The Mass Bay Youth Lacrosse League (MBYLL), formed in 1992, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

Mass Bay Way: MBYLL Offers Blueprint for Growing the Game

The largest lacrosse league in the world turns 25 this spring.

And though youth sports have become increasingly privatized since the Mass Bay Youth Lacrosse League formed in 1992, its leaders remain committed to the public model. More than 20,000 players and 2,000 coaches compete under the MBYLL umbrella, which encompasses 160 towns in eastern and central Massachusetts.

“But it’s not about our size,” said Tom Spangenberg, president of MBYLL. “It’s about community-based youth lacrosse led by volunteers. Every team is tied to a town, zip code or city so that we can hold each other accountable for how we are growing the game.”

"There are still opportunities for us to bring lacrosse to a new zip code. ... We can always get better.” - Tom Spangenberg, MBYLL President

Jim Connolly, a former All-American attackman at UMass who scored the overtime goal that sent the Minutemen to the 2006 final four, never forgot the lessons he learned playing for his hometown MBYLL program in North Andover. He utilizes them still today as the general manager and director of player development for Gorilla Lax, a non-profit lacrosse training organization, and as a US Lacrosse Coach Development Program trainer.

“While it’s true that I have played at the highest levels of lacrosse in college and the pros, to be honest with you, the most fun I have ever had was playing with my MBYLL team,” Connolly said in a 2015 address to his Mass Bay Select U13 all-star team.

Kids aren’t complicated. They want to have fun, play with their peers and represent their community. Creating and sustaining a local lacrosse organization that provides that experience to thousands of them, however, can become a byzantine endeavor.

What’s MBYLL’s secret? As the league celebrates its 25th anniversary, it’s making a point to share its core tenets with anyone who will listen, while acknowledging there’s plenty left to learn.

“There are many communities in Massachusetts that don’t have lacrosse,” Spangenberg said. “There are still opportunities for us to bring lacrosse to a new zip code, urban and rural areas to grow the game. We can always get better.”

Community Based

There’s that word again. During a 40-minute discussion with MBYLL leaders, “community” came up 17 times.

Bob Flynn, president of Northborough-Southborough Youth Lacrosse and MBYLL’s vice president of game administration, cited single- and early-sport specialization as the “danger trends.”

“If you’re not the only kid at 11 years old in your town that’s good enough to play with the 18 kids from the 18 surrounding towns, you don’t have an opportunity to play,” he said. “If you’re not the all-star and committed to a college before you ever step foot on a high school field, you’re somehow a failure and you better go somewhere else. The community-based relevance is because we object to that.”

Volunteer Leadership

Community and volunteerism go hand in hand.

You don’t need lacrosse IQ to secure fields, order uniforms or procure equipment for your players. But these are critical administrative functions non-lacrosse playing parents could fulfill.

At the leadership level, all MBYLL board of directors, town leaders and coaches are volunteers. Several also serve on chapter and national committees with US Lacrosse.

Coaching Education

MBYLL funds and organizes education, certification, clinics and online training for all of its coaches and town leaders. This includes enrollment in the US Lacrosse Coach Development Program and the Positive Coaching Alliance. “It’s the most important thing we do,” Spangenberg said.
Joey Picard, MBYLL’s vice president of communications, helped establish Melrose Youth Lacrosse in 2006.

“We didn’t have a body of former players who were coming back to coach the sport,” he said. “We had to start from scratch and get dad volunteers as coaches to go through the training. We struggled for a few years. Now it’s one of the better towns in the league in terms of size and experience.”


MBYLL was one of numerous organizations whose expertise helped shape the Lacrosse Athlete Development Model, devised by US Lacrosse.


When Flynn tries to get 9-year-olds to extend their arms away from their body when passing or shooting, he talks about not having T-Rex arms. Or he invokes gorillas to explain ground balls.

“You don’t go into a U9 team trying to explain a 10-man ride,” he said.

Beyond language, MBYLL was at the vanguard of athlete development, tailoring its rules to keep players safe and equip them with fundamentals. Long poles, for example, were prohibited until high school.

MBYLL was one of numerous organizations whose expertise helped shape the Lacrosse Athlete Development Model, a national US Lacrosse initiative which emphasizes concepts like physical literacy, small-sided practices and games, free play and age-appropriate rules.

Integrated Approach

MBYLL does not segment its players based on skill level or experience.

“If you designate A kids, B kids and C kids, the C kids quit to find something they might be good at,” Flynn said. “We have balanced teams. It’s no different than if none of the adults showed up to the field and the kids were in charge. They would split the teams evenly and have a great game.”

In 2010, the league started the MBYLL Select program as an additional opportunity for advanced players representing their towns. It includes a postseason tournament and all-star game in each age group. However, MBYLL Select players must also participate on their MBYLL Classic teams.

“We’re going to have our advanced players be leaders, to build character through leadership,” Picard said. “They lead developing youth players while playing side-by-side and saying, ‘This is what it takes.’”

Signature Event

For four days over two weekends in June, about 450 teams will converge on 13 fields in Devens, Mass., for the MBYLL Jamboree. It is the largest youth lacrosse event in the U.S., the sponsorship revenue from which accounts for 40 percent of MBYLL’s total annual operating budget — allowing the league to minimize member fees.

“Every year it continues to grow,” said Rick Zaccardo of Reading Youth Lacrosse, MBYLL’s treasurer. “More vendors are lining up. The Boston Cannons are there. It’s an amazing event, and it’s a byproduct of what we’ve done the last 25 years and our philosophy.”

MBYLL administers 1,300 games during the four-day event. 

Strategic Partnerships

In addition to its alignment with US Lacrosse, MBYLL also partners with Trilogy Lacrosse to deliver its coaching curriculum.

“We want to work with those organizations that can help us make that experience better in the spring season,” Spangenberg said. “These for-profit and non-profit partnerships have been at the foundation of what has made us so successful in recent years and will help us propel it to the next level.”

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