May 20, 2014 Allie Wenner Uncategorized
Here in Central New York, playing lacrosse is as much of a way of life as is going to Sno Top for an ice cream cone, cheering for the Syracuse Orange or complaining about the winter weather conditions. But in the southwest region of the United States, that isn’t the case.
Alan Locke is a former member of the Fayetteville-Manlius High School lacrosse team. Since graduating from F-M in 1997, he has moved to the greater Phoenix, Arizona area where he now coaches high school lacrosse. Locke said the biggest difference between coaching kids in New York and Arizona is that by the time they’re in high school, many players from the Syracuse area have been playing the game for almost ten years. In Arizona, it’s a different story.
“Most kids start playing out here in eighth, ninth or tenth grade, where in Syracuse, you generally have a stick in your hand when you’re five or six years old,” said Locke, who is the head varsity boys lacrosse coach at Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. “The biggest difference is that we have to teach these kids the whole game – some of them have never played catch before, so you’re starting at square one. Meanwhile, at F-M, we were doing behind-the-back shots in fourth grade.”
Locke is one of five alumni from the F-M High School lacrosse program who now are coaching in the Phoenix area. In fact, most of Locke’s coaching staff at Horizon is comprised of F-M grads: Geoff Gorman (’97) and Eric Hatch (’95) are assistant coaches and John Romano (’92) coaches the Junior Varsity squad.
And that’s not all – about 40 minutes south of Horizon High School, Dan Lannon (’87) is the head coach at Desert Vista High School, which, according to Locke, has become “the pinnacle program” in Arizona since Lannon became head coach. This year, Lannon not only won the first lacrosse state championship for Desert Vista – he also has three seniors and two juniors who have committed to playing lacrosse at Division I schools in college – something almost unheard of in Arizona.
“Lacrosse has grown tremendously over the last ten years. The skill level is still growing, and shortly after I started coaching, the coaching level has increased dramatically – there are just more and more guys from [Division I] schools getting into coaching and officiating,” said Lannon, who won three national championships when he played on the Syracuse University lacrosse team from 1988 to 1991. “The playing level of the kids has just gotten better as the coaching and officiating has gotten better.”
And both Locke and Lannon agree that the Horizon vs. Desert Vista game is something they both look forward to every year.
“It was funny, when we were taking a picture before the game this year, all of our players and their parents were staring at us, like, ‘What the heck are you guys doing taking a picture of yourselves before the game?’ And we said, ‘We’re all F-M graduates, from Syracuse, New York – 3,000 miles away from here,” Locke said.
Lannon, the youngest son of former Fayetteville mayor James Lannon, and Locke, who grew up in Manlius, have one important thing in common: they both grew up with older siblings who were interested in lacrosse, and therefore began playing at a young age at a time when lacrosse was just starting to gain popularity in Central New York.
Both went on to play on the varsity team at F-M for legendary coach Tom Hall, who helped to build to program to what it is today.
“[Tom Hall and F-M varsity soccer coach Jeff Hammond] are the reasons I’m a coach today,” Locke said. “I feel as though I owe it back to my kids; what they did for me.”
And if you ask almost any former F-M lacrosse player about their most memorable moments on the high school team, there is a good chance that the name of longtime rival and nationally-recognized lacrosse powerhouse West Genesee will come up.
“For the most part, we’d usually end the season with something like a 12 – 2 record, and the two losses would be to West Genny,” Lannon said. “We definitely had a lot more wins than losses, but we unfortunately never beat West Genny, we never got past sectionals. To beat them was a monumental feat and we never managed to pull it off, although we pretty much dominated over all the other teams.”
Building an empire
Both Locke and Lannon took a hiatus from lacrosse after college due to their full-time jobs. Each ended up settling down in the Phoenix area within the last ten years and were asked to help grow the local lacrosse programs soon after; Lannon took over as head coach at Desert Vista in 2007 and Locke at Horizon in 2011.
And in order to get more interest in the sport, they have both been involved in organizing and coaching youth programs in the area.
“I’d say that now, there isn’t much of a difference for me between coaching kids in New York and kids in Arizona,” Lannon said. “Now we have programs out here for first through fourth graders, and when kids are that young, their skill level is all about the same. But the fact that they’re getting a stick in their hands, that’s the advantage that the east coast has had over the west coast. But now, we have that too.”
Meanwhile, in Scottsdale, Locke and Gorman are currently developing a youth program for kids that they hope will mimic the F-M Youth Lacrosse Association, which is held during the spring and summer on the fields at Wellwood Middle School. They plan to make it as similar to the program they grew up playing in as possible: a five versus five format, with players using short sticks.
“We’re trying to get it to be exactly what it was at F-M: when you’re five years old, we want to get a lacrosse stick in your hand,” Locke said.
Ultimately, the goal for both Lannon and Locke is to grow their respective programs to be recognized nationally, alongside the east coast high schools.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve reached that goal yet, but I would say that having five Division I commits on my team at this point is comparable to what I’ve seen back east,” Lannon said.
“We’d be honored if our program turned out like F-M’s,” Locke said. “F-M’s is one of the top programs in the country… Last year, we were coaching a game – it was a tournament – and we looked out there were around 200 kids playing lacrosse. And we said, ‘Wow, this is just like back in Syracuse. Look at all these kids playing – this is great.”