Looking out for lacrosse is labor of love for coach

On High Schools

High Schools

February 08, 2005|By MILTON KENT

SOME 25 YEARS ago, a sixth-grader named John Piper came east from Chicago. Three years later, he fell in love, which is about on cue for that kind of thing, except this wasn't some silly schoolboy crush on a cheerleader.

Piper didn't fall in love with a person, but with a game, namely lacrosse, and the affair has blossomed and matured, lasting to the present moment, on the verge of another season.

But love, over time, needs maintenance to keep the relationship fresh. Right now, Piper believes lacrosse, or more accurately the people around it, could stand a little change, or the game he adores so much could suffer.

Piper, the boys lacrosse coach at North Carroll for nine years, and like-minded folks share a deep-seated concern about the emotional state of lacrosse and have organized a workshop Thursday night at South Carroll to talk about where things are and where they are heading.

"Everywhere we [coaches] go, we're very concerned about the culture of lacrosse and what it means," said Piper. "Coaches take it very seriously when something negative happens. I've never met a coach who doesn't have a passion for the sport and what it stands for, and the culture of honesty and respect and sportsmanship and the values that go along with it."

The immediate trigger for the workshop, which starts at 6:45, was last April's brawl between players from Liberty and South Carroll, who fought in two separate incidents.

Things escalated when several adults ran onto the Liberty field, presumably to take part in the fracas. Two men were banned from attending sporting events and other extracurricular activities in Carroll County for their alleged involvement in the incident. The ban was subsequently lifted for both men and one of them was acquitted in court of assault charges against an assistant coach.

In Piper's mind, lacrosse can be a positive force to build minds and character. While the parents and adults will deal with the consequences of their actions, Piper has been worried about what coaches will have to do to clean up lacrosse's good name.

"I love the sport of lacrosse and what it stands for," said Piper. "This is what lacrosse is about. It's about how you behave as a person as much as how you perform as an athlete."

As disturbing as the April fight, Piper said, is the notion that kids are shying away from lacrosse at younger ages because they're not playing. It's a vicious little circle: The game needs the kids to teach and the kids need the game to learn.

"You're finding so many parents are saying, `I've got a 10-year-old and if he's not playing, he's not going to get a scholarship to Maryland.' Who knows that at age 10?" said Piper.

"I think that for parents, certain coaches are so worried about winning at the rec level that their kids aren't playing. That's the trend where you see kids dropping out. They don't get a chance to play. Coaches and athletic directors are starting to be very concerned about that because we see athletics as being more than just about winning. It's about instilling time management skills, character-building skills and those kinds of things."

That's where the workshop, funded by a $3,000 grant from the U.S. Lacrosse Association, comes in. Association members will have to pay $5 to get into Thursday's workshop, while non-members will be charged $15.

The positive side of all sports will be discussed with the hope that coaches will funnel the good news to parents and the kids themselves.

"Winning is important, but just as important is building the character of kids and instilling values and a work ethic," said Piper.

The lesson has already taken hold at North Carroll, where Piper benched most of his starters because of a poor practice attitude.

"It was not one of my finer moments," said Piper with a chuckle. "I was expecting a lot of fallout from parents, but they stood behind me. That was very encouraging."

With any luck, it will be the start of a badly needed trend.

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