—by Justin Feil
As the CEO of a global recruiting agency, real estate developer, part-time politician and president of the Thailand Lacrosse Association, 30-year-old Prantarit “Payu” Nerngchamnong does not rest much.
“I don’t sleep a lot,” said Nerngchamnong, who also started lacrosse programs in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. “You get plenty of sleep when you’re dead.”
In 2010, Nerngchamnong founded TLA. Three years later, Thailand placed third at the Asian Pacific (ASPAC) Lacrosse Tournament in June behind far more established teams Japan and Australia. Next up: the 2014 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) Men’s World Championship, hosted by US Lacrosse in Denver.
After the ASPAC games, Nerngchamnong tweeted, “It’s been a long road for me, and Thailand lacrosse…But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
That road began when Nerngchamnong, who grew up 60 miles east of Bangkok in the city of Chonburi, came to Eaglebrook School, a junior boarding school in Deerfield, Mass. His mentor, the lacrosse team captain, introduced him to the sport. After getting permission from his parents to play lacrosse instead of golf, Nerngchamnong fell in love with it.
“At that time, I was the only Thai that played lacrosse,” he said.
Nerngchamnong envisioned playing for a Thai national team, which at the time did not exist in his soccer-first country. After playing lacrosse through high school at Suffield Academy in Connecticut, he continued to play with a club team he founded while attending NYU. He returned to Thailand six years ago and two years later began working to start TLA.
“We’re the quickest confirmation team in the FIL,” Nerngchamnong said. “It took us five months. It was with the help of Tom Hayes.”
Hayes, the FIL’s director of development, was blown away by Nerngchamnong’s commitment and organization.
“The thing in Thailand was unbelievable,” he said. “When we got the information from them [seeking membership in the FIL], they were as well outfitted as any Division I team. Most times, they don’t have anything. The first time we dealt with Argentina, kids were making their sticks out of bamboo.”
Nerngchamnong’s first dream was the selfish, boyhood sort — he wanted to play for the Thai national team — but his mother urged him to create something bigger and longer lasting. Sunattee Nerngchamnong, a prominent Thai businesswoman, was murdered in November 2009.
“She’s the one who convinced me, if you’re going to have 25 buddies put on uniforms, if there’s no structure for it to grow, then it’s a waste of time,” Nerngchamnong said. “She helped me structure the association, the way for it to run like a business. The way we present ourselves is very professional compared to more established programs.”
Nerngchamnong’s company, Enigma Global, has a couple of divisions that help TLA, from making the hip national teams apparel to producing lacrosse balls. Other Thai companies help defray operational costs.
“We have over 100 players here in Thailand,” Nerngchamnong said. “About a quarter are ex-pats living in Thailand. What I’m proud of the most is at least one-third of the guys on the ASPAC team were kids that didn’t play before I started it.”
Players bring a variety of backgrounds and experience. Two of the best young Thai players today learned about the team on Facebook.
“Social media is a strong backbone in getting it together,” Nerngchamnong said. “If I started it five or 10 years prior, I don’t think I’d have been able to do it.”
Nerngchamnong wants people in Thailand to see lacrosse. He stages games twice a week at Arena 10 in the heart of Bangkok.
“Since it’s centralized, everyone can pass it,” he said. “We gained four or five guys who were just having dinner nearby.”
Nerngchamnong also has bought weekly two-minute TV spots to promote Thai lacrrosse. In October, Bangkok will host Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia in “Singha Battles in Bangkok 2013” at IMPACT Arena as Thailand defends the Singha Trophy.
Getting Thai youth and women involved in the sport, Nerngchamnong said, has proven to be more difficult.
“I spent a whole year trying to get kids but the parents are so protective,” he said. “We need to move from the top down and use the national team as the icon to get kids excited. We have an unorthodox way of growing lacrosse.”
Nerngchamnong introduced lacrosse to Singapore in 2011 and to Malaysia in 2012 in an effort to expand the Asian Pacific Lacrosse Union.
“For us to grow the game, we need to have local competition to play against,” Nerngchamnong said. “That’s what created Singapore and Malaysia. We’re not like the European counties that can drive to play each other. I pretty much tailor-made my competitor.”
Hayes had hoped Bangkok could showcase its growth by hosting the 2018 FIL World Championship before England won the bid. “He’s amazing,” Hayes said of Nerngchamnong. “The guy’s a dynamo.” US Lacrosse will host the 2014 FIL Men’s World Championship (July 10-19) at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Denver. Tickets are on sale now at WorldLacrosse2014.com. Bring your team to the World Festivals for boys’ youth teams beginning at age U11 and running up through men’s master’s teams at 60 and over.