Local | Senior Lifestyle

‘Mr. Lacrosse’ puts sport on Western map

Mickey-Miles Felton has been active in lacrosse in both Tucson and Israel. (Debe Campbell)

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Felton is being inducted into the University of Arizona Men’s Lacrosse Club Team Hall of Fame in October. The name of the association in which the UA plays has also been corrected; it is the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association.

Mickey-Miles Felton told the Tucson Citizen in July 1977 that his physical condition would determine how long he remains active in lacrosse.  At that time, he couldn’t imagine that he would spend another 40 years as Tucson’s “Mr. Lacrosse” or become a catalyst for Israel’s national team.

To recognize his significant contribution as a player, coach, manager, promoter, organizer and ultimately an icon of the sport, Felton, 73, will be inducted in mid-October into the University of Arizona Men’s Lacrosse Club Team Hall of Fame.

Felton grew up in a multi-generational, Orthodox home in Brooklyn, New York. He recalls being taught to give openly to others in a variety of ways. In his 30s, he moved to the Old Pueblo and initially reached out to a couple of University of Arizona club team lacrosse players in 1976 whom he’d previously met back East. “I thought I’d go throw the ball around for a little exercise,” he recalls. Pete Schlegal was the coach and all the players were UA students. Recruited to the club team, Felton soon balanced playing defenseman with coaching. By his second year, the club had played 11 regional team tournaments.

“When I began to get involved with lacrosse here, it became apparent to me the university players, a club team, worked as hard as any athletic program on campus without much help from the school,” Felton recalls. “I was about seven to 10 years older than everyone and it seemed like these men deserved a better experience for their efforts.”

“Mickey-Miles is one of the most important influences in my life,” recalls former player Jeff Cady.  “I decided to transfer to the UA from a D1 lacrosse program; one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Not only did I learn a lot about lacrosse from Mic, I learned about hard work and life. As a non-varsity team, players run the financials, logistics, and marketing of the program. Under Mic’s tutelage, I learned how to run a small organization. I still apply the skills he taught me today.”

Lacrosse was little known in the West. Felton wanted to spread his love for what he calls “an addictive sport.” “I knew if I could get local junior high youth ‘all jacked up,’ they’d want to play. And, as parents got involved, they’d want their kids to continue playing in high school.” By 2002, he had conducted 13 summer Arizona Holiday Lacrosse Camps for youth. “Truth be told, after working with young kids in several countries around the world, my age aside, I sometimes think I relate better to young people because they’re like sponges and not judgmental,” says Felton.

Felton was co-founder and past president of the Western Collegiate Lacrosse League, coaching more than 10 WCLL all-star games. Today, across Arizona there are 17 junior varsity teams, 13 varsity Division I and 10 varsity Division II teams — and countless youth leagues.  Before 1975, there were no varsity  college teams west of the Mississippi River, says Felton. Now the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association, which includes the WCLL, has grown to  approximately 225 college teams across the United States.

But lacrosse is not a new sport. It was played by the Iroquois Nation as a religious ritual called baggataway, from the early 1400s. Settlers adapted and adopted it, and it spread across Canada, the U.S. East Coast, Britain and Australia. Other countries only began adopting it at the turn of this century.

Israel put together a team that debuted in 2012 and Felton was among those tapped to help coach that team. Ranking seventh out of 38 teams that played in the 2014 World Games in Denver, Israel looked to field a national team in 2017. Felton again went to Israel to coach and help evaluate 142 players from around the world trying out for the team. For another three weeks, the resident team picks were divided into eight teams to train and play. Felton coached the northern Herzliya city team. These teams now practice and compete in training for the 2018 World Games July 12-21 in Netanya, Israel. For the first time since the World Games’ inception in 2002, they will be held outside the United States-Canada-Britain-Australia core lacrosse countries. Felton is itching to attend, but is awaiting a formal invitation.

“Initially, my involvement here in Tucson and then nationally, wasn’t anything I consciously planned,” says Felton. “I had a ball in the early days improving the development of lacrosse in the West and at the same time improving the quality of life for young men.

“In fact, [it wasn’t] until I was nominated for the U.S. Lacrosse National Hall of Fame, requiring me to fill out a lacrosse resume, that I truly began to understand what had been accomplished. Naturally, working with our youth, as many other people began to contribute their time, money and energy, was a smooth addition to my efforts.”

Almost every bit of play, coaching, organizing, travel, promoting and growing the sport of lacrosse locally, nationally and internationally, Felton has done as a volunteer. Coaching on and off at the UA fields between 1976 and 2013 was voluntary. Only during a four-year stint, Felton was paid to coach UA’s Laxcats. His coaching of Catalina Foothills Falcons, Tucson Xtreme, Tucson Scorpions, USA world team tryouts, and dozens of other efforts around the country were done for the love of the sport, from the heart, and his own pocket.

Over the course of his unexpected career, Felton has reaped some rewards. He’s been named Coach of the Year five times; played, coached and managed the UA team off and on for nearly four decades; had more than 300 game wins, placing him in the exclusive U.S. Lacrosse Century Club 300; and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arizona Chapter of U.S. Lacrosse.

“Mic is a living legend. He’s tirelessly and enthusiastically been a force in putting lacrosse on the map in the West for almost 40 years,” says Cady, who went on to coach youth lacrosse himself. “Most importantly, he is one of the most genuine and sincere people I’ve ever meet. His relationship with his players doesn’t finish at the end of their careers. I graduated over 10 years ago, and Mickey came to my wedding last summer…actually, I think this was one of four weddings of former players he went to that summer!”

Felton’s volunteerism wasn’t limited to the playing field. He raised more than $20,000 for Tucson charities, earning a copper letter from the Tucson mayor in 1983; he co-chaired an $18,000 Cystic Fibrosis fundraiser, and has “coached” kids in reading with Literacy Connects.

“I believe my upbringing of witnessing all of my family role models, by giving in whatever capacity I could, combined with the positive, fun loving attitude of our players, contributed to the direction of my future,” says Felton.

Former player Jed Godsey calls his one-time coach “one of the finest ‘big picture’ minds I’ve ever come across. A man with a true desire to give back and leave the world a better place than he found it.”