On the Stick: Dartmouth Freshman Carves Niche With Lacrosse Company
Hanover — Stick-to-it-tiveness resonates as a phrase differently with Cortland Begor than it might with someone else.
The combination of his love of lacrosse and his affinity for woodworking led Begor to start his own company, TimberStix Lacrosse, some 2½ years ago. The time since has been both a learning and growing experience for the 19-year-old, who would be busy enough with his business even if he hadn’t added the responsibilities of a Dartmouth College freshman earlier this fall.
TimberStix produces wooden lacrosse shafts for attackmen, the position Begor played during four years at Proctor Academy. His athletic experience guides Begor toward addressing the needs players have in their equipment; his relative youth, meanwhile, continues to influence his plans for the company’s future.
In a lacrosse world filled with metal and composite shafts, Begor’s goal is to stand out.
“It’s something different; I like to be unique,” Begor said. “I started playing with it for that reason. Once I actually started playing with it in practices, feeling it out, I could see it could change my play.”
Begor has now made it a mission to help others do the same. He could be hitting the sport at an opportune moment.
“I think, right now, it’s a little bit of a niche,” said Tucker Prudden, Begor’s lacrosse coach at PA last year. “The game has come a long way and equipment has come a long way, with all of the synthetic materials out there. It’s unfortunate that the market is saturated with that kind of stuff.
“We’re starting to see a movement in the game back toward the traditional, back toward lacrosse at its roots. A company like Cortland’s is sort of gaining popularity at the right time.”
Influenced by a father, Mark, who has his own woodworking business and two older brothers, Wills and Chase, who “were throwing balls at me in the net” when they were kids, the youngest Begor boy actually dabbled in machining wood lacrosse shafts for about 10 years before taking the notion to the business level.
A Wilton, Conn., native whose family owns a second home on the west side of Lake Sunapee, Begor — with Chase’s influence — made a few sticks for friends and even went so far as to bring and sell a handful “at the NCAA lacrosse championships, in the parking lot to college guys a long time ago,” he recalled, before stepping away from the process.
After taking an advanced-placement economics class at Proctor as a junior two springs ago, Begor decided to jump into the business world. Summers are TimberStix’s selling season, when Begor travels to a variety of lacrosse showcases around the Northeast. He estimates he’s sold 600 sticks — at about $45 each — over the past two years.
Where he used to do all of the work himself, he now farms raw stick construction out to a wood shop in Dorset, Vt. Begor still does all the finish work at his family’s Sunapee home on the straight-grain ash shafts before shipping his product to customers.
“Right now, we’re just doing men’s short-stick,” Begor said. “A lot of people, when they see wood, they think defense. … I kind of wanted to switch that. That’s why I don’t carry wood D-poles right now; I will soon.
“But for the initial company, I wanted to show we are making a high-performance short stick. That’s where we think the market is. We can change the market, and change the game, through a short shaft.”
Prudden believes the attraction of wood shafts reflects lacrosse’s increasing desire to maintain contact with its Native American heritage.
The sport’s roots, according to the Federation of International Lacrosse, go back hundreds of years to Indian tribes in eastern North America. Called stickball there, lacrosse gained its current name from French missionaries who witnessed the game being played by Huron tribesmen in the St. Lawrence River valley straddling the United States and Canada.
Today, the game’s Native American roots are on heightened display, from the presence of an Iroquois Nationals team at the World Lacrosse Championships to the Tewaaraton Award, the Heisman Trophy of college lacrosse, whose name comes from the Mohawk word for the sport. University of Albany twin brothers Lyle and Miles Thompson, members of the Onondaga Nation, shared the men’s Tewaaraton last spring, the first Native Americans to win the award.
“That lit college lacrosse on fire, leading scorers in the nation that did so with long ponytails coming out of their helmets,” Prudden said. “Because of that, we’ve seen excitement growing about natives in the game.
“The traditional game is more in vogue. The wood shaft is sort of symbolic of that. … It’s something that sort of gets lacrosse back to its roots.”
Asked if TimberStix is a profitable venture, Begor responded: “It will be.”
Learning the vagaries of business legalities and insurance has taken up a lot of his time and money lately. Still, Begor is optimistic about reaching a deal with a lacrosse retailer that would get TimberStix in stores soon.
Meanwhile, college life requires his attention. Begor entered Dartmouth hoping to earn walk-on roster spots with the men’s lacrosse team as well as the skiing program. He has since cast his athletic eye toward the latter, although he’d have to do well as an independent competitor this winter if he is to crack the Big Green roster next winter.
“I wasn’t full-in, and for Division I lacrosse, you’ve got to want it,” said Begor, who also pursued both sports at PA. “I still had that itch to want to ski.”
Although his lacrosse sticks are NCAA-legal, Begor won’t see TimberStix in any college player’s hands right now because of schools’ exclusive equipment contracts with companies such as Warrior, Under Armor, Brine and STX. The college athletes who provide product feedback use wood outside of the college season, he said. But it’s not unusual to see a wooden shaft at the high school level; Prudden estimated about a half-dozen of his players employed TimberStix last spring.
Begor sees an immediate challenge to balance the traditional nature of wood with the 21st century approach he wants his company to employ.
“That’s the hardest thing we work with; a lot of people think wood is a novelty or it’s old-school,” Begor said. “We want to try to make it new-school, hip, the new kind of company. Something new, college, fun, kids doing it.”
And he plans to stick to it.