xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Steve Willett, pivotal figure on Anne Arundel County girls lacrosse scene, dies at age 66

Steve Willett speaks to players from the Crosse-Over program following a game that was part of the exchange program with the Stockport Metros.
Steve Willett speaks to players from the Crosse-Over program following a game that was part of the exchange program with the Stockport Metros. (Courtesy Photo)

With three athletically inclined daughters, it was inevitable Steve Willett would get involved with recreational programs.

In keeping with his mindset of never doing anything halfhearted, Willett always charged right into leadership roles whenever deciding to volunteer. He was one of the founding fathers of the St. Mary’s Annapolis Lacrosse and Field Hockey Association, coaching his daughters in both sports at various levels.

Advertisement

Willett served as director of lacrosse for the St. Mary’s Annapolis association from 1989 through 2000 and executive director of the entire organization from 2000 to 2007. Determined to build strong programs supported by a solid foundation, the longtime Arnold resident worked hard to recruit volunteers for various roles.

That natural leadership combined with superior organizational skills and a passion for developing young athletes would be a trademark of Willett’s as his volunteer efforts expanded to numerous other organizations.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Willett, a key figure with the Anne Arundel County girls lacrosse community, died Nov. 20 from complications of pancreatic cancer. He died at home surrounded by family at the age of 66.

Willett’s death will create an immediate void for two programs of which he was still actively involved: Indian Creek girls lacrosse and Anne Arundel County Crosse-Over. The Crownsville private school must now find a new head coach, while the cultural exchange organization must identify a new director.

Willett took over Indian Creek varsity girls lacrosse in 2010 and led the program to three IAAM C Conference championships, the most recent of which came last spring. Midfielder Megan Bunker, a Capital Gazette first team All-County selection, was leader of that 2021 team that finished 15-1.

Bunker had a close relationship with Willett, having grown up as his next-door neighbor. She played for Willett with St. Mary’s Annapolis and Crosse-Over before following him to Indian Creek, even though she could have played at an A Conference school.

Advertisement

Now playing basketball and women’s lacrosse at Seton Hill University, Bunker said Willett had a “special impact” on every player he coached.

“The most important thing about coach Willett was that he didn’t just make his players into better lacrosse players, he made them into better people. The values he instilled in me and my teammates will stay with us for a lifetime,” she said.

Bunker, the all-time leading scorer in Indian Creek girls lacrosse history, recalled some of the traditions Willett established, such as having players do “20s” or yell “piperoski” after taking a shot.

“These things I used to think were silly at practice now bring a smile to my face when I remember the hilarious and meaningful memories they created,” she said. “There’s nobody else I would rather have as my teacher, coach and family. He was a once-in-a-lifetime person and I’m so fortunate to have been able to build the bond with him I did.”

Indian Creek girls' lacrosse coach Steve Willett (second from right) poses with (from left) assistant Kevin Rose along with sisters Molly and Megan Bunker. Willett was the next door neighbor of the Bunker family and Molly's godfather.
Indian Creek girls' lacrosse coach Steve Willett (second from right) poses with (from left) assistant Kevin Rose along with sisters Molly and Megan Bunker. Willett was the next door neighbor of the Bunker family and Molly's godfather. (Courtesy Photo)

Tyler Larkin, director of campus programs at Indian Creek, also had known Willett since childhood. That’s because his father, Drew, worked alongside Willett with such organizations as the Bilderback Lacrosse Foundation and Chesapeake chapter of US Lacrosse.

“Lacrosse was not a game for coach Willett — it was a lifestyle and a family. The effect coach had on Indian Creek and the greater Anne Arundel County community of lacrosse players will live on for generations,” Larkin said.

Kevin Rose was introduced to Willett in 1991 when his daughter joined the St. Mary’s Annapolis program and he agreed to volunteer. A few days later, Rose received a call from Willett asking for help lining the fields.

Rose has worked with Willett as a coach with the Crosse-Over Tour since 2005 and served as his assistant at Indian Creek for the past five years.

“Steve was very dedicated and very passionate. He was extremely caring and inclusive, and skill level never made any difference,” said Rose, noting Willett disliked dividing players into A, B and C divisions at the youth level, believing the better players should help the others improve.

