By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports activities Communications
Not lengthy after the George Floyd incident final spring, Lehigh head males’s lacrosse coach Kevin Cassese was speaking with a very good good friend and Lehigh lacrosse alumnus Mark Wilson ’94.
That led to a precious alternative for Wilson to attach with the present crew through Zoom.
“I posted one thing after the incident that prompted Coach Cassese’s curiosity; he gave me a name and we simply talked,” stated Wilson. “He requested if I’d give my perspective, simply as an African American citizen, and focus on how I used to be feeling about it and focus on any questions or views from the gamers and coaches.
“We ended up having a very wealthy dialogue, open and sincere dialogue about plenty of completely different points almost about race relations typically within the nation, all the way in which right down to very particularly at Lehigh and inside Lehigh Athletics,” Wilson continued. “It was a really constructive dialog from my perspective.”
Wilson brings precious perspective to the subject, as a Black man who performed (and continues to be concerned with) what’s traditionally been a predominately white sport. For Wilson, the game arose very late (comparatively talking), however has been a mainstay of his life ever since.
“I basically stumbled upon lacrosse accidentally,” he stated. “I went to a highschool that did not have lacrosse, however we added it my junior yr. A good friend’s father took us to an indoor lacrosse recreation, we obtained and realized different excessive colleges had it in our space. A bunch of the soccer guys determined to see if we might get a crew, so we went round with petitions, went to the varsity board and offered it, then obtained a crew accredited.”
The crew struggled within the win-loss column to start, understandably so, however beginning a crew was about greater than statistics or information.
Wilson and his teammates had been pioneers. (And Wilson was a pioneer as a Black student-athlete within the sport as nicely.)
“I did not actually have a idea of the demographics of lacrosse at that stage,” he stated. “As a result of soccer guys helped begin the lacrosse program, there have been three African Individuals on the crew and our coach was additionally African American.”
Lacrosse grew on Wilson, and he determined to proceed enjoying in faculty.
“I walked on at Lehigh,” he stated. “The crew grew and obtained higher whereas I used to be there. Individuals would ask how I discovered about, and obtained uncovered to, the sport.”
Much like highschool, Wilson wasn’t the one Black athlete. There have been two others on Lehigh when he got here in as a freshman – T. Marc Jones and Wayne Bethea.
“I met Wayne and T. Marc by the Lehigh Problem for Success summer time program the place they introduced in minority college students early to take a category and study concerning the faculty,” stated Wilson. “Due to these guys, I had a bonus of realizing the lay of the land. In my junior yr, Coach Brian Jenkins joined this system, who might need been the one African American assistant coach in Division I.
“In plenty of methods, Lehigh created this atmosphere the place it was very snug to be a Black lacrosse participant, rather more so than in all probability plenty of different locations,” Wilson continued. “I had the benefit of the Problem for Success program, so I had Black and Latino friends who I knew on campus already, and did not really feel remoted.”
Wilson had nice teammates as nicely.
“I got here in with an incredible class and we obtained higher and higher as a crew,” he stated.
In reality, throughout Wilson’s senior yr of 1994, Lehigh gained 12 video games which stood as this system report for practically 20 years till the 2012 Mountain Hawks gained 14.
Following commencement, lacrosse remained an vital a part of Wilson’s life and really opened the door to his present career.
“After Lehigh, I used to be working within the monetary business and a bit bit in prescription drugs,” he stated. “However I obtained the itch to do one thing completely different as a result of I had began teaching some youth lacrosse. That gave me the concept to utterly change careers… so I transitioned to educating and training.”
Wilson ended up going again to function head coach at his highschool, Hillsborough, from the 2006-07 by 2016-17 faculty years.
“Once I had my second baby, I stepped again from being a head coach and centered extra on household,” he stated. “I figured I would keep in lacrosse within the assistant teaching ranks.
“Across the identical time, a chance with Crew Jamaica got here alongside.”
The chance was serving as assistant coach for the Jamaican nationwide crew within the 2018 World Lacrosse Championships; it marked the primary time Jamaica was enjoying on this planet video games. Former Lehigh affiliate head coach Errol Wilson was named the top coach and tapped right into a connection, and good friend, in Mark.
