I went to a party recently hosted by my friends Doug & Ashley at their new house in Orangeville, a small town (population about 28,000) about an hour from my place. Other than stopping at Tim Horton’s a couple of times on my way to or from Collingwood, I had never been to Orangeville. But if you follow lacrosse at all, it’s hard not to know the significance of this town in lacrosse culture. At the party, I estimated that more NLL players come from Orangeville than any other single town, with the possible exception of Peterborough. It turns out that I was mostly right; from the 2016 rosters, Orangeville and Coquitlam BC each had 13 players in the NLL. Peterborough and St. Catharines had 12 each. But Coquitlam, Peterborough, and St. Catharines each have four times the population of Orangeville.
Even much bigger cities like Toronto or Hamilton don’t have the same numbers. Hamilton has almost twenty times the population of Orangeville but only had 7 NLL players in 2016, and that’s if you include Stoney Creek, Dundas, and Millgrove. But bigger cities certainly don’t have the same sense of community – two players may both have been brought up in Toronto but rarely played against each other, where that’s just not possible in smaller towns where everybody knows everybody.
Many NLL fans know about the Sanderson family’s connection to Orangeville. Indeed, Sanderson’s Source for Sports (formerly owned by Terry Sanderson and now, presumably, by Josh) is right there on Broadway. Six different Sandersons have played in the NLL (Brandon, Josh, Nate, Phil, Ryan, and the late Chris; all but Nate played at the same time in 2002-2003) and two more (Terry and Lindsay) have coached.
But considering the size of the town, the number of lacrosse players that have come from the ‘Ville is astounding. Obviously we have the Sandersons. Pat Coyle. Brodie and Patrick Merrill (though Patrick was born in Montreal). Jon and Greg Harnett. Jason and Jeremy Noble. Glen Bryan. Andrew Suitor. Bruce Codd. Rusty Kruger. Brandon Miller and his late brother Kyle, who never played in the NLL but was a great field lacrosse goaltender. Dillon Ward. Evan and Mike Kirk. And one of Orangeville’s (and particularly the Orangeville Northmen’s) greatest promoters, Nick Rose. I’ve probably missed some.
It’s not just that there are a lot of players from Orangeville, there are a lot of great players. The list above contains three NLL Hall of Famers (Josh, T, and Coyle) and at least one future HoF’er in Brodie Merrill. The 2016 finalists for the NLL Goaltender of the Year award are Rose, Ward, and Evan Kirk who all played for the Northmen.
While driving into the town on my way to the party, I passed Sanderson’s and when I turned off of Broadway, I saw a sign pointing to the Tony Rose Memorial Sports Centre. This is where all the different Northmen teams play and was named for Nick’s father. It turned out that Doug and Ashley can see the “bunny barn” from their deck. I tried to impart on them the significance of this but they’re not huge lacrosse fans (or at least not as big as me) so its meaning was kind of lost. But even though they’ve only lived there for a matter of months, they’ve noticed people playing lacrosse everywhere. It’s a part of Orangeville culture.
Only two other towns in Canada even come close to Orangeville’s production in terms of great lacrosse players per capita. One would be Victoria BC. The population of Victoria is around 78,000, only double that of Orangeville. But Vic had seven NLL players in 2016, and many great players have come out of the BC capital, including the Gaits, Tom Marechek, Ryan Ward, Kevin Alexander, and last year’s Tom Borrelli award winner, Teddy Jenner.
The other is a different entity altogether. The Six Nations reserve in southern Ontario has a population of around 26,000, about the same as Orangeville. Nine players in 2016 called Six Nations home, and many other NLL players in the past have grown up there. The names Bomberry and Powless are all over the history of the NLL and lacrosse in general, and there’s a Bomberry and two Powlesses playing now. I’m guessing you’ll hear those names as well as names like Jamieson and Staats in the NLL many times in the coming years.
I called it a “different entity” because as much as lacrosse is a part of Orangeville culture, it’s even more ingrained in Native culture. It’s not just a fun game to play to pass the time or a game you play because everyone else plays it, it’s part of their belief system. But that’s an article for another day.