When Kyle Hawkins arrived in Columbia in 1998, few in the city had ever heard of lacrosse, let alone played it.
“I came to Columbia just six years ago and there weren’t any stores in town that carried lacrosse equipment,” Hawkins said. “Most people didn’t know what the sport was.”
Opening Columbia's eyes
Hawkins was determined to remedy Columbia’s athletic ignorance.
Like Columbia, Hawkins came late to the game. He first became familiar with lacrosse at 24 when he was a history teacher at St Louis’ Hazelwood Central High.
In addition to teaching, Hawkins coached football. Some players approached him about wanting to start a lacrosse team in the offseason. They needed a coach and Hawkins volunteered.
“I just got addicted to the sport,” Hawkins said. “I learned all I could, and the rest is history.”
Hawkins came to Columbia in 1998 to start a lacrosse program at the University of Missouri and teach history at Hickman. He started a team at Hickman in his spare time to help develop local talent.
A lacrosse great is found
In his second year coaching Hickman, Hawkins met Eddie Hedrick, a former All-American goalie at Bowling Green. Hedrick managed the infection control unit at the MU hospital for 20 years. He is widely regarded as one of the best goalie coaches in the Midwest.
“Eddie is a great friend and mentor,” Hawkins said. “I think he is one of the top two or three goalie coaches in the country.”
Hawkins found a kindred spirit in Hedrick. They have coached together since, helping develop players of all ages in and around Columbia.
Hedrick said starting the growth of the sport in the region was difficult.
“We went over to St. Louis to play and they made fun of us,” Hedrick said. “Our kids were brand new and we didn’t have any pure players. When we first went out, we were the doormat. They had their own little circle and we were breaking into it.
“I’ll never forget we were playing a big-time team (Christian Brothers of Charity), and we were giving them fits. We were in the game and they couldn’t believe it. They started calling our kids white trash. Our kids never forgot that.”
Passing on the game
After coaching Hickman for three years, Hawkins left the Kewpies to focus on coaching the Missouri men’s team full time. He keeps in close contact with the Hickman and Rock Bridge teams, acting as an unofficial adviser. Hedrick works with goalies from Hickman and Rock Bridge.
“The more the sport grows, the better,” Hawkins said. “Part of it is hard to explain. It’s similar to the religious fervor that sends missionaries overseas to talk about Christ. You’ve found something that is just so good and so important to you that you want to share it with everyone.”
Hawkins and Hedrick have helped found and support high school teams in Columbia, St. Louis and Springfield. Their players and assistant coaches have gone on to coach programs all over Missouri. Hickman coach Jamie Mullen played under the duo at MU.
“We call Kyle and Eddie the godfathers of lacrosse in Columbia,” said Craig Hurst, the president of the Columbia Hickman Lacrosse Club. “Without them there probably wouldn’t be any lacrosse in this town at all.”
Interest in the sport has grown substantially since Hawkins put up a sign recruiting players in 1998. Rock Bridge launched a team in 2002, and last year Columbia hosted the Missouri State Lacrosse Association All-Star game. Hickman is third in the St. Louis West conference.
Hickman players attribute much of the team’s growth and success to Hawkins and Hedrick.
“They know just about everything you could want to know about lacrosse, so they’re great guys to listen to,” Hickman goalie Kendall Gessling said.
“Over the summer (Hickman goalie Brad Thompson) and I would go over to Hedrick’s house. He’d show us tapes of goalies and we’d work on stuff in his backyard. His wife would cook us dinner.”
The Hickman and Rock Bridge clubs are working on plans to develop a youth lacrosse team in Columbia for fourth- to seventh-graders.
Hawkins expects the youth team will develop into a league and lacrosse will become a mainstay sport much the same way soccer has.
The interest Hawkins helped spark has taken on momentum.
“I used to think that I directed the growth of lacrosse in mid-Missouri, but the growth is much bigger than me,” Hawkins said.
“Now I can drive down a street in a neighborhood and see two third-graders playing catch with lacrosse sticks in the front yard. Somehow I think I had a role in that, but I’ve never even seen those kids, and they have no idea who I am.”