It takes a village: Union Pines lacrosse takes the field thanks to community support
Story and photos by Timothy L. Hale/Special to The Pilot
It will be the first varsity game for this new program at Union Pines, but they will not have arrived at this history-making juncture on their own.
Quite the contrary. The Lady Vikings arrived at this moment thanks to the dedication of community volunteers, the Union Pines administration, and even a cross-county rival.
One could almost apply the adage, “It takes a village…” to the new Union Pines lacrosse program.
Tim Ripley leads the Lady Vikings Lacrosse program along with assistant coaches Todd Telemeco and Tabitha Moses. However, they have not been alone in this endeavor. Thanks to additional support from Tabitha’s husband, Jamie, and Jason Friedman, this group of lacrosse supporters are working to ensure the Union Pines program has a solid foundation for the future.
“This program was started by a group of six young men and four young women who attended Union Pines but had aged out of the club sports programs in the area and had no program to play for in the spring. We lovingly refer to them as the plank-holders of UP Lacrosse,” said Ripley, a 17-year Army veteran and Green Beret senior noncommissioned officer who also played lacrosse during his middle and high school years in Virginia.
Ripley said the boys purchased a goal and gear, coordinated for a place to practice at the New Covenant Fellowship Church (where our men’s team still practices) across from New Century Middle School, and had Carlson Chow assisting them. Ripley said while Chow was new to the sport, he wanted to help these young men with their passion while balancing his military schedule.
“Their initial goal was to simply put together a team for the Duke Snowflake Tournament (6-on-6 modified rules),” Ripley said. “They had a couple of the Pinecrest players getting them started, but a few of them had played some lacrosse at various times when they were younger. Some for Elite Performance Lacrosse (The Reapers) run by Brad Thompsen, currently the assistant coach for Pinecrest men’s lacrosse, and some out of state.”
While the Union Pines program is new, the Lady Vikings do have players on the squad with lacrosse experience.
Melody Ripley, Azilee Moses, and Savannah Telemenco, daughters of the Lady Vikings coaches, all played with the Athletic Club of the Sandhills (ACS) Lacrosse program – a program run by Nikki Schwob at that time but now lead by Steve Olzark as the interim director.
“I call Nikki the mother of Moore County girls lacrosse because not only did she create a competitive travel girl’s lacrosse program, she also helped start the Pinecrest women’s team,” he said.
“I helped out coaching when we lived in Fayetteville for Fayetteville Parks and Recreation for a season when my daughter first started, and for a few seasons with ACS when my military schedule would allow,” Ripley said.
“Because of this, people seemed to think that I knew what I was doing, so I was approached by the parents, who invited me to one of their lacrosse meetings in a Union Pines classroom, after hours, to see if we could get this off the ground.”
It was after that meeting in 2017 that Ripley and some of the parents approached the Union Pines administration to see if there was any interest in starting a lacrosse program.
Ripley said three years ago; the school administration voiced some concerns on whether a lacrosse program would be sustainable and competitive. They also wondered what effect it would have on participation in other spring sports. There was also the looming Title IX requirement to have equal women’s and men’s opportunities to play, which carried a substantial start-up cost.
“So, in November (2017), our solution was to create the Sandhills Lacrosse Association (SLA), a 501(c)3 non-profit, and we attacked it like a full-scale military campaign,” Ripley said. “SLA has become a beast over the past three years and continues to grow. The original board of directors included Tabitha and Jamie (also active duty military); Jason (Friedman); Carlson (Chow); Tim VenJohn; Leslie Brians; the women’s head coach our first season; and Christina Simpson.”
And just like a military campaign, Ripley said they developed five lines of effort. First and second was establishing both men’s and women’s programs at Union Pines. Third was creating opportunities for area youth to learn the game through clinics, instruction, and education. Fourth was creating “connective tissue” between other lacrosse organizations to pool resources, coaching staffs, and networks. Finally, providing gear at no charge to “keep lacrosse affordable for everyone possible.”
Ripley said they are steadily working to address each of these efforts.
“We’ve checked off the Union Pines women’s team goal and are now focusing on the men’s program for 2021. We’ve been very fortunate to run two spring Club Teams for the women’s program before this varsity season, and this will be our third season for the men’s club team under the banner of the SLA Warriors.”
He added they have hosted guest players from Pinecrest and even local home-schooled athletes. They also received buy-in from area athletic directors at Pinecrest, Northwood, Cape Fear, Terry Sanford, and D.H. Conley; and support from other organizations to include U.S. Lacrosse, Elite Performance Lacrosse, ACS Lacrosse, N.C. State University Lacrosse. Finally, a Houston, Texas-based program called It Takes a Village Lacrosse.
From Ripley’s perspective, that adage does ring true in the case of Union Pines lacrosse.
“All of these organizations have given us opportunities to play or have donated a tremendous amount of gear that we have distributed,” he said.
“Through the hard work of dozens of people, we now have a budding lacrosse program, fully supported by Union Pines Principal Andy McCormick, Athletic Director Bobby Purvis, and the rest of the Union Pines administration. We can’t thank them enough for having faith in us,” Ripley said.
Fast forward from 2017 to this evening as Ripley, the Union Pines women’s lacrosse team, and volunteer coaching staff take the field against Northwood – a 4A classification and more experienced program. On Friday, they will host Pinecrest at William Wilhoit Stadium – also an experienced class 4A school. But Ripley said playing larger schools with established programs is a welcomed challenge.
“I want them (our Union Pines players) to think about what it is that makes those programs successful, how the experienced players have honed their skills, and how to get there themselves,” he said.
“Lacrosse is a unique sport. It is such a small community. Most of the girls on our team know players from across the programs and are friends with them. I have coached many players that we will compete against this season, and love that lacrosse is like this. My philosophy is that any outcome is possible. The team that wants it more will find a way to win.”
When asked what he thought a good benchmark for success would be for a first-year program, Ripley had a simple answer.
“I don’t plan on putting a number on paper as success or failure,” Ripley said. “It sounds cliché, but if our ladies put it all out on the field, every game, encourage each other, and become a family, then we will have a successful first season.
“Now, do I feel like we may surprise some people? Yes, I do,” Ripley said. “We have some experienced players who have worked together before. I have also been blown away by the talent I have seen so far, and the dedication I have seen by our first-year players. It takes a lot of guts to come out to a new sport when you are close to graduation.”
Keywords: Head Coach Tim Ripley, Lady Vikings lacrosse, Moore County, NC, NCHSAA, net, North Carolina, North Carolina High School Athletic Association, pass, prep sports, referee, shoot, Timothy Hale Photography, timothyhale.com, Union Pines Lacrosse, Union Pines Lady Vikings, www.timothyhale.com, zone defense
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