A football player in his days at Edmondson, Anthony “Merc” Ryan didn’t need much convincing to come out for the lacrosse team in the spring. He was a member of the track team, but that was boring and he quickly found lacrosse to be the exact opposite.
These days, as the coach at City, Ryan is devoted to teaching the game of lacrosse. His sell to get players involved is a simple one: Just pick up a lacrosse stick and score that first goal or dish out that first check.
Ryan, who went on to play at Morgan State, has coached at City for seven seasons, taking over a program that went winless the year before and going on to guide the Knights to three Baltimore City titles and, at one point, a 44-game winning streak inleague play.
Before City, he spent five years at Walbrook, where he also won three Baltimore City titles. In the 12 years combined, Ryan’s teams are 118-26 in league play. After Poly wrestled away the league crown last year, the Knights are looking to get back on top this season and have opened the season with a 3-0 mark.
As this week’s Coachspeak guest, we asked Ryan about the growth of lacrosse in Baltimore City, his passion for the game and what it’s going to take for the Knights to capture another tiitle.
What’s the biggest difference with Baltimore City lacrosse now compared to when you first started coaching?
The biggest thing is we have feeder programs now. Myself and my partner have a summer league called Black Lax and then we have a winter league, so we’re trying to get these kids more involved throughout the entire year opposed to just coming out in the spring. It’s coming along gradually, but we’re hoping to get more coaches involved. Historically, you look around and a lot of schools have good athletes, but they’re not learning the game well enough.
How do you go about getting kids to come out for the team?
I like to come up here in the summer and watch football practice. I’ll meet the kids there or find them in the weight room. I’ll look them up and down and say, "Come on out for the lacrosse team." The first year was tough. We had 12 players come out and they acted like I was asking them to come out for the chess team. The first kid I got that turned things around at City was Ellis Foster. He was a stud football player. His father and I worked together, so every day I would ask: "Is Ellis going to play, Is Ellis going to play?" I knew if I got Ellis, I would be able to get other football players out and that’s what happened.
What have been the keys to maintaining success in league play?
It’s just consistency and working hard on the basics like catching and throwing. I’m getting some real good athletes, so it’s just trying to get them acclimated to having that stick in their hand. It’s unnatural for them. Every kid that plays basketball has played some basketball at one time or another. Football, they’ve thrown a football before. They just don’t come out for a sport they’ve never played before. But in lacrosse, we get kids that don’t understand what the lines on the field mean. So the idea is to get them to stick to it and consistently teach them the game.
What is it about lacrosse for you?
It’s just one of those things, one of those sports. The thing is with anybody who has picked up a stick gets glued to it. That’s what happens. I think that’s why it catches on so well. Once you score that first goal or make that first hit, it’s addicting. And there’s a fraternity that’s involved with it throughout. If a guy from the West Coast says I play basketball and I’m on the East Coast playing basketball, it’s like "That’s cool. I play too." But if you get a guy on the West Coast say he plays lacrosse, it’s like "Oh yeah, so do I. For who? What position do you play?" It’s just that kind of sport.
What’s it going to take to unseat Poly and win another City championship?
We’re taking things one step at a time. The schedule has been real good to us, so a lot of things we don’t need to work on right away we don’t. So when we see Poly, we should be polished by then and ready to do what we need to do. These kids are coming along well and as long as we keep progressing, we should be fine. It’s just day by day.