On Monday, dozens of former Indian Creek players went back to the school to sign a girls lacrosse jersey that will be given to the Willett family. Athletic Director Jason Werner wanted to use the No. 1, but Rose made sure it was the No. 23 that Willett wore as a player.

Jeff Bunker met Steve and Heidi Willett when the couple bought his grandmother’s house that was part of a family compound on Church Road in Arnold. They were neighbors for 16 years with Willett, the first person to greet Bunker when he brought his first child home from the hospital.

Jeff Bunker would wind up having five daughters and, when he enrolled Megan in the St. Mary’s Annapolis program, he was strongly encouraged by Willett to get involved — serving first as a coach and then as a commissioner.

“Steve was a great mentor, helping me navigate through the challenges of dealing with parents, coaches and players,” Jeff Bunker said. “He helped me organize clinics, play days and evaluations.”

Willett served as director and head coach for the Crosse-Over program from 1996 until his death. It was modeled after the boys’ lacrosse exchange between Anne Arundel County and the Stockport Metros, but Willett was determined to make the girls version better.

Crosse-Over put significant emphasis on the cultural and educational aspects of the program, making sure the visiting players from England toured the monuments and museums of Washington, D.C. In odd years, the Anne Arundel contingent travels to England and visits historical sites.

“Steve took great pride in doing things first-class and spent a lot of time making sure the players understood they were ambassadors of the United States,” said Jeff Bunker, who has been involved with Crosse Over for the past decade. “If we went to the Tower of London, Steve would get everyone together later and ask the players to report what facts they learned during the trip.

“Steve was very intelligent and loved to teach. Coaching lacrosse was a way for Steve to do that.”

Born Sept. 20, 1955, in Chicago, Steve Albert Willett moved to the Annapolis area and attended St. Mary’s Elementary School. He is a 1973 graduate of St. Mary’s High, where he played football and lacrosse.

Willett attended what was then known as Towson State University, where he met the love of his life. He founded BWA Courier with his father in 1976, then married Heidi the following year.

Willett took over as president of BWI Courier in 1986 and built a thriving business that was based in Annapolis. Steve and Heidi had three daughters — Shannon, Erin and Megan — and their activities are what got both parents involved with youth sports.

Willett worked with the St. Mary’s High girls lacrosse program from 1997 through 2002, serving as junior varsity head coach and assistant for the varsity squad. He spent one season as head coach of women’s lacrosse at Anne Arundel Community College.

Willett was co-founder and board member of the Anne Arundel Women’s Lacrosse Association from 1997 through 2002. From 1994 to 2000, he served on the coach’s council for the Girls Lacrosse of Anne Arundel County organization and as director of the Chesapeake Rising Stars program.

Advertisement

Other roles included vice president of the Chesapeake chapter of US Lacrosse (1994-2000), board member and director of girls lacrosse for the Bilderback Lacrosse Foundation (1995-2012) and advisory board member for Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks.

Advertisement

Willett was presented with the Willie Gateau Memorial Service Award by the Touchdown Club of Annapolis in 2018 and the prestigious Bildy Award for longtime, exemplary contributions to Anne Arundel County lacrosse in 2008.

Willett was a lifelong supporter of St. Mary’s High and volunteered for his alma mater in multiple capacities. He helped found the Royal Blue Club and served as president for many years. He also served two decades as chair of the St. Mary’s High Athletic Hall of Fame committee.

“Steve laid the groundwork for the success of the Royal Blue Club,” said Eddie Mullen, who worked closely with Willett with that organization. “Steve was a true, blue alumnus of St. Mary’s.”

Willett received the Distinguished Graduate Award from the St. Mary’s Alumni Association. Meanwhile, the St. Mary’s Annapolis Lacrosse and Field Hockey Association named an annual scholarship in honor of Willett in 2001.

Willett was preceded in death by his parents — Albert and Irene Brislen Willett — and is survived by his wife of 44 years, Heidi. He is also survived by his three children — Shannon Willett Kelly and husband Christopher, Erin Willett Davis and husband Michael, Megan Willett Scorzafava and husband Matthew — along with eight grandchildren.

A celebration of life will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family asks mourners to donate to the Steve Willett Lacrosse Crosse-Over Exchange Scholarship fund (P.O. Box 151, Arnold, MD 21012).

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement