These days, it’s easy to look at the Hutchison lacrosse team in awe. Over the past 15 years, the girls who have played lacrosse at Hutchison have combined skill, teamwork, and determination to build the best team in the city and state. The Hutchison Sting has captured seven consecutive Tennessee state lacrosse titles since 2010 and eight total state titles to date.
What makes it all the more amazing is that back in 2000, when Dr. Annette Smith arrived, there was no lacrosse team at Hutchison. Hutchison’s next door neighbor, Memphis University School, had a lacrosse team, but there was no girls’ lacrosse presence at any school in the city.
Enter Mimi Gibson and her daughter Megan Gibson Quinn ’06. In 2001, the Gibson family had just relocated to Memphis from Connecticut. Megan had played lacrosse in middle school in Connecticut and Mimi had done some coaching. After sitting out the spring of her seventh grade year because there was no team at Hutchison, Mimi recalled Megan coming to her and saying: “Mom, this is crazy. We have to do something about this!” Lacrosse was Megan’s sport, and she didn’t want to live without it.
Mimi Gibson approached Hutchison’s athletics director Catherine Chubb and floated the idea: would Hutchison be interested in fielding a lacrosse team? Chubb said although they had considered the idea before, the timing felt right now, with one condition—would Gibson be willing to coach? She was happy to agree. Chubb and Dr. Smith were quickly supportive of the idea.
“I had no question that it was the right thing to do, it was just how to get it done,” Mimi said. “With all the people and support, it was so easy to do, because the kids wanted it and the parents wanted it.”
“I give all the kudos to my mom because she was the one who really had the persistence and drive to make sure there was the infrastructure to have a successful program in place,” Megan said. “Being on the player’s side, it was fun to share a sport that I loved with friends.”
So in 2002, Hutchison was the first girls’ school in the city to have a lacrosse team. What was created here has inspired other schools and left a legacy of players for current Hutchison girls to aspire to.
From Cradle to Sensation
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Although lacrosse has a long history, with its beginnings as a Native American game, for many in the south it often was considered a “sport played in the northeast.” Indeed, that is where it is most popular. But since 2000, lacrosse has grown explosively across the nation. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, participation by boys and girls in high school lacrosse nearly doubled from 2000 to 2008, growing from 74,225 players to 143,946 players. It is now considered one of the fastest growing sports in the United States.
But it wasn’t just about keeping up with a fad. “If you’re a soccer player and you understand a little bit of basketball, lacrosse is the perfect combination of the two,” said Jill Allen, a full-time physical education teacher at Hutchison, who served as assistant coach when Gibson was head coach. “The movement up and down the field is similar to soccer, and the movement right around the goal is similar to basketball.”
Allen suggested another reason that she thought lacrosse appealed to the girls: “It’s a pretty sport, even though it’s a gritty sport. I think a girl can feel strong and gritty and graceful at the same time. There’s a gracefulness in it that you don’t see in a lot of sports. Just the motion of lacrosse, where there’s the stretch and reach and catch and throw, or the way in which you keep the ball in your stick. So, I think for us as girls growing into women, many sides of our natural temperaments get to come out in the sport.”
Mimi Gibson also believed that lacrosse offered more than just an athletic pursuit. “Lacrosse was the avenue, the vehicle, by which these kids could really see themselves succeed and work hard toward something that made a huge difference in their lives. And, if they could succeed in lacrosse, they could succeed in anything.”
“Dr. Smith realized that lacrosse would help our girls grow,” added Allen.
Getting the Ball Rolling
So how do you start a team from scratch? First, you recruit. Mimi started by asking Megan’s friends if they might be interested in lacrosse. Most of them had never played the sport; some may never have even heard of it.
Caroline Schaefer ’08 was one of the girls Megan and Mimi invited to try lacrosse. “They gave me a stick, and I loved it, and the rest is history,” she said. She started playing her sophomore year and was on the team when Hutchison won its first state championship in 2007. “I remember from that point on everyone taking pride in the team and Hutchison. That feeling was pretty awesome. The people I played with on that team are still some of my best friends. I grew a lot from being on that team. It contributed to me as a person, not just an athlete.”
Schaefer went on to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville where she played club lacrosse. After graduation, she returned to Memphis and was an assistant coach for the Hutchison team for three years. Each year those teams won the state championship. Schaefer’s time playing lacrosse and working as an assistant coach encouraged her to return to Knoxville and get a master’s in sports management, which she just completed. “I can’t say enough about Coach Chubb or Dr. Smith, because I know I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I’ve had without them.”
