By Dave Lohse
Most of the E-Lacrosse staff members were in their early teens or younger when Willie Scroggs, the bearded coach, shocked our world first as a Cinderella champion and then as he reshaped the lacrosse geography with his powerhouse Tar Heels. The success of UNC not only lifted the state and region in the lacrosse community but his championship teams featured many Baltimore players at a time when Maryland schools were perhaps favoring New York talent. Baltimore fans came to love or hate the Tar Heels and the Hopkins v. North Carolina contests become legendary, as did Willie's championship squads. He never claimed the credit, mentored many of the game's current mentors, and after retirement from coaching, has been the Tar Heels number one fan and supporter in every way while also staying very involved in lacrosse on a local, regional and national scale. For all of these things, Coach Scroggs will be inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame this fall. The Hall has many members, but if there were only six or seven males among the distinguished, we think Scroggs would be one of them.
Dave Lohse, the Associate Sports Information Director at North Carolina has been helping E-Lacrosse with our coverage of the Heels' lacrosse teams since our first publication. He has also been in Chapel Hill since the "Willie Era" and is one of the Coach's truest fans and friends. Dave shares some of his thoughts with our readers as the lacrosse community honors Willie Scroggs this year.
I'll never forget the afternoon in May of 1990 when Willie told me he was retiring as the head lacrosse coach at the University of North Carolina. The news hit me like a ton of bricks.
Actually John Swofford, who was then the athletic director at Carolina, eased me into the news. He called me down for a meeting on Thursday, May 17, 1990-those momentous dates stick in your mind-to warn me that the following Sunday, when the Tar Heels played an NCAA quarterfinal game against Harvard, could be Willie's last game as the head coach. Willie was in the room at the time and as the entourage left I told Willie, "You know, I'll never get over this."
It's 12 years later now and to some extent I'm still not over it. A little over a week after that meeting in John Swofford's office, Willie Scroggs' coaching career came to an end, but certainly not his influence as an ambassador for lacrosse. Let me assure you, I have been the recipient of the largesse of his ambassador like skills and the beneficiary of his vast knowledge of the sport he loves.
During the years that Willie coached at Carolina lacrosse became my favorite sport, even surpassing basketball, and that is a strong statement for a native Hoosier. I grew up as a working class stiff in the shadow of the steel mills in Gary, Ind. What I knew about lacrosse was that rich preppie kids played it on the East Coast. Most people where I grew up thought La Crosse was a town in Wisconsin where they brew some amazing Midwestern beers.
What was great about Willie's tenure at Carolina was that I was just one of so many who developed an intense love for the sport here. The marvelous program Willie built turned a lot of folks into lacrosse fans who quite honestly previously did not have much of a clue about the sport. And although lacrosse is by no means the official sport of North Carolina--there are too many golf courses around here for that to happen-it is now played and watched on a scale unimaginable when Willie Scroggs first arrived in 1978. In fact, Willie Scroggs deserves as much credit as anyone for making North Carolinians aware of what a great sport lacrosse is and can be.
Before Coach Scroggs left his job as an assistant coach at Johns Hopkins in 1978 to venture to Chapel Hill, the Tar Heel program had enjoyed some limited success. UNC had been to the NCAA Tournaments in 1976 and in 1977 but the Heels had never won an ACC championship or an NCAA Tournament game.
Then came the Scroggs era. In those 12 years the Tar Heels were 120-37 including a sterling mark of 17-8 in the NCAA Tournament. Six of Willie's teams won the ACC championship. Nine of the 12 teams ended the season ranked in the Top 5 in the country. Nine of the teams reached the semifinals or finals of the NCAA Tournament. The 1981 and 1982 teams were unbeaten national champions and the 1986 team still is the lowest seeded team to ever win an NCAA men's lacrosse title.
Coaching era Willie with and without the beard
Willie led his teams at Carolina out on the field 157 times. But it isn't even the games I remember as fondly as the post-game tailgates, the loyal parents, the amazing collection of players he recruited, the groupies who followed the team, the celebrations after especially sweet victories, the frustrations after crushing defeats, the tears, the smiles and the things that make the game so human and so exhilarating.
Willie has been a full-time administrator now for 12 years. The players he recruited who have gone on to great success in their chosen careers carry on his legacy. Many of the New Yorkers and Baltimore folks he recruited to play at Chapel Hill settled here in North Carolina to raise their families and jump start their careers so he has even had a positive economic impact on the Tar Heel State. And there are many high school and college coaches out there who were part of Willie's program at Carolina including folks like John Haus, Dave Klarmann, Richie Meade, Jim Buczek, Joe Breschi, Joey Seivold, Pat Olmert and Don Zimmerman among others.
Scroggs Products: Zimmerman, Breschi, Haus and Klarmann
He is truly loved in Chapel Hill for all his contributions to his adopted University but even more so for his contributions as an ambassador for lacrosse that have fomented the growth of lacrosse in the Tar Heel state.
Willie Scroggs will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday, November 22, 2003 in Hunt Valley, Maryland. Joining him in this year's class will be Tom Scheckells and Bernie Ulman (both posthumously), Aggie Bixler Kurtz, Jane Miller, John Cheek, Alison Hersey Risch, Jerry Schnydman, Joan Wagner and Merle "Mike" McCallister Werley. More information on all the inductees can be found at the USLacrosse website.