The Stealth will be missed
After two and a half seasons covering the National Lacrosse League team for The Herald, my beat ends with this column.
The Stealth announced Thursday that after four seasons in Everett -- three of which featured NLL championship game appearances -- they are relocating to Langley, British Columbia, and will be known as the Vancouver Stealth.
Looking for an opportunity at The Herald, I threw my name in the hat to take over coverage of the team after former Herald writer Mark Nelson left the newspaper in 2011. I'm not sure how many names were in that hat. For all I know mine was the only one. But sports editor Kevin Brown pulled out my name and gave me my first chance to be a beat writer for a professional sports team.
I didn't know much about lacrosse other than the players used sticks with nets at the end of them and tried to hurl a ball past a goalkeeper. However, I saw covering a pro team as quite the opportunity, so I embraced the gig and tried to pick up the game as quickly as possible.
It didn't take long before I was hooked.
Thanks to Stealth head coach Chris Hall and general manager Doug Locker, I learned the rules of the game and became acquainted with the players.
Nelson was the first Herald staffer to cover the Stealth after they relocated from San Jose, Calif., to Everett prior to the 2010 season. As a sports fan, he was familiar with lacrosse, but admittedly didn't know much about the indoor game. Hall -- known to nearly everyone as "C.H." -- was there to make sure he got off on the right foot.
"He had these printouts explaining offenses and explaining the rules of the game," Nelson said of a meeting with Hall prior to the team's first season in Everett. "Essentially it was just a Q&A session for Kevin and I to grill C.H. about the finer points of the game."
My experience dealing with Hall was similar. He was willing to chat with me at length for any story. If there was ever anything I didn't understand, he took the time to explain it. He even let me come out and practice with the team for a story this past season.
The NLL is a league that is trying to make a name for itself in the U.S. Hall gets that and will do whatever it takes to make that happen.
There were many great things about covering the Stealth, but Hall alone made the experience worthwhile. He's one of the best people I've ever had the pleasure to know.
During the 2012 season, when Hall took a leave of absence while battling throat cancer, I tried to give him as much space as possible. But inevitably there were times when I needed his input for a story. As long as Hall was feeling up to it, he made himself available to talk.
And when I say talk, I mean talk. Lacrosse is Hall's passion. Get him going on the subject and he's difficult to stop. I had no trouble listening and learning. Conversations needing just 5-10 minutes would go on for 35 or 45 as Hall would go into detail about the game.
One of the things I'll miss most about the Stealth's departure are my weekly chats with Hall.
Nelson developed a similar relationship with Hall in his time covering the Stealth.
"Anytime you needed something from him, he was always willing to cooperate," Nelson said. "He would do what it would take to help grow the game and help me do my job, which made it really easy and a really fun job to have. If you don't have a coach or players that cooperate, that get it, like he does, than it makes it a lot harder.
"Talking to C.H. was always a treat because you don't often get, no matter the sport, coaches who are so down to earth, so genuine."
Locker and the players were just as willing to talk.
The on-field success the team enjoyed after moving to Everett was almost too good to be true. An NLL championship in the first season and a title-game appearance in the second. The first of the two appearances in the Champion's Cup was played at Comcast Arena before a sellout crowd, giving the front office hope for the future.
But the next season there was little growth in attendance. The same could be said for years three and four.
In the days since the Stealth announced their departure, much of the reaction to the move on the team's Facebook page has been tinged with anger and disappointment. In some ways, I share those feelings, but I'm also realistic.
The franchise was losing money and attendance was not growing at a rate that led the front office to believe a profit would be possible any time soon. I didn't have any personal knowledge that a move was imminent prior to Thursday, but after the Stealth once again finished last in the NLL in attendance this season, I came to believe relocation wasn't a matter of if, but when.
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what didn't work in Everett, but clearly the Stealth's marketing efforts fell short. A lot of people I ran into last week reacted to the news with a shrug -- they didn't even know the team existed.
I really thought the product was enticing enough to put 8,000 people in Comcast Arena. Other than the 2010 title game, the Stealth never got close to that number. For all four seasons, average attendance hovered around 4,000.
I will remember the Stealth's stay in Everett as one with so much potential.
Potential never realized.
Aaron Lommers covered the Washington Stealth for The Herald for the better part of three seasons. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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