The Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association is home to some of the best high school lacrosse players in the country, and is known as one of, if not the most, competitive high school lacrosse conferences in the nation.
With players like Pat Spencer, Kyle Harrison and the Stanwick brothers all coming from the Baltimore-area private school conference, the impact of these programs transcends beyond Maryland.
However, players in the conference didn’t get to showcase their talent last year. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the conference’s lacrosse championships, leaving many players without the opportunity to play on the big stage.
But that is not the case this year. The MIAA A Conference semifinals will be held at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium May 18, and the MIAA A and B Conference championships will be held at the same venue May 21. Legendary Sports Group is running the MIAA championships in partnership with title sponsor Lids, a sports retailer.
“The kids not having a championship last year, we want to make this championship is as special as we can for the MIAA players,” Legendary Sports Group president Dave Cottle said.
Legendary Sports Group and Lids plan to make an all-encompassing experience for the high school athletes, with DJ’s, music and interactive video boards. The games will also be broadcasted on WBAL/MeTV and Legendary Sports Group’s YouTube account, which has streamed numerous Games of the Week during the course of the 2021 MIAA season.
Cottle hopes the championship experience will create that “big-game” feel for the high school players and staff once again.
“We’re going to dress that up as much as we can so the guys have that kind of taste of what a professional lacrosse game used to be like,” said Cottle, the former head coach of the Chesapeake Bayhawks, who played their home games at Navy.
The process of securing an adequate stadium for this event was challenging in the planning for Legendary Sports Group and Lids. With some restrictions still in place across Maryland in terms of large gatherings and with many high schools not being fully in person yet, the ability to use the venerable Navy stadium was something that was a huge boost in getting the championship week set.
The capacity for Navy-Marine Corps Stadium is 34,000, so there’ll be plenty of room for fans to spread out.
“The schools not being in session or social distancing makes it tough to find a venue that will allow a crowd,” Lids chairman and CEO Tom Ripley said. “And then how much can you disperse that crowd in the venue? So the acquisition of the Navy stadium for the championship is frankly wonderful and it’s a special venue, one of the best lacrosse venues in the country.”
Ripley has a deep connection to the Naval Academy and lacrosse. Ripley’s father, Colonel John Ripley, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1962 and had a legendary career in the United States Marine Corps.
Colonel Ripley served two tours of duty in Vietnam, earning the Navy Cross for his actions at Dong Ha Bridge. The story of “Ripley at the Bridge” is displayed in a diorama on Navy’s campus.
Tom Ripley was formerly the assistant coach at Archbishop Spalding High School, a member of the MIAA. His son, Race, is currently a junior attackman for Spalding and is committed to play lacrosse for Navy after graduating from high school in 2022.
Tom Ripley’s connection to both Navy and local lacrosse increases the importance for Ripley with his involvement in the championships.
“It is incredibly important that these boys have an opportunity to play. Team sports is one of the few places where you are taught both teamwork and meritocracy,” Ripley said. “Being a productive member of a team is critical to be successful, and sports is one of the places you get a chance to do that. So we couldn’t be happier to be a part of this event, to provide the opportunity for these boys to play.”
For Cottle, he has the same connection to local lacrosse. He was a head coach at the high school level with Severn School, at the college level with Loyola and Maryland and at the professional level with the Bayhawks.
As Cottle grows older, his experiences he has had in coaching and with players have driven him to be an influence in getting these players back on the field on the big stage.
“I think as you get older, you try to do everything you can for the kids to make sure that they get out of their experience what they deserve,” Cottle said. “What happened last year was unfair to all.”
For Cottle and Ripley, they understand the importance of how this experience may have a lasting impact on these players as they move on to the next stages of their lives.
“Hopefully the teams that are playing the best will win and really have an experience that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” Cottle said.
The 11-team MIAA A Conference tournament begins May 13. McDonogh, which went 10-0 in the regular season, is the No. 1 seed and earned a first-round bye.
Tickets for the semifinals and championship games can be purchased here.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox