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Former Johns Hopkins lacrosse star Kyle Harrison, ‘an ambassador for young men of color,’ bringing retirement tour home to Baltimore

Kyle Harrison and goodbyes don’t mix.

Case in point: Harrison navigated through six seasons and 120 episodes of “Lost” before refusing to watch the 121st and last episode of the television series. He did the same with nine seasons and 133 episodes of “Suits” and most recently eight episodes of “WandaVision,” stopping before the series finales.

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“I don’t like finalities,” he said. “Never have. I can’t tell you how many shows I’ve watched until the last episode and then haven’t finished watching that last episode because that means it’s over.”

Harrison’s reluctance has given way to acceptance after announcing earlier this month that this summer will be his last as a professional in the Premier Lacrosse League.

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His farewell tour brings him and his Redwoods teammates to face the Chaos Saturday at 5:15 p.m. at Baltimore’s Homewood Field where, as a midfielder for Johns Hopkins from 2002-05, he never lost a game (36-0) and helped the 2005 squad complete an unblemished 16-0 season en route to the program’s eighth of nine NCAA Division I titles. Before Hopkins, Harrison was a three-sport athlete at Friends School in Baltimore.

Yet those who know Harrison best insisted that his greatest contribution to the sport might be his visible presence as a torchbearer who paved the way for Rhamel and Shamel Bratton, Myles Jones, Pat Young and more players of color.

“Kyle is an ambassador for his team and the game and for all those young men of color that are going to come after him,” said former Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala, who had a front-row seat to Harrison’s growth as a player and a person. “He understands the responsibility he has to open doors, to help young men understand how to take advantage of those opportunities, and help them understand how spectacular those opportunities are.”

For his part, Harrison, 38, balked at the notion of being called a pioneer. That’s something for other people to talk about, he said, and he notes he’s just trying to do things the right way. But he admitted he is honored that many players view him as a role model.

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“It means the world,” he said. “When I talk about my journey and what I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of in this sport, I would never have thought that anything like this would have ever happened. When I got to Hopkins, I won a national championship. Then I got to play professionally and have a 17-year career. And now you have [fellow Redwoods midfielders] Myles Jones and Jules Heningburg and the guys that have come along, and to think that my career has had some sort of influence on their careers and the choices they’ve made, it means the world.

“It’s something I can’t fully comprehend, but I certainly appreciate when I’m mentioned in those types of things.”

The Redwoods' Kyle Harrison (18) in action during a Premier Lacrosse League game on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019 in Columbus, Ohio. Harrison, 38, will return to Homewood Field this weekend where he never lost a game as a Johns Hopkins midfielder from 2002-05.
The Redwoods' Kyle Harrison (18) in action during a Premier Lacrosse League game on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019 in Columbus, Ohio. Harrison, 38, will return to Homewood Field this weekend where he never lost a game as a Johns Hopkins midfielder from 2002-05. (AJ Mast/AP)

Paul Rabil has had the luxury of calling Harrison a teammate at Johns Hopkins in 2005, a friend who hosted Rabil on his official visit as a high school junior, and an opponent when they played in Major League Lacrosse. But Rabil said he treasured meeting Harrison for coffee at the Iron Rooster in Canton in January 2017 when Rabil floated the idea of him and his brother Mike either acquiring the MLL or starting their own organization.

“It’s huge,” Rabil, co-founder of the PLL, said of Harrison’s support, which includes the latter serving as the organization’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion and director of player relations. “Kyle is a unique figure in the sport. I don’t know anyone in lacrosse — and I’m not sure there are people in other professional sports — who is as well-liked across his peers. ... To have as many opponents that we all have as professional athletes like him is a credit to his character. So I knew that Kyle’s buy-in was really important to the trust-building of professional lacrosse players in the U.S. and Canada in getting them to leave the MLL and come over to the PLL.”

With a laugh, Harrison recalled conference calls in 2018 involving the Rabil brothers, chief operating officer Andrew Sinnenberg, former senior vice president of lacrosse operations and general counsel Rob Sanzillo and Archers midfielder Tom Schreiber.

“Now we have Tuesday morning meetings, and that thing has something like 67 people on it,” Harrison said. “I am proud to be a part of it. Obviously, there’s a ton of work left to do, but I’m happy with the direction so far.”

Kyle Harrison was a three-time All American lacrosse player for Johns Hopkins.
Kyle Harrison was a three-time All American lacrosse player for Johns Hopkins. (Francis Gardler, Patuxent Publishing)

With investment stakes in Tomahawk Shades, Sunniva Super Coffee, STX and Legends Lacrosse, Harrison said retirement will look similar to his current workday — it just won’t have the three hours of training sandwiched between everything else. He thinks if all he had to do was train and play he could compete a little longer, but ultimately he said the time to step away from the sport was right for him and his wife, Meredith.

“We have two children now that when I think about the future, Brooke is 6 and Smith is about to turn 4, and they’re doing stuff. They’re going to the pool, they’re going to the beach, they’re changing,” he said, adding that he knew this summer would be his final season after the end of PLL’s two-week bubble tournament in Utah in August. “I leave for three days over the weekend, and they’re different people when I get back. So you want to be around for those things.”

Pietramala characterized Harrison as a certain Hall of Famer, while Rabil said Harrison is still building his legacy and has a future in whatever avenue he chooses in the sport.

“It will be everlasting as a player, as a mentor, as a colleague, as a friend,” Rabil said. “He has impacted so many. I think the industry is his oyster. He can be a great coach if he wants to do that. He will remain an executive with the PLL, and he works with US Lacrosse on the development of their national teams. He’s constantly in the community helping build lacrosse programs.

“He is one of the most important people this sport has had over the last three decades, and that will last into the next generation.”

One of Harrison’s lasting memories is a three-week period in 2005 when he helped the Blue Jays capture the national championship, won the Tewaaraton Award, made Team USA, and was selected with the No. 1 overall pick of the MLL draft. He acknowledged that visiting Homewood Field this weekend seems a fitting stop on his farewell tour.

“Homewood Field is a special place to me and my family for the four years I got to spend there,” he said. “So I’ll be so excited and honored for the opportunity to play there as a professional and have it be one of the last times I play. … Homewood will always be home for me. It will always hold a special place in my heart.”

PREMIER LACROSSE LEAGUE

Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Field

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June 25-27

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