But that first team still had to learn an entirely new sport. Although Mimi Gibson had coached some in Connecticut, she had another idea: to reach out to Cathy Swezey, the head coach of Vanderbilt’s Division 1 women’s lacrosse team, and ask her to run a clinic in Memphis. “She hopped right on it and the girls were fantastic. The ball got rolling, and it’s never stopped.” The clinic was open to all girls in Memphis, and shortly afterward St. Mary’s started a team. The Vanderbilt coach and players returned to run clinics before several other seasons as well.
“I actually went through the clinic with the girls,” said Chubb, “so I learned to catch and throw. Beyond the Gibsons, nobody at Hutchison had been exposed to lacrosse, so everyone started out as newbies,” she added. “There was no fear of how to compete with the player who had been playing since she was four. There’s a certain level of confidence that you have when everybody’s new; that we’re all going to figure this out together and build from there.”
“Dr. Smith enabled people to be creative,” said Allen. It was this creativity that jump-started the team.
There were other challenges as well, like how to find referees that knew enough about the game to officiate. And, of course, until there was a more established girls’ lacrosse presence in Memphis, the Hutchison team put on a lot of miles traveling to Nashville to play. They played the best teams in the state in the beginning and that helped them learn quickly.
Because lacrosse requires hand-eye coordination, it was important to get the girls learning younger, so Hutchison started a middle school lacrosse program in 2003 as well. This fed the varsity team. Nowadays, the middle school boasts over 80 girls playing lacrosse. It’s one of the most popular sports for middle school girls to sign up for.
Lacrosse at Hutchison and Beyond
Sandy Smith ’14 started playing lacrosse in the seventh grade. “Coach David Gearhardt pulled me aside one day and said, ‘Would you like to try and play this sport?’ It was exciting and new and something I’d never seen before. Having a background in soccer and basketball, it was an easy transition, and it was something my friends and I bonded over.”
One of Smith’s favorite memories was hosting the state championship game in her senior year, when she helped Hutchison to its fourth consecutive Tennessee state title. During her senior year, Smith scored 45 goals and had 14 assists. She also earned U.S. Lacrosse first-team All-American.
But she admits lacrosse meant so much more than just statistics. “What’s cool is all those relationships that I’ve kept and fostered through lacrosse that are still going strong,” Smith said. It also helped her in college. She attends Stanford where she plays lacrosse and majors in science, technology, and society. While she was at the top of her game at Hutchison, she realized when she got to Stanford that she was surrounded by women who were also at the top of their game.
“Lacrosse builds that mindset of being driven, getting better at something, challenging yourself to something you’ve never done, and stepping out of your comfort zone. That’s definitely prepared me for stepping out of my comfort zone in college. Being faced with new challenges and having people go through the exact same things with you and be there for you every step of the way.”
Smith’s classmate, Loring Gearhardt ’14, has fond memories of watching her father, David, coach at Memphis University School (MUS) when she was young. “I remember being on the sidelines of all the MUS games and just falling in love with the game,” she said. “And when I came to Hutchison and got to start playing in fifth grade, it became
pretty much everything for me.” David Gearhardt now coaches Hutchison’s varsity team.
When she joined Hutchison’s varsity team as a freshman, the team won a state championship that year and the next three years. “We were the first class to go through and win all four state championships. And we took a lot of pride in that,” she recalled. Gearhardt now plays lacrosse at Johns Hopkins, where she’s majoring in economics with a minor in business and entrepreneurship.
“Lacrosse got me where I am today,” Gearhardt said. “It’s taught me how to be a team player. You work your hardest to make the person next to you work her hardest. You learn that you are part of something so much bigger than yourself. That’s helped me with other aspects of my life.”
Megan Gibson Quinn was the first Hutchison graduate to go on to play Division I lacrosse. She went to Vanderbilt and said, “It was a full-time job. To be a Division I athlete is absolutely not the normal college experience. It was one of the most challenging and, by far, one of the most rewarding things that I’ve done.”
Quinn now has a daughter and another on the way and works for Nestlé in sales, so she has a lot to manage. She says lacrosse taught her a lot about how to juggle everything. “The prioritization and time management extend further than sports and into your professional career. Being able to have a competitive mindset and perseverance and figure out how to prioritize is really important every day.”
But above all else, she said, it was the relationships she made. “The community that goes along with the sport is so outstanding anywhere you go in the country,” she added. “Truly it is the people that have made a difference in my life, not necessarily the sport. It’s the people and what I’ve learned from them and the relationships that I’ve built that have helped shape my life.”
And together it was all the people involved in starting the Hutchison team—the players, the teachers, Dr. Smith, Coach Chubb, the parents, and the coaches—that have won those six consecutive state championships. Because as the old adage states, there is no “I” in team.
I can't say enough about Coach Chubb or Dr. Smith, because I know I wouldn't have had the opportunities I've had without them.
- Caroline Schaefer '08