Elite teams return for Pepper lacrosse tournaments

In what is fast becoming a summer tradition, West Genesee will welcome hundreds of elite lacrosse players this weekend for some tournament action.

It begins Saturday with the fifth annual John Pepper Wildcat Invitational, for top high school teams, and continues on Sunday with the seventh annual John Pepper Lacrosse Tournament, designed for players age 14 and under. All games will be at the West Genesee Athletic Club's Rick Fresina Fields on Pottery Road in Camillus, and each session starts at 9 a.m.

Since the Wildcat Invitational began in 2004, more than 30 high school All-Americans have played in it, making the event a must for college coaches at all levels to attend. And unlike many summer tournaments, the teams are actual varsity squads, not all-star teams, which gives fans a preview of what to expect next spring.

WG, the reigning state Class A champions, is entered, of course, along with Section III entries from Baldwinsville, CBA, LaFayette, Skaneateles, Carthage, Watertown IHC, Oswego and Fayetteville-Manlius.

From Section V, Penn Yan, Canandaigua and Penfield participate, while Timon/St. Jude comes from the Buffalo area. Maine state champion Yarmouth and an elite team from Atlanta, Ga., rounds out the field.

Following that, the young players take over Sunday at the John Pepper Memorial in three age groups -- 10 and under, 12 and under, 14 and under. Teams from all over the state, from Albany to Binghamton to Buffalo, get to play each other, and also learn from the top professionals in a clinic where stick skills are showcased.

This year, the tournament committee handed out its first-ever John Pepper Memorial Award to Dan Stapleton, lauding him for his "sportsmanship, respect for the game and camaraderie" that symbolizes the spirit of the tournament.

A native of Camilus and a member of the state championship team this spring, Stapleton, the son of Jim and Patti Stapleton, is going to SUNY-Plattsburgh this fall and will major in International Business and Finance. He received the award at the lacrosse team banquet last month.

"The John Pepper Tournament has evolved into what lacrosse is truly meant to be," said Stapleton. "It is a tournament emphasizing competition, sportsmanship, dedication and hard work.

"Being the first recipient of this award has very special meaning to me and will be something I carry with me throughout my adult life."

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