When Tommy Shuey returned to Highland Park from Hofstra University, where he played lacrosse, he noticed something very different about the sports atmosphere. Lacrosse wasn’t just an unpopular sport in Dallas-Fort Worth — it was barely played at all.
The revelation wasn’t exactly surprising. Historically, lacrosse is played most in the Northeast and the Midwest.
When Shuey returned in 2010, high schools in the area had just begun launching lacrosse programs, he said.
“It was almost like lacrosse didn’t belong in Texas, and I didn’t belong [at Hofstra] playing lacrosse,” Shuey said. “When I moved back, I kind of had this goal of not letting Texas be the outcast state any more and growing the sport in Texas, because I knew we had much better athletes and a lot of potential.”
That same year, Shuey and a couple of coaching buddies kick-started Sentry Lacrosse, a youth program for area kids. Shuey spent a couple of years doing double duty while he coached in Highland Park High School’s program, but he eventually left the school to focus on Sentry full-time. At first, only around 30 kids took part in the program, but as many as 500 participated this year.
So far, the program is a competitive success. The Girls Under-17 team won a tournament in Vail, Colo., this month, and the U-15 team made the playoffs.
“I saw the need for that next level of coaching and was sparked by my wanting to get Texas players up there with the best of the best in the Northeast,” Shuey said.
Sentry takes teams to tournaments around the state and country — including locations in San Diego, Orange County, Denver, Baltimore, and Palm Springs.
Colby Kneese, a rising sophomore at Highland Park, has been in the program since it was founded. He said the atmosphere at Sentry is a little more laid back than his school’s team, but the coaches have helped him grow his skill set.
“They really help me improve my game and with recruiting,” he said. “The youth [program] is really good.”
Sentry also provides a connection between youth and university programs. Shuey said college lacrosse programs are slow to recruit in Texas because the state’s high school players are not as developed as Northeast players.
But one advantage Texas players have is their physical prowess, he said. College coaches recruit raw physical talent and hope to convert athletes into lacrosse players.
“It’s a different type of recruiting,” he said of coaches’ strategies in Texas. “They actually recruit more athletes than they do lacrosse players out of Texas, with hopes that once they get to college they can become great lacrosse players.”
That’s where Sentry comes in. Coaches teach simple concepts to first-time players before introducing more complex principles that separate the good players from the great ones. Many teens in Sentry’s program also play for their schools, so the two programs supplement each other.
And while HPHS has a renowned program, Shuey wants the sport to spread.
“Highland Park is great — they’re a powerhouse — but I’m concerned with Texas,” Shuey said. “I want every kid in Texas to get better, because that helps everyone.”