A popular youth lacrosse tournament in Wesley Chapel soon will feature even more teams from across the nation.
NDP (National Development Program) Lacrosse announced last month it will debut the Dick’s Sporting Goods Florida Finale lacrosse tournament, held in conjunction with the 11th annual Tournament of Champions presented by Pasco County.
The Florida Finale event, like the pre-collegiate national championship, will feature high school elite and rising stars divisions, as well as 15U, 13U and 11U competitions.
Both tournaments will take place simultaneously on fields at Wesley Chapel District Park and Wesley Chapel High School, from Dec. 29 through Dec. 31.
The biggest difference, however, is the invitation process.
While teams must earn bids to compete in the Tournament of Champions, entry into the Florida Finale is open to all teams that participate in an official qualifying tournament this year that do not earn a national championship bid. One local qualifying tournament — the Derek Pieper Memorial Cup Tournament at Wesley Chapel District Park — wrapped up on Nov. 20.
“Coaches and players from teams that haven’t qualified have been asking for the opportunity to play lacrosse over New Year’s in warm, sunny Florida,” said Josh Gross, NDP’s senior director of lacrosse operations. “This event will be a great extension of the qualifying tournament series and the coveted national championship platform.”
Ed Caum, Pasco County’s tourism manager, said the Florida Finale add-on is a “no-brainer” due to the anticipated economic boost for the Tampa Bay area.
“We’re going to have more foot traffic through the Wesley Chapel area,” Caum said, “so it’s going to affect…Fowler Avenue all the way up through Wesley Chapel, and maybe as far north as Dade City because (hotel) rooms are already hard to come by.”
That being said, the Florida Finale likely won’t create a large draw until next year, since the event’s formal announcement was made too late for many travel lacrosse teams.
Gross noted “a few teams” have indicated they’ll compete in this year’s Florida Finale, but he expects a considerable participation bump in 2017.
“There’s definitely a lot of interest for it. I think in 2017 is when you’re really going to have the impact from it,” Gross said.
“A lot of teams are setting their schedule for next year,” he added, “and they can let the parents prepare for it as an expected expense and something they can book further out.”
Last year, the Tournament of Champions alone drew 73 teams — 59 of which were out-of-state. The 2015 tournament involved 1,533 players and 219 coaches. Additionally, there were about 3,250 spectators on each day of the three-day tournament.
The event’s economic impact for the Tampa Bay area is typically substantial.
The total impact in 2015 was estimated at about $2.1 million for Pasco and Hillsborough counties. That figure, however, is down compared to prior years, including 2014 ($2.9 million) and 2013 ($2.6 million), respectively.
Besides the economic uptick, the tournament offers lacrosse players a chance to showcase their skills against elite competition, exposing their abilities in front of scouts from collegiate lacrosse programs.
“These are all-star teams that travel from different places around the country. We truly get some of the best competition in the world,” Gross explained.
In June, Pasco County and NDP signed a two-year deal (which includes a third-year option) through 2017 to keep the Tournament of Champions in Wesley Chapel.
“We’ve got so much building in this area, including more hotels, that it just made more sense to do a two-year and see what we got,” Caum said.
The tournament has been in Wesley Chapel since 2008.
Published November 30, 2016