County lacrosse pioneers

Generation: A growing number of men and women who learned the game in Howard County now coach the sport here.

Howard At Play

April 27, 2003|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Brian Wynne was a kid in Howard County in the 1970s, he saw a flier from what was then the Ilchester Optimists' lacrosse program.

"All we knew was you could run around with a stick," he said. Nearly three decades later, Wynne is one of a growing number of men and women who learned the game in Howard County and now coach the sport here.

After taking up the sport because of that flier, Wynne played for Howard High School. After graduation in 1978, he went to then-Salisbury State College, where he played attack for four years. He now has five sons, ages 15, 11, 9, 7 and 5.

"When my oldest got into lacrosse, I thought I could help out," he said.

That led to what has become a seven-year stint coaching the 9-10 boys team in the Howard County Lacrosse Program. Unlike some parent-coaches who move up in age-group teams along with their children, Wynne has stayed with the 9- and 10-year-olds because he always had another boy coming along, and he felt it was important to give the kids a good foundation.

"I just love working with kids and watching them grasp a concept, whether it's offense or defense," he said.

Warren Michael is another veteran of Howard County's early lacrosse days.

"Lacrosse in the county for boys started in 1974, and I started in 1976," said Michael, now 40. "I was the first generation of players."

He played in the Hero's League, a then-fledgling summer league he now directs, and went on to play for Glenelg High School, Washington and Lee University and Western Maryland (now McDaniel) College.

"Without lacrosse, I wouldn't even have gone to college," said Michael, who was the boys lacrosse coach at Mount Hebron for 10 years, building a powerhouse program there. He now is the athletic director and assistant coach at Centennial High School, where he teaches computer science.

Michael's son Joshua is a freshman at Centennial. Michael coached his son's travel teams for two years with the Howard County Lacrosse Program. His daughter Jenny is also playing travel lacrosse.

The youth program has strengthened lacrosse in the county, he said.

"It's a big factor," Michael said, crediting the coaching. "They've committed themselves to making lacrosse really competitive."

Howard County has succeeded in becoming a breeding ground for good lacrosse players, thanks in no small part to those early players who now are coaching.

"If you look at who has won state titles from this county, we have more than our share," said Todd Thelen, varsity boys coach at Wilde Lake High School. He noted that Howard, Centennial and Mount Hebron have long winning traditions. "We have the biggest rec program in the state."

Thelen did not start playing until high school, but he had friends who played in the early days of the HCLP.

"I was catching and throwing with them, and it rubbed off on me," said Thelen, who played at Wilde Lake, and then at Mary Washington College and then Essex Community College. He also attended Howard Community College and the University of Maryland, College Park.

"I kind of took my tour of colleges," he said, but what he did not realize then was that he burned up his eligibility, and by the time he settled at the University of Maryland, he was no longer eligible to play. It was a mistake he makes sure his players today understand and do not repeat.

His first coaching stint came in 1989, when he coached "the mighty, mighty Blue Jays," a 9-11 HCLP recreation team. He has no children, but he had heard HCLP needed coaches.

"I'll never forget that first game," he said. "We were down 4-1 at the half to the Tigers."

At halftime, he pumped up his minuscule players, and they won. Thelen went back to school, and then was taking care of his mother for five years, who was battling cancer.

But in 1996, he got the itch to coach again and called Michael, who hooked him up with a Hero's team. From there, he became the varsity assistant at Long Reach the year it opened, and in 1998 he took over Wilde Lake's JV.

Doug Ardinger, 45, played midfield and goalie for Mount Hebron and then played at UMBC and Fairleigh Dickinson. The Ellicott City resident has three daughters: Alex, 13, Sammy, 11, and Erica, 7. He has coached clinic teams, 6-8, 9-10 and 11-12 teams.

"I love the game and I knew the game and understood it, and I like coaching kids," he said.

He found the switch to coaching girls easy because, while rules for the girls game differ from those of the boys game, skills are essentially the same.

And, he said, at the recreation level, "my philosophy is, it's a kids' program, and ... it should be about kids having fun."

It is also about exposing girls to the sport, and thus furthering the sport, said Greg Tornatore, who played on Mount Hebron's 1983 state championship team. Now he coaches daughter Taylor's 7-8 team and daughter Jordan's 5-6 team in Ellicott City. This year, he notes, nearly 800 girls are involved in HCLP's Cobra travel program.

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