We Need A Stick – by McNutty

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“We need a stick” by McNutty

“We need a stick.” Rarely have such innocent words impacted the lives of so many people all over this country. The year is 1980 and the students at St. Hugo of the Hills grade school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan were watching their 6th grade science teacher, Ron Hebert.  Mr. Hebert had a lacrosse stick, leftover from playing days at Michigan State and box lacrosse days in Windsor, Canada. During lunch he would run with the stick, cradling a ball and arousing curiosity in young boys.  They’d never seen one before and were intrigued when Mr. Hebert would let them hold it, and on rare occasion throw a ball against the side of the school. It didn’t take long  before they realized, “We need a stick.”  Fate intervened. A classmate returned from a family vacation sporting pirates’ plunder from Long Island; a second stick.

Now instead of running at lunch, Mr. Hebert would lead playground sessions teaching the young boys how to catch and throw. The kids’ enthusiasm was contagious and they caught the eye of the parish priest, captivated by throwing a ball with two sticks. The priest, Mr. Hebert and several dads got together, did a little fundraising and before long, St. Hugo’s had a youth lacrosse team. At that time there were only three other  teams in the entire state, Cranbrook (Mitt Romney’s school), Detroit Country Day (Robin Williams and Chris Webber’s school) and a small public school program called L’Anse Cruse northeast of Detroit. St. Hugo’s boys weren’t good yet, but they were in heaven.

After a couple of years, as they prepared to graduate 8th grade at St. Hugo’s, the parents talked to the athletic director at the high school and pestered him to get a lacrosse team together. Known at the time as a football powerhouse, the high school had a lot of great athletes and it turns out they were itching for something like lacrosse to come along. The AD hired a Varsity coach, asked Mr. Hebert to run JV, and Brother Rice lacrosse was born. All because some 6th grade kids said “We need a stick.”

Many of you are familiar with the national legacy Brother Rice has in lacrosse. Since the program started they’ve won 18 state championships, and in 2008 they won the Inside Lacrosse National Championship with a 23-0 undefeated season. Since their start in 1983 they’ve had 60 kids go on to play NCAA D1 lacrosse. Mike Lodish, class of 1985, was a crease defenseman of note, but remains famous today as a football player, the only one who has ever played in six Super Bowls. Vince Lombardi’s grandson, John, was a middie on the 1986 state champion team. And a young man named David Morrow, Brother Rice Class of 1990, went on to play for Bill Tierney’s first championship team at Princeton.  Dave was a defensemen whose playing career was noted for the stress he would put on lacrosse sticks, going through as many as 25 of them in one season.  After graduating from Princeton, Dave took the St. Hugo’s motto to heart, but he said “We don’t just need a stick, we need a better stick.” He founded a little company to make the first titanium lacrosse sticks and named it after his Brother Rice team, the Warriors.  Today, Warrior Lacrosse has the largest market share of any lacrosse manufacturer and you’ve probably tripped over one of their sticks in your garage. Blame Dave.

At this point you might be saying “This is cute story, but why am I sitting in Washington and reading about Michigan? We have our own lacrosse origin stories, and while I appreciate that the fine folks in Michigan did nice things for their kids, let’s get back to talking about us.” Okay, let’s.

Take a look at this picture. It’s the St. Hugo Lacrosse team from 1982. Look in the second row, the first player on the left is Joe Kelly. Joe went on to play and captain at Penn, graduating in 1992. Next to him is Chris Cote, who played football and lacrosse at Navy, and actually faced Joe’s Penn team twice in the NCAA lacrosse playoffs.  Teammates from the same Michigan middle school team, facing each other in the NCAA playoffs nine years later.

After college, Joe Kelly settled in Seattle and in 2010, Chris Cote relocated his family here after retirement from the Navy.  Chris reconnected with Joe, having not seen him since that last NCAA playoff. Just to get you to the punch line, and the point of this story; last year Chris and Joe coached Snohomish Lacrosse to their first Division Two State Championship.  This picture is them today.

If you’ve never met Coach Chris Cote, you’re a lesser person for it. He’s a genuine, humble man with a great spirit. He’s one of those guys any father would trust with the task of turning his boy into a man. And if you asked the Snohomish lacrosse players what Joe Kelly means to them, they would all say “everything.” Joe was the driving force behind getting the program winning the state title, and building it into a D1 team.  Unfortunately, just before the start of this season, Joe had to relocate to Chicago, but undoubtedly Washington’s loss is the Chicago lacrosse community’s gain.

“We need a stick.” The impact of those words, spoken in 1980, has made ripples all over the country over the past 33 years.  If Mr. Hebert hadn’t been cradling at lunch around the St. Hugo’s playground, a lot Snohomish kids never learn that they can achieve ultimate success through hard work and sacrifice. And it makes you remember how powerful lacrosse can be to a kid, and how what impact a few teammates and coaches can have on the rest of their lives.

3 Responses to "We Need A Stick – by McNutty"
  1. Great article! Congrats to Coach and all his great players. I’m the little guy holding the sticks in the ’82 Hugo pix. Was the only year I ever got to play as my high school didn’t have a team, but generated a love for the game. Coach Hebert was very gracious to me, giving me one of his old metal shaft sticks so I could play. It caused me to get my son playing in 3rd grade and he has been playing for years now. Coach’s impact is generational.

  2. Really enjoyed this story. I played with Ron Hebert in 1975 at Michigan State. He was a great player and strategist. In 1975, we upset a ranked Ohio State team by using a “four corner” style slow down offensive set. Ron was a coach on the field. It doesn’t surprise me that he had the sort of impact on a school program as is written about above.

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