SPRING LAKE–The way Doug Sharp sees it, if you take the best aspect of a handful of different sports and put them together, you’ll end up with the game of lacrosse.
And why wouldn’t Sharp think that way?
He’s been around lacrosse beginning with his childhood as a player in New Jersey. As he grew up, he became more competitive, then became a coach and finally, he helped organize the lacrosse program at Spring Lake beginning with building a foundation of players backed by a supportive group of parents.
“I love all sports and I’ve played practically every sport in some form or fashion from pick-up to backyard games, but there is nothing like lacrosse,” Sharp said. “The only way I can sell it is it’s the defense of basketball, the hand-eye coordination of hockey, spatial awareness of soccer and the contact of football.
“It’s like you take the best of every sport and put it into one and that’s lacrosse,” he said. “It’s fun to play just me and a wall, just practice throwing the ball against the wall. From one to two to 20 guys on the field, lacrosse is fun.”
And Sharp brought his love for the game from New Jersey to West Michigan, where some family had relocated 10 years earlier.
His first coaching gig in West Michigan was at Forest Hills Northern. It was there that Sharp met a young lady from Spring Lake, who lived in that area. They were later married and had three children.
“After two kids, I said there was no way I could keep coaching,” said Sharp, who soon after moved to Spring Lake.. “I stepped down from coaching and got into reffing because I could pick and choose my nights of work instead of six full days a week.” That lasted just a few years before the itch to coach got the better of him. He did a one-year stint coaching at Caledonia, but he was working in Grand Rapids and living in Spring Lake.
“That was like the Bermuda Triangle of commutes,” said Sharp, laughingly. “I thought it’s time to start a program in what is now my hometown of Spring Lake and found some parents to really wanted to help start the program.”
A visit with athletic director Cavin Mohrhardt got the ball rolling, but the veteran AD want a solid commitment from Sharp, who said he would stay around at least until his kids had all graduated from high school.
“If that’s a long enough commitment to get a program started and running, then let’s go,” Sharp said. “Technically, I have two years until I can be released from my commitment, but I continue to love every minute on the lacrosse field with these kids. I’ll keep going as long as we’re still having fun and moving in the right direction.”
So the program started 15 years ago with a program for fifth graders through eighth grade. It was 14 years ago, that the Lakers high school team began competition.
There were plenty of challenges early on. Spring Lake had a team, there were two teams in Grand Rapids, two in Lansing and 23 in the Detroit area. Today, there are about 30 lacrosse teams within a reasonable driving distance of Spring Lake.
Sharp isn’t just focused on his varsity team. The interest in lacrosse at the lower levels is the future of the Laker program.
“It’s amazing how many kids in Spring Lake have picked up a lacrosse stick,” said Sharp, who is the vice president of customer relations for UV Angel in Grand Haven. The numbers prove it with more than 350 kids from K-12 playing the game that Sharp loves so much.
The Laker varsity competes in the OK-Rainbow Conference, with the most experienced teams in Tier 1. There’s a Tier 2, in which Spring Lake competes, and Tier 3.
Each year, the teams are evaluated, and if necessary, moved up or down based on past results.
Spring Lake has had mixed results in the MHSAA-sponsored state tournament. The Lakers have never won a regional title, but the program is healthy and growing thanks to Sharp, the school administration and the parents.
“The superintendent and the AD are fully behind the program and that has made all the difference in the world,” Sharp said. “When everybody is trying to move the ball forward instead of backward, you can accomplish great things.
“I can’t thank the school district enough for embracing this sport.”