It’s a classic Iowa story with a modern twist.
If you build it, they will come … even if it’s socially distanced.
W.P. Kinsella wrote “Shoeless Joe,” the novel that became “Field of Dreams,” while studying at the Iowa Writers Workshop in Iowa City.
Like that famous story of Iowa sports, lacrosse in the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids area centers around a promise between a father and his child.
When Jeff Kueter moved his family from Washington D.C. to Iowa, he told his daughter, Kate, that he’d find her a lacrosse program there. But while Iowans had already been playing lacrosse out east along the Mississippi River and west toward the state capital, there was no lacrosse in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids or the places in between. Kate Kueter, who will play at Mount Union next year, had to trek more than 100 miles away to play for the West Des Moines Tigers.
Jeff Kueter started Kingfisher Lacrosse, a project of the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City Lacrosse Club. More than 50 players have signed up for the program.
He built it. They have come. So far.
“Let’s see if they keep coming back,” Kueter said.
The real work is just getting started. Kueter grew up in Iowa. He knew what lacrosse was, but didn’t embrace the game until his daughter fell in love. Keeping his promise took a lot of effort and a lot of help. He had to find coaches. One such coach was Roman Meyers, an Iowa native, who discovered lacrosse at nearby Cornell College.
During his junior year, Meyers, who ran track, heard some guys speaking another language. He quickly grew concerned. “I kept hearing about guys doing ‘lax’ after class,” he said. “I’m an Iowa kid. I honestly thought they were talking about taking laxatives or something weird.”
The lax guys told Meyers that, as an athlete, he would love their game. They showed him a highlight reel. He soon realized it combined the elements of all his favorite sports. He saw parts of soccer and of basketball.
“More and more I could see it was the best game on Earth,” Meyers said. “I wish I had the opportunity to play lacrosse growing up.”
Meyers became the faceoff coach at Cornell College and when Kueter came looking for help, he stepped right in.
Of course, the story of lacrosse in this new frontier also involves a transplant from Long Island. Kevin MacBride went to the University of Iowa and coaches the Hawkeyes club team. Eventually he wants to coach a high school team and a Division I program at Iowa. But that will take time. First, the area needed to build a base at the youth level.
“I remember when I was a kid, just the allure of a colorful lacrosse stick or a cool stringing, that’s what got me excited.” MacBride said. “Seeing these kids be as passionate as I was is so cool.”
Kingfisher drew its first players primarily from two groups: bored kids with nothing else to do and local hockey players. They ran clinics specifically for the hockey kids.
Then the pandemic came, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. With more time, Kingfisher took the opportunity to find more help. And they could keep teaching. You didn’t have to breathe on someone to show them the fundamentals of lacrosse. “You can teach very basic skills while being socially distanced,” Meyers said. “You don’t need to be within six feet of each other to pick up ground balls.”
They sought out help anywhere they could. The other Iowa programs offered great advice for finding players. USA Lacrosse was instrumental in helping deal with the administrative hurdles, providing the informational infrastructure and a website through the League Management System.
Meyers is the finance manager for the town of Solon, located between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, where Kingfisher holds its practices. Drive through Solon’s Main Street on a given afternoon and one will see dozens of kids tossing lacrosse balls around.
Maybe they’re having catches with their dads, like little lacrosse versions of Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams.”
“Solon is kind of this quintessential Iowa town that has embraced this weird sport,” Kueter said.
Is it Lacrosse Heaven? No, it’s Iowa.