It came about by pure happenstance.
Scouting potential locations for a new lacrosse festival, Mike Riorden and Ryan Powell walked into Finnerty’s Tap Room to grab a bite to eat. Noticing some lacrosse paraphernalia adorning the wall above the bar, a simple comment to the bartender turned into an introduction with Finnerty’s Freddie Pawlikowski. That introduction turned into more beers, in-depth discussions on lacrosse, and the potential for Ellicottville to play host. Fate has a wild way of lining things up.
Now entering its third year, the Ellicottville Lacrosse Festival returns September 20-22. At first glance, you wonder why a small ski town in the southern tier of western New York would be a match for a lacrosse tournament. Ellicottville Central School doesn’t have a team, and the sport isn’t as prevalent here than other nearby towns.
The festival’s directors, Riorden and Powell, have lived and breathed lacrosse their entire lives. Riorden, recently inducted into the Rochester Sports Hall of Fame, uses his lifetime of experience to help grow the game. And Powell’s exceptional lacrosse resume includes being named All-American a whopping four times at Syracuse University before a 12-year professional career. These guys are the real deal.
Going to similar tournaments in places like Vail and Lake Placid led them to choose Ellicottville as the home for their new festival. The similarities were striking. The lodging capabilities, food options and general vibe of the area made the decision an easy one.
“When I was at Franny’s (St. Francis in Buffalo), there were maybe 8-10 teams in all of western New York,” Pawlikowski said. “Now, almost every school in the northtowns has a team. The game is growing so fast, and it’s credit to guys like Mike and Ryan that continue to get kids involved and playing.”
Finnerty’s will act as an unofficial home base for the festival while it’s here. The lacrosse circle is a semi-small one, so there aren’t that many degrees of separation between players, coaches and families. Friday night’s welcome party acts as one giant reunion. Pawlikowski, a former All-American himself at Hobart College, loves the camaraderie.
“For our bar team, I get a lot of my old playing buddies to come in for the weekend,” he said. “It’s a giant reunion. And the fact that we’re seeing all of these teams and families come to Ellicottville to play and celebrate the sport we all love, it’s pretty cool.”
Last year’s festival saw 45 teams come to play, ranging from youth to high school to adult. Between the three field locations (village park, Holiday Valley and Ellicottville Central), there will always be multiple games played at the same time, and turnover is quick to ensure every game can get in. Eventually, the festival could grow to up to 70 teams.
“They’ve had growth each year, which helps solidify the festival’s success and impact,” said Brian McFadden, Executive Director of the Ellicottville Chamber of Commerce. “And it speaks volumes about our town and community. We’ve had great comments on the event — visitors really feel embraced by the town.”
McFadden estimates the economic impact to be significant. Last year’s festival brought in 1,700 players plus friends and families for a total attendance of around 3,000. Based on average estimated daily spends for this type of sporting event the impact is just under $900,000, a significant number for a middle of September weekend.
Divisions range from youngsters to adult, with a women’s division added last year. Teams come from all over, including western New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ontario and as far south as Maryland. Games will be played at the three locations, and will take place all day Saturday and Sunday. For more information on the Ellicottville Lacrosse Festival including a complete schedule, head to www.EllicottvilleLacrosse.com.