By Kevin Redding
Back in the 1980s, Setauket natives Bill Kidd and Andy Matthews would often spend their summer days fishing and clamming on the Long Island Sound.
But when they returned to shore, the best friends were the only ones playing TriCrosse — a then-brand new toss-and-catch game in which two players with scoop rackets throw a ball back and forth trying to score into goal nets set up in front of their opponent.
That’s because Kidd and Matthews made it up in their backyards.
“We started off tossing and catching a ball with some lacrosse-like rackets, and then got some fishing and crab nets from the shed to stick in the ground so we could be a little competitive with each other,” said Kidd, 48, laughing. “We thought, ‘This is kind of fun, it’s neat to aim this thing and try to get a goal.’ It kind of grew from there.”
On Aug. 12, more than 30 years after its creation, TriCrosse was played by kids, teens, moms, dads, uncles, aunts and grandparents along Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai during the first Town of Brookhaven-sponsored Fight Breast Cancer TriCrosse Tournament.
The fun-filled event, made up of 28 registered locals and dozens of spectators, pit players against each other in a double-elimination style and marked the game’s first public tournament since it was officially rolled out into several small stores and made available online in April.
Even though most of the tournament participants had never played TriCrosse before, it didn’t take long for them to get into it.
“It’s borderline addicting,” said Kevin McElhone, 25, of Huntington. “As soon as you get the racket in your hand, you can stand out here and do this for hours.”
So far, the portable game — which contains two goals with three different sized nets on each, two bases for indoor and outdoor play, two plastic rackets, two balls and a large carry bag — is on shelves at Amity Harbor Sports in Amityville as well as toy stores in Lake Placid and Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
“It’s very fun, it’s great exercise, just a great outdoor game,” said Richard Kryjak, 13, of East Setauket. “It’s definitely perfect to play on the beach.”
The TriCrosse team, which consists of Kidd, Matthews and Bill Strobel of Setauket, said they plan to meet with multiple retailers in the fall, as well as many physical education and camp conferences later this year to discuss expanding the game’s reach.
“I think I’m going to be a TriCrosse person in retirement,” said John Gentilcore, the former principal at Mount Sinai Elementary School. “It’s important I have a good self-esteem
because I’m probably going to be beaten by a 10-year-old. That’s OK, though.”
Matthews, the director of math, science and technology in the Mount Sinai School District, said the school recently bought four TriCrosse sets to bring into the gym curriculum.
“We want to be the ultimate outdoor game for people at beaches, in parking lots, tailgating, gymnasiums,” Matthews said.
Kidd said he likes to also think it can work in a variety of settings.
“The best part about it is it’s like old school baseball and mitts with the family, but in an environment where it can be very competitive or as leisurely as just hanging out in the backyard and having some fun,” Kidd said.
Although it has been a popular game in Kidd and Matthews’ close circles for years, TriCrosse was tucked away as jobs and families took priority.
That was until recently, when backyard games like Spikeball and KanJam made a splash on the market, encouraging the team to turn TriCrosse into a family-friendly product.
“The three things we’ve always heard from people is ‘What is that?’ ‘Where can I get it?’ and ‘You should be on Shark Tank’,” Strobel said. “It’s such a great family activity, which people really enjoy. Our big thing is also getting kids off the couch, getting them off of their phones and getting them out playing. I know there’s a bunch of backyard games out there, but there’s nothing like this, which is cool.”
After it was released in April, Strobel brought TriCrosse and videos of game play to Brookhaven’s superintendent of recreation Kurt Leuffen in an effort to bring it to residents in a friendly, competitive setting.
Fifty percent of the proceeds that were raised during the event, $200 total, will be donated to the Stony Brook Foundation, which supports research, prevention and treatment of breast cancer.
“We’re not trying to make any money at this tournament,” Matthews said. “We just want to show people what it is and try to get the word out.”
Not much of the game has changed since Kidd and Matthews developed it, they said. The rule is that each player stands behind the goals, which are about 50 feet apart, while throwing and receiving a foam ball with plastic rackets to try and score into any of the three nets for varying points. The first player to reach seven points in 10 minutes wins.
Fittingly, one of the last matches of the night was between the game’s two creators. Kidd and Matthews struck the ball back and forth with glee as if they were teenagers in the backyard again.