How Lacrosse Started in The Woodlands
By Doug Sarant
After I moved to The Woodlands in 1994, a friend, Drew Hewitt, with whom I had played against for 10 years in the Southwest Lacrosse Association (SWLA) called me up and informed me that the principal of McCullough High School was Walter Day. I was like...."and?".... He told me that Mr. Day was responsible for giving the go ahead to start a lacrosse program at Lamar High School when Day was principal there. Lamar was one of the first high schools in the Houston area to have a program. Day was also instrumental in getting Bellaire High School's lacrosse program started there as well.
Hewitt had called me in August of 1995, and I called Mr. Day in September. Mr. Day was excited about the prospect of a club lacrosse team, but that this was the last year for McCullough to be a high school before the transition to the new school being built on Research Forest, The Woodlands High School. He was going to be inundated with all that comes with moving a whole school into another building. Day instructed me to throw together a plan as to how we would want to initiate the program, gather interest, proposed budget, etc. and then get back to him in December of that year.
In between that time, prospective Coach Mike Campbell, myself and a local lacrosse enthusiast named Ran Coleman met in Coleman's backyard off Golden Shadow. Coleman was kind of like our mentor, and he went through everything possible that lay ahead, what we'd have to deal with, etc... His contribution was immeasurable. He was always the wise man amid utter chaos all through the process. When the meeting in the backyard ended, the last comment Coleman made was, "Just remember this. This is not going to be easy and you will run into a lot of issues with people who are not thrilled at the prospects of lacrosse coming to The Woodlands. You will make great strides and these naysayers will try to make you take steps backward. Just keep moving forward in a positive way and never show any negativity whatsoever. Look at it this way--if you give just one kid the opportunity to play this great game, you are doing a good job.
In looking back, his words were prophetic. He was so right-on in regards to how it all shook out. Campbell and I were thinking everyone would embrace lacrosse with open arms and it would all be like la-la land. It definitely did not work out that way.
Long story short, I called Day in December and after some phone tag, we eventually met up in late January of 1996. I gave him "the plan" which consisted of everything from who the school sponsor (Diane Gill) would be; the flyers we would get permission to hang up at the school and around town; Coach Campbell's contact information/experience and a whole lot of minutiae it takes to run a school club and lacrosse team.
The big question was money. Lacrosse isn't like soccer where a player only needs a pair of cleats. Back then, a full set of gear consisting of stick, helmet, gloves, and arm and shoulder pads could cost a little under $185.00 with the help of then vendor, Bacharach-Rasin. We needed goals, nets, field liner, referee fees, lacrosse balls, advertising and so much more. The high school paper (The Caledonian) was more than helpful with the latter. So much money would be needed to initiate the program and Mr. Day wanted to know where it would come from. My answer? I told Mr. Day that we wanted to show the town how great the sport is so we would take care of the initial expense. We did not want to turn off the parents with the money goblin.
This worked for a while.....segue, a few months after we had our first meeting in Ms. Gill's classroom and had put up flyer's all over McCullough indicating our first practice was after the last day of school. Campbell and I had gathered up 50 sticks that prospective players could use and it was all systems go.
I skipped the most important ingredient. Although our flyers and advertising probably had some impact, we had some aces in the hole. Two students at McCullough who played football also played for the Klein High School lacrosse team. Texas High School Lacrosse League (THSLL) rules stipulate if a prospective player's high school does not have lacrosse, he can play for the geographically closest school that does. McCullough students Bobby Earl (Freshman) and Dan Gableman (Junior) were not only playing for Klein, they were two of their best players. They were also popular students so they were the "go to" guys. With these two athletes, we were able to get several football players as well as other athletes to come out for the team. It should be noted that another McCullough student (Jim Chandler) who played for Klein helped in this regard but he was a senior, so he wouldn't be playing in the inaugural season. However, he was an all state player, and everyone knew it. He was an excellent example to have around, was very personable and was good at teaching the game. Incidentally, Gableman made Academic All American that first year and Earl made All District. Earl (current Asst. Coach of TWHS under Dave Seale), was one of the best face-off guys around and tough as nails. You win lacrosse games by how good you are at getting ground balls. The team that wins the game on the ground will win on the scoreboard as well and Earl was a virtual vacuum cleaner.
Earl, Gableman and Chandler could be seen throwing the ball around in the early 90's all over The Woodlands so by the time Campbell and myself came around, most people had an idea of what the game looked like already. At that first practice, I'd estimate about 15 new players already had nice lacrosse sticks because of their association with those three young athletes and their recommendations helped others know what kind of equipment to buy.
So, we were off and running. By the time the fall came around, we were ready for our first scrimmage. Cy Fair was the opponent. This was a good match-up because although Cy Fair had been around for a few years, they were rebuilding and were not as strong as they had been the previous year. We could gauge our team without having to play a team that we'd get shellacked by. We needed to start playing some games because we would be playing in the South Zone come the spring against everyone. They didn't have two divisions then. You played the best the area had to offer, and there were only four playoff spots. We needed to get ready or we'd surely be embarrassed when the real season began. We hadn't delved into the uniform situation yet so we just used our Post-Collegiate Team Texas uniforms. It was pretty cool to see these new lacrosse players out on the field in uniform...looking uniform.
Without going into too much detail, Coach Campbell and his assistant coaches (Scott McConnellee and Ben Hall) had done a great job with these neophytes. Lacrosse is a tough game to learn but what these players accomplished that day was nothing short of awesome. They played a program consisting of experienced players to a 4-4 draw. It was a scrimmage so playing sudden death was unnecessary. Senior Mike Seamans scored the first goal in the club's history on a nice pass from senior Aaron Burbach all made possible by the hustle of....you got it...Bobby Earl who had battled for a ground ball, scooped it up and then passed it to Burbach. Our goalie, Cody Gonzalez did an excellent job making 12 saves. Cody was “The Wall” that day. Then senior, James Price, was our speedster and responsible for creating several fast breaks that day.
You're thinking I skipped the part where everyone obtained their equipment by osmosis. Well, in between the first practice and the scrimmage against Cy Fair, a parent made her presence known and is pretty much the reason why things went smoothly and perhaps the reason a program still exists today. Bev Earl was the Booster Club President for Klein's lacrosse team. After her duties were over at Klein, she had watched what we were doing and knew she could help. She also knew we weren't going to be raising enough money to make it a free game for the players and parents. I laugh about how I had originally thought that was a possibility. Bev organized the Booster Club and made people realize what all goes into having a team. She spoke from experience; so people listened. The amount of work Bev did could only be described in a book so I won't try. She got all the parents on board and established officers and made it all official. It made the team "legit". Parents make high school athletic teams go and I learned that the hard way. This was a club so it was even more important to have a Booster Club. Even UIL programs can't survive without booster clubs run by parents.
The support of the parents was nothing short of awesome. In looking back to 1995, I can safely say we have a program now because of the parents led by Bev Earl. However, when we all look back at how everything came together, it just goes to show you how it takes so many people to make a high school club successful.