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Harding’s ‘Bad News Bears’ enjoy lacrosse success

SEARCY, ARK — “He ended up being the first sponsor of the team,” Bates said. “He’s been a real heavyweight behind the team, getting it what it needed to have the success it has right now.”
That success includes three consecutive trips to the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association’s national championship. The team finished its 2007 season with a record of 9-2 and the title of Great Rivers Lacrosse Conference champions for Division B.
In terms of logic, Bates sees the team’s success as “something that shouldn’t have happened.”
“The program starting and growing the way it has — I can’t explain it,” he said.
In a state dominated by fans of college football and NASCAR racing, lacrosse doesn’t get a lot of attention.
“There’s no one actually on the team from the state of Arkansas,” said team president George Wadsworth, a senior social work major from Vero Beach, Fla.
But the sport is one of the fastest-growing among American youths, according to Sports Illustrated. Unlike American football or basketball, players don’t have to be large or tall to be good.
“The goal is to get a 3-inch, solid rubber ball into a 6-foot-by-6-foot goal, making it one of the most difficult sports for a goalie to play,” Bates said. “The shots can get upwards of 100 miles per hour. … It is considered the fastest sport on two feet because of the speed the ball travels and the fact that you can go as fast as you can run.”
Each goal is worth one point, and the game is comprised of four, 15-minute quarters. Ten players are required to fill out the field, with most rosters having 20 or even 30 players.
Harding’s squad started with a humble 15 players, many of whom had never played lacrosse in their lives.
Neither had their coach.
Bates planned to coach the new team himself, but the league stipulated that the coach couldn’t be a student. So he and team co-founder John Tommassoni enlisted John Webber, a computer tech at the Harding library. Webber read up on the sport and led his young team onto the field, with Bates as defensive coordinator and Tommassoni handling offense.
Understandably, their first season was less than spectacular.
“We were the Bad News Bears,” Webber said. “The first year we were 1-7 — and the only victory came from a forfeit of a team not showing up for a game.”
In the offseason, Webber and the players wrote other coaches and programs for ideas and drills. The next season, the team improved remarkably, finishing with a 6-4 record.
This year, the team took 19 players to the national tournament in Frisco, Texas. Most of their competitors had at least 32 players, said Bates, who took over head coaching duties last year.
Playing lacrosse at Harding remains a labor of love. Students raise money to play, and this year each player contributed $500 out of pocket to help cover expenses.
In addition, each player purchases his own equipment, which can cost up to $300, and the team stays in the homes of church members for away games.
“It is totally worth it,” Wadsworth said. “It’s great sport … it’s a great group of guys. I’ve heard it said, when you compare $800 to the $18,000 college costs, it’s a drop in the bucket and enhances your college experience.”
Coaching lacrosse also means sacrifice for Bates, who is completing an MBA degree at Harding. The job pays only a small stipend, so Bates spends his spare time working as a contractor in Searcy to make ends meet.
“I would love to stay and coach these guys,” he said. But, if he has to leave, “the program has grown to a level where they could find a coach better than me. That’s a positive thing.”
But, according to Wadsworth, the team already has a great coach.
“He has a good knowledge of the game and a real passion for Lacrosse,” the team president said. “He has a lot of fun with it … and is a great guy to play for.”
For Bates, success on the field doesn’t compare to the teamwork and maturity he’s seen among his players.
“I’m very blessed to be a part of the program and to get to see their growth,” he said, “to see who they started out as and who they are becoming.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION, see harding.ialax.com.

Filed under: Partners Staff Reports

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