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| Jun 12, 2024

Cantiague League is Long Island’s Summer Lacrosse Tradition

By Paul Ohanian | Photo courtesy Cantiague Lacrosse League

As a second year player for the PLL’s Boston Cannons, Ethan Rall has quickly established himself as one of the league’s premier long stick midfielders, earning second team All-Pro honors as a rookie in 2023. He was also a three-time All-American LSM at Rutgers who graduated as the school’s all-time leader with 85 caused turnovers.

There’s no doubt that Rall has spent hundreds of hours honing his craft to emerge as one of the best players in professional lacrosse. But the native of Islip, N.Y. also notes that there’s been a secret ingredient in his development arc that has helped him to reach the top level of lacrosse – the Cantiague Summer Lacrosse League.

“Playing in Cantiague every summer since I graduated from high school was so awesome for me because the level of competition was so high,” Rall said. “Getting game-like reps against a lot of talented players was so valuable in my development.”

Unknown to many around the country, but no secret to lacrosse players on Long Island, the Cantiague Summer League is one of the long-standing lacrosse traditions on the Island. It’s a competitive and recreational men’s league that runs from June to August each year, featuring top notch collegiate and post-collegiate players.

“There’s a ton of talent and its pretty neat to see all the different college helmets,” Rall said. “Playing in Cantiague really got me ready for Rutgers.”

Based in Hicksville, with games played at Cantiague Park, the league launches its 45th season on June 18. While there’s no official records kept on these matters, it’s believed by many to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest, continuously run adult leagues in the country.

“I’m certainly curious to know if there’s another league that’s been around as long as we have,” said league owner Brendan Wallace, who took over operations in 2020.

The Cantiague Summer League was founded in 1978 by Long Island lacrosse legend John Pappas, who was a two-time collegiate All-American at Syracuse and later served four years as president of the Nassau County Lacrosse Coaches Association.

Pappas dedicated much of his adult life to growing the participation, enthusiasm, and love of lacrosse in both children and adults. His love of the game and his ties with the tight-knit lacrosse community led him to run countless clinics, tournaments, charity events and leagues.

After launching the men’s league, Pappas spent the next 40 years serving as its director, establishing Cantiague as one of the premier adult lacrosse leagues in the country. Pappas sold the league to Wallace shortly before passing away in 2021 at the age of 79.

“I knew John throughout my whole lacrosse career and I wanted to carry on the legacy,” said Wallace, who began his association with the league as a player and later, as a game official. Wallace also worked with Pappas as the officials’ assignor for Cantiague, a duty he still oversees while adding all the additional responsibilities of league management.

With a rich history of excellence and competitive play, the Cantiague Summer League attracts players of all skill levels and backgrounds. It’s a unique mosaic that unites the game among multiple generations on the Island. On a given night, you can find World Team players and National Hall of Fame members alongside new high school graduates.

Dave Pietramala, Larry Quinn, Michael Ehrhardt, Paul Schimoler, Pat McCabe, Kevin Cassese, and Vinnie Sombrotto are just a few of the lacrosse luminaries that have spent summers competing in Cantiague.

“All the best of the best have played here because its so competitive,” said Sombrotto, one of just two men in history to have been selected to four U.S. teams. Sombrotto was a member of Cantiague’s first championship team in 1978.

“We had such a loaded squad that year. The skill level was incredible,” he said.

Cantiague initially started with all teams competing in just one division, but has now grown to three divisions – Intermediate, Advanced, and Open – to accommodate the demand. All three divisions are routinely stocked with collegiate All-Americans (past and present) as well as older players who still enjoy the weekly competition. The only requirement is that players must have graduated high school and must be current USA Lacrosse members.

“You don't stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing,” said Joe Giardina, now eight years removed from an All-America career as a defenseman at Adelphi and still active. The challenge of keeping up with current college players keeps him coming back as a 30-year-old.

“You have to like to compete if you’re going to play against the Spallinas and the O’Neills,” Giardina said. “These young guys are so committed to their craft now and they’re all so good. But nobody wants to get pushed around and no one likes to lose.”

Giardina’s team, the Gabagoals, abides by one key rule to ensure that the social element of the game remains as strong as the on-field competitiveness.

“Everyone has to hang afterwards for at least one beverage,” said Giardina, who works as a high school teacher and coaches football and lacrosse. “We pull out our lawn chairs and just hang out in the parking lot.”

Staying connected to the larger lacrosse community is a wonderful fringe benefit for many who remain active at Cantiague.

“It’s so cool to see some of the older guys and listen to their stories,” Rall said. “You build some really good relationships. I always looked forward to Tuesday or Wednesday nights at the park.”

For many, the social scene and postgame tailgates are as strong an enticement as the intense clashes on the field.

“Yes, the league provides an opportunity for players to improve their skills, but it’s also about having fun and building camaraderie,” said Harry Jacobs, a member of the Long Island Metro Lacrosse Foundation Hall of Fame and a regional director at USA Lacrosse. “This league has been a great option since 1978 for adults who are interested in playing lacrosse in a competitive and social environment.”

Last summer, Cantiague had a record 44 teams and over 800 participants. Wallace anticipates having similar numbers this season as the launch date approaches. One of his big challenges as opening night draws closer is matching the nearly 50 free agent players with registered teams in need of more bodies.

“Cantiague is a big happening on game nights,” said Wallace, who has updated the league’s website and increased its social footprint since taking over four years ago. Game highlights now circulate on social media and championship games at the end of the summer are available on video streaming.

Despite the growth, at its core Cantiague’s foundational values of community, competition, and sportsmanship have not changed through the years.

“The league enforces strict rules regarding sportsmanship and player conduct, ensuring that games are played in a fair and respectful manner,” Jacobs said. “This emphasis on sportsmanship and fair play helps to create a positive atmosphere.”

“We’re proud to be a USA Lacrosse member league,” Wallace said. “That’s important to me. I love the game and this is a labor of love.”

That same love of the game is what keeps Giardina coming back each summer, and will likely bring Rall back to the fold when his PLL days conclude.

“It’s all very professionally run, and I guarantee that I’ll be back one day,” Rall said. “Even when my professional run ends, I’m sure the itch won’t go away.”

USA Lacrosse Membership

Starting a new lacrosse organization or taking over as a new program leader can be a challenge, but with the help of USA Lacrosse, we can make your job easier. To learn more about being a member organization, contact one of our regional managers who work directly with leagues and programs to help create the best experience for all participants.