, which has become a go-to for young players and is run the same time as Vail’s popular, month-long Vail lacrosse shoot out. “It’s been awesome. Kids are learning a lot from guys on the East Coast, the sport is progressing. I love seeing it,” Urbana says with enthusiasm. “We’re bringing top playing talent to Vail Valley.”
“I think it’s a good sport for Colorado-minded people. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s team oriented, it’s high scoring. Athletes can transfer their skills from lacrosse to basketball or ski racing. It teaches you so many forms for movement and hand, eye coordination,” Urbana waxes almost poetically about the sport he loves.
This year the camp will initiate a new format. It will be a one-day shooting camp; and young athletes will be coached by none other than All-American Notre Dame grad and lacrosse phenom Sergio Perkovic this year—before he heads off to Wall Street to start ‘real life’.
The camp staff is more than goofy counselors. Just ask any of the parents who love watching their kids learn new skills. “The number one thing that has made an impression on all of us is the quality of the staff that Jon puts together,” says Ryan Dienst.
“The current and former Division 1 lacrosse players are amazing. The better part is that Jon brings in really great guys who connect with the kids, build a relationship with them, and do so in a fun, relaxed atmosphere that both campers and coaches really enjoy.
“Becker (Dienst’s son) has kept in contact with a few of the coaches from every year he has done it and I love seeing him connect to older guys that he really looks up to and wants to emulate.”
And here’s the reason why the coaches love the camp so much: it’s held in Vail. They get to golf with the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, rock climb, white water raft, then get to coach young kids who emulate them; want to be them and follow in their cleated footsteps. The pros have a blast on and off the field—and it shows. “The coaches are truly elite as players and even more so as fine young men. They have a great way of relating to the boys and making hard work and learning fun,” says Paul Kessenich. “Not only are they instilling the essential lacrosse skills and teamwork philosophy, they are teaching the boys how to be respectful competitors. I cannot say enough good things about the organization of the camp and the quality of coaches for every position.”
The passion the kids have for the sport is trickling up—the Colorado Mammoth, the professional lax team based in Denver, has the largest attendance in the country and is one of the top teams in the U.S. and Canada. From a few kids tearing it up in Denver to thousands of lacrosse fanatics today, the sport is growing—thanks in part to passionate athletes and coaches like those found at Next Level Lacrosse Camp.
Who knows? Maybe one of the sharp shooters at the NLL camp will be headlining New Clubhouse and Restaurant with the Colorado Mammoth at the Pepsi Center in a few years.