“My dad was born in Jamaica and Errol’s household is Jamaican as nicely,” stated Mark. “For a very long time, I labored the Lehigh summer time camps and obtained to know Errol. We’d typically discuss our Jamaican heritage and joke about the truth that perhaps we’re cousins as a result of we even have some household from an identical space in Jamaica [and of course, the same last name].”
When Mark heard that Errol was named the top coach in 2017, he made a cellphone name to congratulate him.
“I knew there had been lacrosse in Jamaica for a couple of decade, however did not realize it was on the world recreation stage but,” stated Mark. “I stated to Errol, if there’s something I can do to assist, please let me know. I used to be pondering fundraising or one thing like that, however he responded that he did not have a workers but and requested if I used to be .”
It was an honor, which Mark accepted, and went to work.
“We chosen a crew of Jamaican Individuals and Jamaican gamers,” stated Mark. “Lehigh was gracious sufficient to allow us to use its facility and we had an incredible tryout with tons of nice gamers. We had guys like Goran Murray from Maryland and Hakeem Lecky from Syracuse.
“We had been capable of put collectively an incredible roster and symbolize Jamaica within the World Lacrosse Championship in Britannia, Israel,” he continued. “It was an incredible expertise.”
Wilson finds similarities between teaching the game he loves and educating.
“It was lacrosse that drove me into educating,” he stated. “I am a particular training instructor. I did not have a educating diploma; any individual stated the simplest option to get a educating job is as male particular ed instructor as a result of it is significantly wanted.”
Wilson truly started his educating profession in Plainfield, the place he’s in the present day.
“My sister-in-law labored within the district. She stated they’re on the lookout for academics and I’d be capable to get my ft moist,” stated Wilson. “I met with the center faculty principal, who stated he had this class of boys who no person wished to show. At the moment in New Jersey, you would turn out to be an emergency licensed particular ed instructor with principally nothing. It was executed so city districts might carry folks in to show.”
Wilson took that class of boys, and the remaining is historical past.
“I made mates with the center faculty soccer coach and began teaching soccer with him, put the entire class on the soccer crew and self-discipline issues had been solved,” he stated.
Whether or not he is educating college students, teaching center schoolers, excessive schoolers or Crew Jamaica, the identical ardour is behind the whole lot Wilson does.
“When you may work with a pupil or participant and get them to the purpose the place they’re doing one thing they could not do earlier than they encountered you, there’s satisfaction,” stated Wilson. “There’s some egocentric satisfaction saying ‘I knew you would do it.’ And I consider that mentality comes from my expertise with lacrosse.”
Sports activities educate persistence, which is a attribute Wilson epitomizes.
“My son is three and has a stick,” he stated. “I did not know what the sport was till I used to be 15 or 16 and undoubtedly did not choose up a stick till 16. It was plenty of work and by no means appeared prefer it was going to occur. When it lastly did, plenty of it was coaches, nice teammates and individuals who impressed me to maintain taking the following step.
“That is additionally how I really feel about educating and training.”
Wilson has impacted so many individuals round him, together with the Lehigh males’s lacrosse crew on that Zoom name final spring. The influence got here by merely sharing his experiences to student-athletes and coaches at a spot which means a lot to him.
“I am not at Lehigh each minute or something like that, however I really feel lucky to have been across the program and all of the completely different coaches which have come by,” stated Wilson. “The soundness of our athletic division with Dean Sterrett and the tradition constructed across the groups could be very constructive. Lehigh has given quite a bit to me and helped me every step of the journey.”
At this time, Wilson is pleased with Lehigh Athletics and what it stands for in all elements, together with variety, fairness and inclusion and the division’s work in anti-racism.
“As a Black alum, I undoubtedly discover the issues they’re placing out on social media very precious,” he stated. “That video with all of the coaches was nice to see (click on right here to view). I proudly shared that with all my mates on social media. It is good to see the varsity taking that stance and having that angle.
“I all the time seen Lehigh as a spot that was frequently rising and changing into higher on a regular basis.”
And it is folks like Wilson who’ve performed – and can proceed to play – such an vital function in that progress.
As a part of Black Excellence Month in partnership with Lehigh’s DEI Workplace, we’re proud to characteristic former student-athletes and coaches of colour. This week, we share the story of Mark Wilson ’94 of @LehighLacrosse!
Test again Wednesday for the total characteristic story. pic.twitter.com/tEHNWPNeaE
— Lehigh Sports activities (@LehighSports) February 15, 2021