The whistle shrieks, then a gravelly but spirited baritone voice booms across the field at Mud Hollow Stadium on a hot September day.
“Great job everyone! Let’s get some water.”
The voice belongs to Terry Corcoran, the first head coach for the varsity lacrosse program at Wabash. Last May, the College announced its decision to elevate lacrosse from club to varsity status beginning with the 2014-2015 season. Corcoran was hired a month later to guide the Little Giants into NCAA and North Coast Athletic Confer-ence competition one year from now.
Corcoran is adamant in his belief this is a transition, not a beginning.
“This is not a startup program—Wabash already has a tradition of lacrosse at the school,” Corcoran says. “My goal is to help prepare the existing program to make the step up from club to varsity lacrosse and to do so quickly.
“So many alumni have been involved in making this a solid club team. Add to that the rich history of successful athletics here at Wabash and you have a formula for success for any program.”
Corcoran has already connected with Jeremy Bird ’00, co-founder of 270 Strategies and the national field director for the 2012 campaign of President Barack Obama. The Wabash lacrosse team was Bird’s first grassroots organizing effort; he planted the seed for a club lacrosse team in his sports column for The Bachelor, “Wabash Athletics Could Improve with Addition of Little Giant Lacrosse.” With the support of the Wabash Student Senate, lacrosse became a club sport.
Bird’s reasons for promoting lacrosse as a club sport still hold meaning now that a varsity Little Giant team is on the horizon.
“I always thought lacrosse was good for Wabash because it is a much more popular sport on the East Coast, and that is a market where I thought Wabash should do more recruiting,” Bird says. “While I liked the fact that there were many Midwesterners at Wabash, I think having more geographic diversity is a good thing for a college—bringing in people from different parts of the country and world is something that just fits into the liberal arts approach.
“I also thought that lacrosse would fit into the culture of athletic ambition at Wabash.”
Bird believes the sport connects with the College’s egalitarian campus and strong work ethic.
“I know lacrosse has an elitist reputation, but I did not see the sport that way at all,” says Bird, who grew up in a trailer park in High Ridge, MO. “It is a mixture of soccer, football and maybe even a little basketball. It’s true that not enough young people in poorer areas have access to lacrosse in their schools, but they should, and I saw the sport growing at the time we started it at Wabash, especially in the Midwest. For me, lacrosse was the perfect competitive, physical game.
“And Wabash made it affordable for guys to play. All you needed to buy was your stick. The College took the economic barriers out of the way and allowed us all to compete against schools like Purdue, Kansas State, Illinois, and others.”
Corcoran wants to maintain the history and connection with the former club lacrosse players.
“Those former players created the foundation of this program,” Corcoran says. “They are an important link in the history and future success of lacrosse at Wabash College. I’ll need their help to tell the story of Wabash lacrosse to future players.”
Corcoran’s ability to embrace the existing program was just one of the talents that made him the perfect selection as the team’s first varsity coach. A three-time All-American as an attacker for the Hobart lacrosse team, Corcoran was part of two national championship teams. As a senior he led the nation in scoring. Moving into the coaching ranks, he spent several seasons as an assistant before taking over the Washington College program for the 1983 season. Since that time, Corcoran’s teams at Washington College, Penn, Skidmore, and Elizabethtown have posted 273 victories to place him seventh in career victories among active Division III lacrosse coaches. Corcoran was named the Division III Men’s Lacrosse Coach of the Year in 1985 and again in 2005.
Corcoran and the current club players will face challenges as they move the team from club to varsity status. The Little Giants will play in the North Coast Athletic Conference against players who have been working at the varsity level for four years, with many adding a long history of club play in youth leagues, prep school teams, and high school varsity programs.
But Corcoran believes his team has the desire to succeed from the outset. The current members of the Wabash club team have been working during the non-traditional training season that other varsity Division III programs use to prepare for the spring season. Corcoran and his volunteer assistant, Todd Richardson, have taught new techniques and approaches to the current players while also starting to develop a class of recruits to join the existing team next season.
“I’ve learned very quickly about the Wabash work ethic, and I’ve seen it every day at practice with our current group of players,” Corcoran says. “We already have everything in place to be a successful program: We have a great facility at Mud Hollow Stadium, trainers and equipment to help us prepare for the first season, and players who are working hard and already show a love and passion for the sport.”
Glenn Patterson ’15 is one of those players. He played lacrosse at St. Ignatius High School, has been part of the Wabash club team the past two seasons, and served on the search committee that recommended Corcoran. Patterson scored seven goals last year to pace the Little Giants’ offense. Now he relishes being mentored by one of the top Division III coaches in the nation.
“We’re learning so many new things,” Patterson says during a water break at fall practice. “Coach Corcoran has helped us develop a new understanding of the game. It’s little things, like changing the way we hold the stick, or working on a new approach to setting up an outlet pass. It’s hard work, but we’re all really enjoying working with Coach Corcoran and Coach Richardson.”
Coach Corcoran blows the whistle, the water break ends, and Patterson and his teammates trot back onto the field for more passing and shooting drills, the first Wabash varsity lacrosse game only a year away.