Teaching lacrosse and having an impact are coach's goals

Instructor: Ronnie Smith brings to coaching the same dedication and work ethic that made him a successful college and club player.

Howard At Play

May 16, 2004|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ronnie Smith coached at the collegiate level for 12 years, after four years of playing lacrosse at UMBC and several years playing and coaching with the region's best club teams.

Smith, 50, shows by all accounts the same dedication and enthusiasm for the sport he had at the collegiate and club levels, now that he is coaching boys 13 and 14 years old for the Howard County Lacrosse Program.

It is a measure of his dedication that the Columbia resident continues to coach at the youth level, now that his son has moved on to play in high school.

"He has no kids in the program, but you would never know it," says 13-14 coordinator John Rice of Elkridge. "In the beginning of the year, I had only a few coaches, and people said, `Call Ron, call Ron.' I was so relieved when he said yes. I can tell his love for the game - he really enjoys teaching the fundamentals of the game."

Smith said that coaching boys, even at the recreation level, is not that different from his days coaching college and club-level players.

"The biggest difference is the skill level," Smith said. "At college, they knew the fundamentals; we just had to reinforce them. They knew offense and defense. They knew how to throw and catch.

"With the younger kids, they have a lot of bad habits," he said. "We have to get everybody's game revolving around the fundamentals. I take this very seriously - it's a way to impact the young people.

"We have kids with wounded self-esteem, and we have a chance to build their self-esteem," he said. "We have kids who are not very gifted physically, and we can help them to have a positive experience. They'll do one thing right; they may not do it again, but we'll celebrate it. We teach them to be successful and teach them to respect teammates and the importance of teamwork."

He has also faced the challenge of coaching players who really don't want to play.

"A lot of that happens at the collegiate level." Smith said. "I had guys in my office - 21-year-olds in tears - saying, `I don't want to play lacrosse, but my parents want me to play.' "

He paused, then said, "We do a lot more than X's and O's and game plans and yelling from the sidelines, although we do all that."

Smith's coaching strategy is revealed in the cheer his players use before games: "Hard work pays off!"

Dick Watts, former head coach of UMBC, said of Smith: "The kind of coach he is reflects how he was as a player. He was not a star, but he was an intricate player. He was a blue-collar kind of guy who got the ground balls and got the work done."

Smith went out for lacrosse in his junior year at City College in Baltimore, when he accompanied a friend to tryouts. Although his friend was cut, Smith made the team.

"I played two years and really got smitten by [the sport] my senior year," Smith said.

One of seven children, he knew what a sacrifice it was when he begged his mother to buy him a new fiberglass stick, which back then cost $10.

She did buy it, he recalled, "and I worked at it all summer."

He went to UMBC and tried out for the lacrosse team.

"I was fast and quick, but my knowledge of the game was poor," he said. He felt that teammates from private schools such as Gilman and Boys Latin were "given a stick at birth."

"I really learned the game at UMBC," he said. He played midfield for four years in the mid-1970s, and he still recalls beating Navy and Virginia.

But it wasn't always an easy time for an African-American player.

"I remember coming into this game and not having the skill and pedigree most lacrosse players have," he said. "And being a minority, I wasn't always welcomed everywhere I went."

While that has changed, Smith said, it still bothers him that few black athletes play lacrosse beyond high school.

"But you don't see poor white kids, either," he said. "I don't think we're doing all we can to make the sport as diverse as it could be."

After college, he played for five years with the Maryland Lacrosse Club, and he played with the Crease, Bud Light, Towson and Overlea lacrosse clubs.

He also played in the Hero's summer league, where "it was not uncommon to have two or three All-Americans on your team, and I would mimic what they'd do."

While playing in Hero's he was asked to help coach, and he did for several years. Watts saw him coaching and invited him back to UMBC to help with his alma mater.

"I was ecstatic - the chance to go back and coach at the place where it had all begun for me," Smith said.

He coached for 12 years there, until the pressures of building a career while completing a master's degree and raising a young family led him to reluctantly give up coaching. He is now executive director of financial aid and student retention at the Community College of Baltimore, and he is working on a doctorate.

But he took up the whistle again when his son David, now 16, started playing at 9-10 in HCLP. He moved up the ranks with his son, but he is now content at 13-14, instilling the fundamentals in the game he loves.

"That's the biggest reason why I continue to coach," he said. "To have an impact on kids and help them learn to love the game."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.