To me, it didn’t seem like an innocent Twitter communication:
“Lol so stony brook university’s head lacrosse coach is black? interesting haha”
BeLikeMikee’s comment seemed less than innocuous, so I shot back a somewhat snarky response. Many people — including Mike and me— were introduced to Rick Sowell this month. Though the Stony Brook coach is not new to lacrosse, the NCAA championship tournament has pointed him out to the thousands of lacrosse fans who knew nothing of this man.
Why is he so special? Because in this case, first impressions really matter, and BeLikeMikee said it well in his follow-up tweet: “its actually just unexpected because lacrosse is often perceived to be a white sport” Sowell is no longer playing the game, he’s at the helm of an East Coast college, running the show.
More than 10,000 people (and a national t.v. audience) watched as Sowell and the Stony Brook Seawolves in the quarterfinals of the NCAA championship, holding their own against #1 Virginia before losing 10-9.
This can only be good for the sport of lacrosse — akin to Tiger Woods’ appearance in golf, Art Shell in the NFL and the Williams sisters in tennis. When African Americans see people like them in a sport, more and more will take up that sport. In two weekends of tournament play viewers have seen an African American coach and at least two African American players, Shamel and Rhamel Bratton of Virginia.
Lacrosse is a great sport and I, for one, relish any opportunity to broaden the number of participants to the sport. Let’s keep breaking race and economic barriers that limit participation.
So where did this guy come from? I’ve done the obligatory Google searches on Sowell and he seems to be a man who has been successfully — and quietly— working his way up in lacrosse. He started in 1984 when he joined the lacrosse team at State University of New York in Cobleskill, then transferring to Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. The very next year, 1985, he started raked in the awards, including Division III National Midfielder of the Year, MVP and best athlete awards and all-star awards. He played for five years with the Baltimore Thunder of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League, pulling in three first-team all-pro awards.
He began coaching lacrosse in 1988 at Mout St. Albans High School in Washington, D.C., and assistant coach at Georgetown University (including two NCAA tournament appearances.) In 1999 he went to Dartmouth, and in four years took that team from last place to first in the Ivy League, earning coach of the year award in 2003.
In 2003 he was hired to restart the St. John’s team, which had been idle since 1994. In 2006, he joined the Seawolves. Stony Brook finished this season with 10-3 record, an American East championship and an NCAA appearance. Rick Sowell was named America East Conference Coach of the Year.
There’s not a lot you can know about a man based on a few sideline shots during a televised game, but Sowell seems like a level-headed man with a love for the game. With the national notice he gained this month, maybe more people will see that the game of lacrosse is growing, expanding and changing complexion.