Roanoke College women’s lacrosse coach Mary Schwartz literally brings the cross out of lacrosse each summer. Since 2007, she has hosted a women’s lacrosse summer camp, called The Cross and Lacrosse, on Roanoke’s campus and at select locations around the world.
Schwartz combines her extensive knowledge of the game of lacrosse with her Christian faith to teach the camp goers, ages 6-18, lacrosse fundamentals and ways that they can build their character as athletes.
Before she became a coach, Schwartz was an exceptional lacrosse and field hockey goalie at the University of Maryland. She was a four-year letter winner and part of the Terps’ three NCAA Division 1 championship lacrosse games in the early 80’s.
Schwartz’s passion and dedication for winning became her life-long career. After nine years as the women’s lacrosse head coach at Davidson College in North Carolina, Roanoke hired her.
In 2005, Schwartz began her role of rebuilding the women’s lacrosse team at Roanoke. Two years later, she led the Maroons to their first NCAA appearance since 1997. Schwartz was named ODAC Coach of the Year in 2009, after leading the team to its most wins (16) and the first ODAC Championship in 10 years.
Schwartz’s passion for lacrosse continued beyond the Maroons’ regular season when she co-founded The Cross and Lacrosse with Pastor Nick Gough, a former Christiansburg resident, who now travels from Montana to help with the camp. He shares a Christian message with the athletes to encourage them, strengthen their desire to win and help them lead a character-filled life on and off the field.
The camp is happening this week at Roanoke’s Donald J. Kerr Stadium. For further information, visit http://www.thecrossandlacrosse.com/index.html .
Recently, we spoke with Schwartz about her camp and how she uses her faith to inspire athletes.
RC News Blog: What inspired you to associate a sports camp with Christianity?
Mary Schwartz: Good friends of ours, Nick Gough and his family, were sitting around talking one night. It was when the Michael Vick incident happened about seven years ago. [Vick, an NFL quarterback, served jail time for his involvement in a dog-fighting operation.] He had been arrested for the things he was doing, and we began talking about how there are all these athletes that have so much talent but lack character. When I was at Davidson [College], I really felt like I needed to do a camp like that, to focus athletes on life beyond talent, but it never happened.
When I moved up here and met Nick, I felt like he would be a component who could share that message and include Jesus at a camp. He went to the University of Southern California on a track scholarship and had lost everything on some mistakes he had made. So one fall night, we were sitting around dinner talking, and we put the camp together. Â The first years we did the camp it was an overnight camp, which brought in non-local athletes and opened up doors for us to go other places.
RC News Blog: How did The Cross and Lacrosse camp spread beyond Roanoke College?
Mary Schwartz: From the first camp we did here at Roanoke, we met somebody from Atlanta. His daughter came to the camp and he wanted us to come down to Atlanta. So we did a two-day camp there. From Atlanta, he connected us with a lady in Houston, and we hosted a camp there. From Houston we went to Bulgaria, and then from Bulgaria, we went to Tennessee. Over the years, we’ve been to St. Louis, we’ve been to Kansas City, Atlanta a couple times and Bulgaria twice, all following the same teachings of Jesus and lacrosse.
RC News Blog: How does this camp differ from the typical women’s summer lacrosse camp? How has Gough’s influence shaped the camp’s overall structure?
Mary Schwartz: The camp itself is the same. We do everything a normal summer camp would do. We teach [lacrosse] stations, and we have talented coaches come in. Some know there is a religious component to it, some don’t. Some are even changed by Nick’s message when they come. At the end when Nick gets up to speak, he just shares his heart with them, and that’s the only difference. He really challenges them in the sense of when they come out there to play there are those that have such great talent, but when they lack character where is the talent really going to take them?
When they are done playing, he just comes out on the field and basically what it has come down to is 15 minutes with Nick preaching from scripture and life experiences.Â It’s 15 minutes and that’s it.
He doesn’t do the sports side, but I have been able to plug him in as a station out on the field. They [athletes] come over, sit down, and he shares with them something that we do on the Roanoke lacrosse team– the words of life or the circle of trust as the team often calls it. He teaches the girls how to say encouraging things and how to build each other up, because as girls in this society, all they hear is the negative. It is neat that they come away from that station having to say nice things. Even though they don’t know each other and it’s awkward at first, they come back looking forward to that station.
But when the day is over, Nick just shares the message of Jesus and the Cross with them.
RC News Blog: How have you incorporated your religious faith at Roanoke College?
Mary Schwartz: When I took the job here, I really was challenged to just share the Bible and Jesus with my team. I wanted to do this at Davidson, but I never fully did it. One of the things that God has shown me since I have been here at Roanoke, really about three years into my career at Roanoke, is that during pregame there is a way you can share the message. You can share the Bible, and it doesn’t single people out. Even with those that have no faith, they almost expect it now. It has become a ritual. If I were to stop doing it they would probably say â€œCoach, why aren’t you doing this anymore?â€
Each year gets harder, but I look at the game, pray a lot, and I ask God â€œWhat can I share with them that will help them for this game we have coming up?â€ When we are facing Salisbury University, the easy one is David and Goliath, because that’s how I feel it transcends in the game. The underdog comes up with a fight.
It’s really a simple verse, and you build on that verse. There are so many things in the Bible and a lot of times it’s just one verse or a story, but surprisingly, a lot of girls on the team have never heard some of the stories in the Bible. There may be a day when as a team we have struggled with something or maybe a dynamic at practice, or the girls were not getting along, and I have wanted to say that we do better as a team then we are apart. That’s where scripture really states the message, and as a whole, it has really developed the team and continues to help us grow.
RC News Blog: Do you have a recurring scripture or religious ritual to prepare you mentally for camp or for a big game?
Mary Schwartz: I think the one that I always go back to is Philippians 4:13, â€œI can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.â€ Not that I rely solely on that verse, because there are so many verses that focus on today’s struggles, but I can always fall back on that verse.
This year was a tough season for everyone. I felt like I was being stretched a lot, but I could fall back on that verse, because â€œI can do all things throughâ€ Him. The outcome might not always be what I want, and we might not always get the victories, but that is the one verse I will always hold onto.
-By Allison Shannon ’15