Johnsen fills the calendars with lacrosse

Longevity: Coach has schooled two decades of youngsters in essentials of the game.

Howard At Play

April 21, 2002|By Nathan Max | Nathan Max,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Considering how many youth lacrosse players Hammond Village resident Peter Johnsen has coached over the past two decades, what happened at a picnic two years ago really should not have been much of a surprise.

At the Hammond boys varsity lacrosse team's season-ending event, Johnsen, 52, approached Golden Bears' coach Dave Griffin to express his gratitude for coaching his third child, P.C.

As Griffin got a better look at Johnsen, he realized the same man had coached him 18 years ago, when he was 12, on a Howard County Lacrosse Program recreation-level team.

"It kind of made me proud," Griffin said. "It was kind of neat that it had come full circle."

It's surprising that such encounters have not occurred more often, because for anyone who has played HCLP lacrosse since 1981, the possibility is strong that he (or now, she) has played on a Johnsen-coached squad.

Some springs, Johnsen, a corporate attorney by day, has coached two and three teams.

"I've really been fortunate, because over the years, I've been blessed with really good bunches of kids," said Johnsen, who has coached six of 10 varsity starters on the current Hammond High boys lacrosse team.

"One of the reasons I do it is because I think there are extremely valuable lessons to learn on sports teams, the kind of lessons one can carry into their later career."

Johnsen played lacrosse for the first time as a senior at Woodlawn High in Baltimore County in 1968 and was hooked. He next played three seasons on Dartmouth College's varsity. He moved to Howard County in 1979.

Shortly thereafter, he discovered the HCLP, which was in its beginning stages, was for boys only, and consisted of four recreation-league teams and one travel team. Today, the program totals about 1,600 players - nearly as many girls as boys - and has 16 travel teams, eight for each gender.

Johnsen coached several years, he said, before taking some time off. That was, until his first child, Henry, was old enough to play. Since then, Johnsen has indefatigably coached five of his six sons and daughters - now ages 11 to 23 - in the program.

This spring alone, Johnsen is coaching two girls teams - an 11-12 squad that includes his youngest child, Rachel, and a 13-14 team on which his fifth child, Rebecca, plays. He also is coordinator for both age groups. And he does the scheduling for the entire girls recreation-level program.

"Without question, it is dedicated people like Peter Johnsen who are responsible for the success of the program," said Diana Carey, who oversees HCLP's rec-level girls program. "I couldn't do it without him. The program wouldn't work if it wasn't for people like him. He's totally my hero. He's marvelous."

Wishing to coach his daughters, Johnsen embarked on a new path four years ago, when he decided to take on girls lacrosse. Aside from learning a different set of rules, Johnsen had to adjust to a completely different culture.

"Middle-school girls are a lot different than middle-school boys," Johnsen said. "The girls tend to view [lacrosse] as a social event, but they can also really get into the competitive side of it. To get to the point where they don't see it as a social occasion and ... try to be a team and have team goals - that's the point I like to get to; the point where they're serious."

Johnsen's coaching, and his kids' participation, has made life hectic around the Johnsen household.

Beside lacrosse, Johnsen's daughters are both playing soccer this season, and Rachel plays a third sport, softball.

Johnsen credits his wife, Peggy, for keeping everything together and avoiding chaos with all of that activity and four children living at home.

"It's been tough, but it has worked out," she said, acknowledging that springtime is "busier than ever. ... [But] because I'm supportive of it, it doesn't wear me out. I don't consider myself to be amazing."

Of course, others do.

"She remarkably gets everybody where they need to be all the time," said Penny Watkins, who has four children, three coached by Peter Johnsen. "I don't know how she does it."

Her secret? Peggy Johnsen said she tracks everyone's practices and games via four calendars - "one in the kitchen, one in the bedroom and two in my purse - because the first one got too full."

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