Six Nations has its own field of dreams.
Actually it is the indoor Iroquois Lacrosse Arena (ILA), which has been a huge success since opening its doors in this Ontario-based Native community back in 2004.
While most box lacrosse contests in Canada are played in hockey arenas, the ILA is drastically different. It is the only facility – not only in Ontario but anywhere – that was built exclusively for lacrosse.
The arena has about 2,300 permanent seats. But temporary bleachers can also be brought in to increase its capacity to 3,000. Even if building officials wanted to, hockey contests could not be played here as no piping was even installed to make any ice.
“It’s like the saying says: If you build it, they will come,” said Delby Powless, one of the two owners of the ILA.
Powless co-owns the facility with Curt Styres, a well-known member of the Six Nations community. Styres currently also owns three professional sports franchises, the American Hockey League’s Rochester Americans, the Rochester Knighthawks of the National Lacrosse League and the Hamilton Nationals, members of the Major Lacrosse League.
The ILA has certainly been hopping since its opening. Though it was built with the local lacrosse community in mind, the arena now also accommodates games and practices for numerous other sports including soccer, volleyball, baseball and ball hockey.
The facility has also hosted concerts and pow wows.
“I was hoping it would be this successful,” Powless said. “You just cross your fingers. That’s all you can do.”
And how successful has the ILA, which is open year-round, been?
“The only times available now (for rental) are after 10 o’clock (at night),” said Powless’ son Josh, who is the arena manager.
Despite its constant use, the elder Powless is not keen to discuss the building’s finances.
“It’s not a money maker,” he added. “It’s more something we did for the community and for the kids. But it pretty much holds its own. It pretty much breaks even.”
And the younger Powless said the purpose of the building was not to turn a profit.
“We’re here to support the community,” he said. “They’re not into it for the money.”
Delby Powless said one of his original goals in building the facility was to further the lacrosse careers of Six Nations players. Well that has certainly been accomplished. As proof, he mentions that back in ’04, there was about a half dozen players from Six Nations that were playing professionally in the NLL. As for this season, he said there’s 15-16 players from the community who are regulars in the league.
And in addition to that, Six Nations youth and junior teams have won numerous championships since the ILA was built.
Delby Powless believes that is because players from the community can now devote more time to their lacrosse careers.
“I think it’s helped a lot,” he said of the building. “It’s given them an advantage as far as their skills and their conditioning. They’re going all year-round now playing lacrosse.”
And that wasn’t the case before the ILA popped up.
“(During the lacrosse off-season) most of them just played hockey to stay in shape,” he said.
It’s not just members of the Six Nations community who take advantage of the ILA. The facility is also the main practice spot for both the NLL’s Knighthawks, whose roster is stacked with Ontario-based players, and the Toronto Rock.
Several other NLL franchises also tend to stage practices at the ILA, especially before their games in either Toronto or Buffalo. Besides hosting numerous Six Nations youth lacrosse games and tournaments throughout the year, the ILA also is home to some other regular tenants.
The Six Nations Chiefs, the senior men’s squad that competes in Major Series Lacrosse, the top circuit in Ontario, call the ILA home. And so too do a pair of junior squads, the Six Nations Arrows Express, who compete in the Ontario Lacrosse Association’s Junior A league and the Six Nations Rebels, members of the OLA’s Junior B loop.
Also, a new franchise, the Six Nations Slash, that has joined the Can-Am Senior B League, will play its inaugural season in the ILA this year.
The arena has hosted two national championships thus far; the 2006 Minto Cup tournament, featuring Junior A clubs, and the 2009 Presidents Cup, for Senior B squads.
Delby Powless said a bid was also recently submitted to host the 2012 Founders Cup, the national Junior B tournament.
“We’re here, willing and able to host it,” he said.