“Jordan Beech, Head Coach, Oklahoma Baptist.”
As you might imagine, that got me some funny looks when I first introduced myself during the new coaches’ recognition at last year’s IWLCA annual Meetings. It just comes with the territory when you’re coaching in a lacrosse Siberia. And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
A little about myself: I’m Oklahoman born and raised. It’s a state that has a whopping 10 boys’ programs and four girls’ programs at the high school level. Really, I can’t even imagine how my 14-year old self would feel knowing that watching the Cornell men’s lacrosse team’s 2005 quarterfinal game would eventually lead me to become one of the sport’s biggest evangelists in my home state.
So back to last year’s IWLCA Meetings. We had the coaches’ networking dinner where we had to discuss pretty much anything under the sun as it related to coaching. It wasn’t a surprise when the first thing I was asked is why I would take the job in the backwater country of the sport. I mean, there’s no recruiting base to speak of in-state, and the closest places for me to recruit with any sizable lacrosse-playing population are three hours away (Dallas/Fort Worth), six hours away (Kansas City) and nine hours away (Denver). Never mind the typically… dated view most of the country has of the state in general (I promise I’m not writing this from horseback on the way to my teepee).
So why would anyone want to coach college lacrosse in Oklahoma? I think Coach Dennis Short from Rollins College said it best during his National Collegiate Recruiting Conference presentation a few years ago when talking about how he recruited student-athletes to a school with no scholarships and less-than-decent facilities. Any student-athlete that steps foot on Oklahoma Baptist’s campus does it for the love of the game, especially in the last couple years, as we’ve gone through the transition process from NAIA to Division II and haven’t had the opportunity to qualify for the postseason.
Aside from that, it’s what I know. I helped grow the game on the boys’ side all through high school; my friends and I started the first high school boys’ program in the state in 2006. Comparatively speaking, the boys’ side has taken off and now has a healthy structure that progresses from the youth to high school ranks. Now, I get the opportunity to help grow the girls’ side at the high school level.
While part of that has just been being a consistent presence at high school games in the state, a lot of it has been through the work I did with Red Dirt Lacrosse this past summer in the club’s inaugural season. Girls were driving anywhere from 30 minutes to five hours to be on this club team. Exposing those girls to competition outside their admittedly small bubble has exponentially increased their growth in just the past three months… never mind all the additional touches on the ball they’ve received from the practices.
The girls in this state don’t have the opportunities available pretty much anywhere else. Oklahoma doesn’t even have its own chapter within US Lacrosse; we go through Arkansas. The closest summer camps for them up until this past summer were in Dallas and St. Louis. At Oklahoma Baptist, we get to be stewards of the game in a greatly underserved area, and the young women that commit to the Green and Gold understand that. If that doesn’t excite you, you don’t have a pulse!
Not only do I get to grow the game, I also get to experiment in ways that most others might be slightly skeptical about trying. I think sometimes as coaches we get a little to set in our ways, regardless of sport. Coaching in Oklahoma, I feel a freedom to get a little weird with how we game plan and operate.
There’s no doubt in my mind that we finished as the top turnover-causing team in our first season of Division II because of us trying a soccer drill I pulled from FC Barcelona. We don’t sit at the 8 on defense. Our offense is closer to the OKC Thunder and Houston Rockets than the standards of the sport. Without a doubt, I can say I’d be more likely to play a more traditional style if OBU wasn’t on an island six hours away from the nearest Division II school.
If you really stop to look, OBU is just like any other school in the country. We have our challenges, we have our perks. The game’s growth is trending towards the Midwest; the latest NFHS reports show over 1,500 girls participating at the high school level in Missouri. Texas products are starting to litter Division I rosters. There are teams popping up in Iowa, Arkansas and Kansas. Pretty soon, this Siberia will be thawed out, this island will converge with the mainland, and it’ll be just like any other place in the country.
Until then, we’ll keep working to make it happen. That’s why I coach in Oklahoma.