Simmons's prolific run as a lacrosse coach included six NCAA titles.
Surrounded by students and watching the victims' families, one thought dominated Simmons's mind: "I have to go to Lockerbie." Later in 1989, through privately raised funds, Simmons took his team to Scotland as part of the healing process. "One year after the tragedy," Simmons recalls in a low voice, "the village was still reeling from disaster. The people of Lockerbie had to pick up the carnage."|
Simmons and the Orangemen visited various sites where the plane crashed and the coach placed a lacrosse stick on the Wall of Remembrance, one of the many memorials dedicated to the victims. The team also ran lacrosse clinics with the youth of Lockerbie and the nearby town of Dumfries, giving the kids donated equipment that Simmons had gathered from American sporting goods companies.
The only problem with the clinics, remembers Paul Gait '90, was that the participants had no clue what they were doing. Since women played the only organized lacrosse in Scotland, the players had a lot to teach. "I remember going there and watching these kids who had never played before, and it certainly was interesting for us trying to teach them," says Gait, a three-time first-team All-American at SU. For players like Gait, traveling off the continent for the first time in his life, the experience was unmatched, but the bond between Lockerbie and Syracuse lacrosse did not end when the Orangemen returned home. Simmons got a call from Lockerbie nine months later and was alerted to a problem in the Scottish village. The visit by the SU team had created a phenomenonthe kids of Lockerbie and Dumfries could not stop playing lacrosse. Four or five kids were sharing a stick, and equipment was virtually impossible to find in Scottish sporting goods stores.
A year after his first trip, Simmons returned for the second of his four trips to Scotland. This time he brought his son, Roy Simmons III, and two players who graduated from the SU program. They traveled up and down Scotland, giving clinics and talking to school physical education directors about adding lacrosse to the curriculum. In 1995, the next time Simmons brought his team to Scotland, the Orangemen did not have to travel to London to take on a national opponent like they did in 1989. The Orangemen squared off with the Scottish national team.
And this July, eight-and-a-half years after Simmons and his team brought the male version of the game to the country, the Scottish team competed at the World Gameslacrosse's World Cupin Baltimore. The Scots were one of four teams in the emerging nations bracket and competed against Wales because "once Scotland got a team, the Welsh had to get one too," Simmons says. |
While Simmons had a profound impact as an ambassador of lacrosse, he had an even greater impact on the American game. Simmons's run-and-gun, in-your-face, who-can-score-more style bolstered the game not only for players, but for fans. What Simmons did for lacrosse would be analogous to lighting a chess board on fire to make the contest a little more interesting. Much like Jim Boeheim let Dwayne "Pearl" Washington run an up-tempo fastbreak game in the mid-eighties for the SU basketball team, Simmons let his players act spontaneously on the lacrosse field."
He allowed a game that was formerly defensive to become offensive," Gait says, referring to the methodical and often boring style played by current three-time national champion Princeton. "Princeton is a well-coached team, but they're playing in a system and told exactly what to do. They might not win, but they would have a lot more fun if they played for Coach Simmons. If they had a lot of talent, they would win and enjoy the game."
For Simmons, the influx of an offensive mindset resulted in more scoring, more fans, and more championships for Syracuse. Paul Gait and his twin brother, Gary, epitomized this style in their careers from 1987-90. The year before their arrival, the Orangemen averaged 15.2 goals per game, considered fairly high. By the time the Gaits leftfour years, three national championships, and 319 goals (just between the two of them) laterthe Orangemen were racking up an astounding 20.8 goals per game. "Roy has become an institution of college lacrosse and his university in the last 40 years," says SU Director of Athletics Jake Crouthamel. "He revolutionized the game and in the process built a men's lacrosse program at Syracuse that takes a backseat to none."