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New venue, new award marks Pepper Tournament

Just based on format, the 2009 edition of the John Pepper Wildcat Invitational, West Genesee's annual summer blockbuster featuring some of the top lacrosse programs in the state, had the same look.

In all, 16 teams took part in Saturday's tournament, working their way through four games apiece, all watched by coaches from more than 80 colleges. The hosts from West Genesee had two entries, and the younger JV squad made it all the way to the finals.

However, LaFayette, in a rare head-to-head meeting with the Wildcats, took the title game by a score of 10-6. Not only did the Lancers have star midfielders Miles and Lyle Thompson on hand, they got help from Corcoran star James Cathers, who latched on since the Cougars didn't send a team to the tournament.

What was different in 2009, though, were two things. One was that the venue moved from the West Genesee Athletic Club fields on Pottery Road to the High School complex, and they were blessed by lots of warm sunshine on Saturday - a stark contrast to 2008, when rain and lightning forced the tournament to be cut short.

The other new twist was the John Pepper Memorial Award, handed out by the tournament committee to a player exemplifying sportsmanship, respect for the game and camaraderie.

Patrick J. Hart was the initial honoree. A 2009 West Genesee graduate, he is the son of Patrick and Kris Hart, of Camillus, and will go to Rochester Institute of Technology this fall.

"This was the best award that any kid could have received," Hart said. "Throughout my life, I believed the most important part of the team was the team itself. This awards represents ideals I tried to live my life by.

"In my time at West Genesee, I played many different roles," Hart added. "Some were glamorous, others were a little more blue-collar. However, in the end, it didn't matter what the role, it was all about the overall success."

Following this tournament, the annual John Pepper Memorial Youth Tournament, for players age 14 and younger, took place, also at the High School. The festivities included games in three divisions (14 and under, 12 and under, 10 and under), with club teams encouraged.

Other than West Genesee and LaFayette, participating teams in the Pepper Invitational included visitors from Georgia (Atlanta Regional), Maine (Yarmouth Clippers) and Michigan (Forest Hills), plus Carthage, Baldwinsville, CBA, Skaneateles, Watertown IHC, Fayetteville-Manlius, Canandaigua, Penfield, Penn Yan and Timon St. Jude (Buffalo).

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