The IWLCA honored eleven Trailblazers at US Lacrosse Headquarters last weekend, and I had the distinct pleasure of attending the event. If you read about them or heard of their achievements, it is obvious that these women were properly lauded as great coaches, mentors, and pioneers of the sport and the coaching profession. But I want to share my perspective on the enormity of their impact, one that is difficult to quantify.
As I listened to these women share memories of their coaching days, many of them gently ribbing the others in attendance, or their former players that had made the trip, it became clear that there was a bond between them that is rarely seen in this digital age we now live in. Their passion and exuberance for the sport, the coaching profession, and each other was truly touching. People often claim that women’s lacrosse is a small world and has a unique culture that must be experienced to be appreciated. I consider myself fortunate to have now met many of the women responsible for creating the sense of community and connectedness that many of us take for granted.
One of the things that struck me the most about this group of women was their humility and sense of responsibility for the game. None of them sought this recognition, and in fact, many of them were stunned when notified of this honor. When they were actively coaching, they weren’t trying to blaze a trail, or make history; they were simply doing their job and sharing their passion for the sport with the young women they coached. Each of them cared enough about the game to take on a role beyond coaching a collegiate team. Almost every one of them held leadership positions within the USWLA, IFWLA, or the IWLCA. Many served as umpires and were athletic administrators. All have prodigious lists of former players they inspired to coach at all levels of the sport.
Make no mistake, these women all made history in one way or another, whether through on the field achievements, off the field service and leadership, or the impact they had on the individual people they worked with. I spoke with numerous former players of these Trailblazers and listened to them reminisce. Not one mentioned the score of a game, referenced an accolade or title, or anything that might be included in the sports information archives at their institution. What I did hear were stories of lessons learned, beliefs adopted, and gifts that were given freely. I heard women quoting their former coaches the way college kids quote their favorite movies. I heard stories of coaches attending weddings, funerals, and the birth of their former players’ children. I saw hugs, laughter, and even a few teary eyes.
At a time in our country’s history when women were often relegated to second-class status, especially in higher education, these women, through their heart, their perseverance, and their selflessness, set an example for their players to aspire to. They empowered the young women they coached to be their best selves and care for their communities. They taught their players that resilience, strength, and toughness were critical to success and that sometimes you needed to be loud just to be heard. They showed them that some things are worth fighting for and that overcoming adversity makes you stronger. The Trailblazers set a standard for excellence, laid a foundation for the growth of the sport at the collegiate level, and blazed a trail as pioneers.
It would be impossible to overstate the impact of these women on our sport. Their contributions to the game undoubtedly moved us forward. But their legacies lie in the lives they influenced through teaching the game, sharing their passion, and fostering a service mentality. Without these Trailblazers, we wouldn’t have had the next generation of coaches or the one after that. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the Trailblazers, one that can never be repaid. But it can be acknowledged, and it can be remembered. And every time we walk along the Chris Sailer Trail at US Lacrosse Headquarters, we have the opportunity to do that, and to share it with the next generation of players, coaches, and officials.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about the individual Trailblazers, please visit the IWLCA website.
Patricia Price Genovese
Tina Sloan Green