Cover photo courtesy of Rams Club
By Jason Felts
Introducing the next installment of our newest blog series, Monkey Business. We take the time to speak with some of the biggest names in Lacrosse, past, present, or future, to get an insight on their path in the sport, the legacy they want to leave, and the steps being taken to #GrowTheGame.
Practice makes perfect. While to some, that may just be another coaching anecdote to motivate players during the dog days, for University of North Carolina lacrosse legend Billy Bitter, any time spent practicing was time spent earning a starting role, and helped elevate his game to All-American levels. After a freshman year at UNC that offered limited playing time, it was Bitter’s work in the off-season that made all the difference.
“I saw an opportunity to fill one of the open spots on the team after my freshman year, so that, along with hard work, pushing myself in the fall, and really working hard on my own after practice, getting more reps in, doing more one-on-ones with my teammates, really helped me earn that starting spot in the spring,” Bitter said.
For Bitter’s father Ward, a member of the Boston College Hall of Fame for an All-American lacrosse career of his own, all Billy needed was an opportunity to showcase his talents.
“Constant pressure from my dad telling me that I’m good enough to play and start really upped my confidence and made me want to work harder and push myself,” Bitter said.
Photo courtesy of Lax All-Stars
The spring of his sophomore year, Bitter exploded on to the scene, racking up 71 points and being named a first-team All-American and Inside Lacrosse’s Breakthrough Player of the Year. From there, Bitter would go on to earn another first-team All-American spot the following year, as well as Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year.
After his illustrious career as a Tar Heel, Bitter was drafted by the Denver Outlaws with the 3rd overall pick in the 2011 Major League Lacrosse draft. As a rookie, Bitter put up 12 goals and 4 assists for the Outlaws before being traded in an expansion deal to the newly-created Charlotte Hounds. In his first year in Charlotte, Bitter put up 14 goals and 8 assists, and earned a spot as an MLL All-Star.
“(Playing for the Hounds in their first year) was a lot of fun. The whole organization was incredible to be a part of. All my teammates and the staff were amazing, and they took it very seriously. It really helped grow the game down there, the stands were always packed. Charlotte and maybe Boston or Denver always had the top fanbases which was awesome to be around, and Charlotte was just a great city.”
Photo by Brian Westerholt/Getty Images
After his MLL career, Bitter signed on to be a brand manager at Maverik/Cascade, and works closely with the design, production, and marketing for both companies’ new products.
“On the Maverik side, we have a lot of exciting new things coming out in October, including the Rome gloves which are an unbelievable pair of gloves to get. I’ve tried them out a bit at a few camps and they’ve been a huge hit. We also have a few new shafts and maybe a new head coming out soon, so plenty to be excited about.”
One of the most contentious releases from Cascade in the past few years has been the Women’s Helmet, designed to protect women’s players from hits to the head. While many people praised Cascade for their continued efforts to make the game safer for all players, some feared that the addition of a helmet in the women’s game would invite more contact, and would make the game inherently more physical.
Photo courtesy of Cascade Lacrosse
“When you add something new to a sport that has been around for a while, it’s going to be tough trying to force girls to wear something they’ve never had to wear before, so that’s going to be slow to begin with, but it’s going to depend on the rule changes in each state, and whether they require girls to wear them or not. You’ll see more and more kids wearing them in the future as things change and as the sport grows. We tried to make something that was comfortable and easy to wear, but the biggest thing is how safe it is, so I think it’s going to be huge,” Bitter said. “I do see the game going more towards contact. I was at the past NCAA Women’s Final Four, and the games were unbelievable. Implementing a shot clock made it so much faster and a lot more fun to watch, and I think adding a bit more contact will make it even more of a pleasure.”
Coming from a true “blue-blood” lacrosse family with 5 siblings that all played at a collegiate level or beyond (older sisters Kristen and Megan played at Boston College, older brothers E.W. and Matt played at Williams and Navy, respectively, and younger brother Jimmy also played at UNC, as well as the Ohio Machine and Chesapeake Bayhawks of the MLL), Bitter understands and appreciates the family aspect of the sport, and works to grow that part of the game.
“We were kind of all paired up in age and all had a good rivalry. It was fun growing up, we always had someone to go outside and play catch with or shoot with. We were constantly getting better because we always had someone around to play with. It was definitely a privilege, and we are all very thankful that we had each other.”
Since 2010, Bitter, along with his father and brothers, have made their own efforts to grow the game with Bitter Lacrosse, a series of tournaments around the country that focus on the family aspect of the sport, and try to make the tournaments more enjoyable for not just the player, but family and friends as well.
“We try to pick places where it’s more attractive for the whole family to come up, instead of just the player. We want everyone to come (to the tournaments), mom, dad, sisters, dogs, everybody. We picked Stowe, Vermont, to start it up because there’s not a lot of lacrosse up here and it’s a beautiful setting around the fields with so much to do around here that people take the whole week and make a vacation of it. Then we moved to Charleston, South Carolina, twice a year, then Austin, Texas, twice a year, and we are still looking at maybe 2 or 3 more locations soon,” Bitter said.
A staple from Bitter Lacrosse has been two airstream trailers that were hauled to each tournament around the country, but after 7 years, they were traded in for box trailers that offered a bit more space.
Photo courtesy of Bitter Lacrosse
“The airstreams were fun and cool to look at, but they were not that much fun to drive around. Plus, they were so old. A metal airstream in Austin, Texas, in June wasn’t the most fun place to be staying,” Bitter said with a laugh.
With a 6-month old at home, Bitter said that he doesn’t get out to play as much as he used to, but when asked about what tips he’d have for an up-and-coming player looking to get recruited, he stressed the importance of branching out beyond lacrosse, and growing from other experiences as well.
“Play other sports. Believe it or not, it’s way more beneficial to play other sports and get other skill sets mastered in those sports because they are all going to help you in the sport you choose at the collegiate level. Also do stuff on your own, not just at the camps or the clinics that you sign up for. Take the stuff you learned home and do it with a friend or brother or sister at home in the backyard.”
Bitter Lacrosse wrapped up their Summer National Tournament Series with the Stowe Lax Festival on July 21st and 22nd, but will be back in action at the Palmetto Lax Classic in Charleston, South Carolina on November 17th and 18th.
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