The day begins really early. Between the youth tournament and hosting the game between the Hamilton Nationals and Rochester Rattlers it’s going to be a long day. It’s always weird to be putting on sunblock before the sunrises. At 4:30am I’m making sure I have everything for the 2nd Annual MLL Experience Tournament and praying that we don’t have any thunderstorms. After eating a delicious protein bar I arrive at the field at 6am to set up the tournament.
First game begins at 8am and teams from as far north as Jacksonville and as far southwest as Naples will begin arriving at 7:15am. As the tournament director I’m the first to arrive and begin setting up the information tent and dragging the goals out. At 6:45am I notice that our intern still hasn’t arrived. He’s 15 minutes late on our biggest day of the year so I decide to call. He answers with that “Mom I don’t want to go to school today” voice and clearly isn’t out of bed yet. I think to myself “do I really have to fire someone before 7am today?” He eventually shows up but not until all the heavy manual labor is done, exactly the stuff you hire an intern to do.
Another staffer shows up to the field with a huge box of equipment, however he forgot the air horn at the office. He frantically drives 10 minutes and after searching our entire office can’t find it. It’s an essential part of the day as we need it for both the tournament and the MLL game. After a series of frantic phone calls we find out our marketing director took it with her forgetting we needed it for the tournament and not just for the game. Fortunately she lives 10 minutes away and gets to the field at 7:45am.
The games begin and you can feel the energy among the players, coaches and parents. The level of play is high and everyone is looking forward to the big game tonight. Each time we blow the air horn we get closer and closer to the 7pm faceoff. There’s still a ton of behind the scenes stuff to accomplish but at this point the tournament is running itself. The last game of the preliminary round of the tournament will end at 5pm but I will not be there to see it. I head out around 3pm to get to the stadium for set-up. We need to have the national anthem signers do a test run, set-up the locker rooms, help vendors with the fan-zone, organize the on-field contests with the volunteers, hand out press credentials and a few other small but important jobs. I carry with me t-shirts for the volunteers, sticks for the on-field contest and the ever important air horn.
Around 5pm the gates open. Fans are lined up at the barricades as the Rattlers players are shooting around and getting loose. It’s a home game for the Hamilton Nationals so our Canadian National Anthem singer is practicing. At 6pm we have a crisis, no one can find the air horn. A panicked staffer comes up to me and asks if I’ve seen it. I was 90% sure I carried it in but give him the keys to my car to check there. He finds it, I must have forgot to bring it in. Crisis averted and it quickly becomes a joke among the ELEV8 staff. The MLL Director of Operations doesn’t find it nearly as funny as we do.
Its 15 minutes before gametime and the stadium looks sparse. A local television station asks to interview me. I reluctantly say yes but I’m extremely nervous about the turnout. By the time the interview is finished the stadium looks a lot more full. It turns out everyone was just maximizing their tailgate time. By 7pm the stadium is packed with an extremely enthusiastic crowd. Every kid in the crowd is wearing their team jersey and carrying a stick. Right off the opening faceoff Joe Walters of Hamilton beats his man and scores. The crowd erupts. They’re rooting for neither team, just excited to see the best players in the world play the sport they love.
At each television timeout there is a contest. The first one is at the 9 minute mark of the 1st quarter and involves 2 young fans trying to put on oversize Nationals and Rattlers gear. The crowd loves it as the two 9 year olds try to run in oversize cleats and XL shorts that are failing to stay on the kid’s waists. They’re will be 3 more contests before halftime and our volunteers scurry to set each one up.
Halftime comes and a local group, The Solid Gold Twirlers, perform their routine. They wanted to throw batons that were lit on fire but the MLL nixes that idea before their performance. The second half begins and we begin prepping for the end of the game. Each player will need a sharpie marker for autographs and player meals from our sponsor Duffy’s must arrive for the post-game meal. At the end of the 3rd quarter attendance is announced. As a test-market for a potential franchise this is the most important part of the night. The crowd looks big but in a 30,000 seat stadium it’s tough to judge how many people are there. 2000 would hurt our chances of having a team. Above 5000 and we’re golden. The announcer comes over the PA system as says “tonight’s attendance is four thousand four hundred and sixty four.” An ear to ear smile comes over my face.
The final whistle blows and Hamilton wins 17-11. The players each grab a marker and sign autographs until there are no more fans requesting them. The players are tremendous in how much they care about growing the game.
We finally depart the stadium at 10pm. We have worked on this game for 6 months and are excited knowing that attendance was great and the game went off without a hitch. Some friends of mine from the Rattlers invite me and my staff to join them for drinks. We would love to celebrate but decline knowing that we have day 2 of the tournament and need to set-up in about 8 hours. This long day is followed by one more. Who has the air horn?