History of East Grand Rapids Lacrosse (1987-present)
Lacrosse has become an integral part of the athletic program at East Grand Rapids, rivaled in participation only by football. Lacrosse is being played at all levels, from grade school through high school, both boys and girls. It has become such a large part of us that it becomes hard to imagine what it was like without it.
Back in the early 80’s, a group of former college lacrosse players formed an adult club team in Grand Rapids. That team was coached and supported by Tom Mitchell. Tom had a very distinguished lacrosse pedigree. He started playing the game at The Friends School in Baltimore, a premier prep powerhouse in lacrosse. He then attended Penn State University, where he excelled at defense, earning All-American honors in 1942 and playing for the North squad in the North-South College All-Star game. After serving a stint in the US Navy, he played for the Mount Washington Lacrosse Club which for many years was the top men’s club team in the country.
After a few years, Tom approached the athletic department at East with the idea of starting a high school lacrosse team. The sport of lacrosse was introduced to the community through middle school gym classes. Finally in 1987, the first high school lacrosse team at East was formed. Mr. Mitchell recruited Rick Morris to be the first coach of that team. Among their first opponents was the newly formed Forest Hills lacrosse team, and thus a rivalry was born.
Lacrosse at East Grand Rapids continued to grow through the late 80’s and early 90’s. In early 90’s, Mike Schanhals (currently the head coach at Hope College) took the reigns of the lacrosse program and led the Pioneers to their first 2 state championships in 1993 and 1994. After Mike left the program to pursue teaching in another district, the program was led in the interim by East’s hockey coach Jim Dart. Coach Dart would lead the Pioneers to their 3rd state title in 1996. Former East Grand Rapids and Johns Hopkins Alumni Greg Tanis would return to EGR to take over the lacrosse program. Greg not only led ’99 squad to the 4th state title, he also upgraded the Pioneer’s schedule by competing in the top division in the state. This put top private school teams like Brother Rice, Detroit Country Day, and Cranbrook on East’s regular season schedule. Coach Tanis left to pursue his career out of state. His assistant, Dan Wood, would take over the program in 2001, but he too would leave after that season to pursue his career and family outside of Michigan. The reality was that if EGR was going to remain competitive in the sport and continue to grow they would need to have consistent leadership.
In the summer of 2001, Rick DeBlasio and Adam Vincent (both coaches in the EGR Lacrosse system) proposed a long term leadership strategic plan. The plan was for Rick to become the varsity head coach for a period of 3 seasons and then Adam, who was the associate head coach during that time, would take over the program. In 2002, Rick and Adam started a journey that would result in 8 straight trips to the state championship game and 5 titles (2002, 2004, 2007, 2008, and 2009). During this period, EGR would become recognized as amongst the best programs in the state. Adam took over the program in 2005 and continued through 2011. Combined, Rick and Adam brought teams to the state championship game in 10 of the 11 years they coached.
Cedric Soubry coached the Pioneers for two years, 2012 and 2013 falling to the ultimate state champion both years in the Semifinal game. Current coach, Mike Stankiewicz, a 2008 Brother Rice graduate (All State, All Midwest, and the team was the 2008 Inside Lacrosse National Champion), again coached the Pioneers to the semifinal game and lost to the ultimate state champion in 2014.
The success of the lacrosse program at EGR is due in a large part to the foundations that are built in the grade school and middle school programs. Prior to 1995, the high school program (varsity and junior varsity) were the only teams. In 1995, led by the efforts of Rob Elliott, the first middle school team was formed. Rob was assisted by Adam Vincent that first year and the two grew the program from that first year of 2 games (both against Forest Hills!) and 25 players to a robust full season schedule including games and tournaments in Detroit and over 75 players from grade 6 to 8. From there, the program was pushed down into the grade school where lacrosse is formally coached as early as 1st grade.
Over it’s 28 year history, East Grand Rapids has earned 9 State Championships, 2 MHSAA sportsmanship awards, 4 Coach of Year awards, over 100 All State Awards, 11 All Americans, and 2 Players of the Year. With the popularity of the sport continuing to grow and the efforts and dedication of its constituents at an all time high, it is an exciting time to be associated with the East Grand Rapids Lacrosse program.
East has nine state championships (1993, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009)