For all of lacrosse’s popularity in Maryland, it wasn’t even a recognized high school sport in Ohio when David Lasday ’05 was growing up there. But now, he’s helping put on lacrosse’s biggest international event.

Netanya, Israel, will host the 2018 Federation of International Lacrosse’s World Lacrosse Championships from July 12–21 with the help of Lasday, chief operating officer of the Israel Lacrosse Association. This year’s competition will be the biggest yet, with 46 countries participating—up from 38 in the last championships in Denver in 2014. This will also be the first time since the event started in 1967 that a nation besides the United States, Canada, England or Australia will host.

“They call Israel a startup nation a lot,” says Lasday, who’s lived there for 12 years. “It’s really also become a startup sport nation.”

Both of Lasday’s parents work in Jewish education, and he majored in Jewish studies at the University of Maryland. Lasday, who grew up playing basketball in Columbus, Ohio, was attracted to UMD for all the sports it has, participating in intramurals and exploring sports marketing and sports and society courses on campus. His Maryland experience led him to join PeacePlayers International and travel to Israel to unite Arab and Jewish children through basketball.

In 2010, Lasday met Scott Neiss, who had ties to the National Lacrosse League. They both saw the potential of bringing lacrosse, which mixes elements of already-popular basketball and soccer, to Israel. Neiss had visited the nation on an educational post-graduation Birthright trip, inquired about sports and facilities there and approached National Lacrosse Hall of Famer—and National Jewish Sports Hall of Famer—Bill Beroza and FIL director of development Tom Hayes, who were skeptical, according to The New York Times.

But Neiss, now executive director of the Israel Lacrosse Association, sent over the first bag of lacrosse sticks, Lasday (pictured at left, top right) ran a clinic in Tel Aviv and the sport took off from there. Hayes helped announce Israel’s FIL membership in 2011, and Beroza became Team Israel’s head coach, crediting Neiss and his crew. 

Already, Israel has 16 cities that compete in lacrosse. The national team finished seventh in its first FIL World Championships in 2014 and second in the European Lacrosse Championships in 2016. By 2022, the world tournament will have enough interested teams to require a qualifying round, Lasday says.

The international connections have been key in the sport’s development. Israel Lacrosse built on the relationship between Ashkelon and its sister city, Baltimore, to bring players to and from each city to help the sport blossom. Every summer, Israel Lacrosse brings over around 80 college students, including Terps, from North America to play in Israel’s Premier Lacrosse League and coach youth.

Five former UMD players— Jake Bernhardt ’13, Jesse Bernhardt ’13, Michael Ehrhardt ’14, John Haus ’13 and Drew Snider ’12—will suit up for Team USA at this week’s championships. Dan Morris ’18 and Thomas O’Connell ’19 will play for Team Philippines and Team Puerto Rico, respectively, in those countries’ FIL World Championships debuts.

Giving back is a big part of the event, Lasday says. At the championships, Israel Lacrosse will donate gear, hold Jewish and Arab youth coexistence clinics and communicate life skills through Sticks for Kids, a program that uses the influence of players to teach and inspire at-risk youth.

“As fast and as big as lacrosse has grown,” says Jesse Bernhardt, now an assistant coach at UMD who also was on Team USA in the 2014 championships, “I think it is and will always be a very tight-knit community.”