A Model Mentor Adds Another State Title

Posted: June 09, 1999

It began as an off-season afterthought.

Football and basketball were John Linehan's sports at Haverford High. He was so serious about football that he resisted playing lacrosse until his senior year.

However, Linehan was so good that he was named a second-team Pennsylvania Scholastic Lacrosse Association defenseman that spring. He continued with football and lacrosse at Penn, and after graduation played lacrosse with the Philadelphia Lacrosse Club and the original Philadelphia Wings in 1974 and '75.

Overshadowing Linehan's playing career, however, has been his coaching career. He spent a year as an assistant coach for the freshman lacrosse team at Penn while pursuing his master's degree in education from Temple. A history teacher at Lower Merion, he has been a successful lacrosse coach at the school since 1972.

Linehan, The Inquirer's Main Line/Delaware County area lacrosse coach of the year, guided the Aces this spring to their fourth PSLA state title during his tenure. He owns a career record of 372-144, and the Aces' 4-6 mark in 1973 remains his only losing record in 28 years.

In addition to this season, Linehan's teams won the state crown in 1977, '79 and '84, and Central League titles in 1977, '79, '80, '83, '84, '85, '86 (co-champs), '87, '93 and '96 (quad-champs).

The competition in the Central League and the PSLA has intensified each season, but Lower Merion remains one of the programs that set the pace.

``John is a guy that every coach in the area has emulated,'' said John Nostrant, the successful coach at the Haverford School. ``He is an ambassador of the game. He exemplifies Philadelphia high school lacrosse and does a great job of representing us on the national level. He works his tail off. He is the measuring stick.''

Making this state championship all the more remarkable, Lower Merion (16-6) entered the tournament as the No. 11 seed, the Central League's fifth team.

``There was a lot of parity in the whole area in lacrosse this year,'' said Linehan, who relies on a staff that includes Richard Owens, Jason Christmas and Mike Mandarino. ``Not one team dominated. The kids recognized anyone could win the championship. They formed a bond and worked hard through the season.''

While the Aces lost six games during the regular season, all were close and gave the team hope for a different outcome in a rematch. In the playoffs, they avenged regular-season losses against La Salle, Radnor and Penncrest.

Linehan's players and their parents speak in reverent tones about the contributions he has made to their lives. And he has never forgotten the people who have influenced him: Avery Blake, who was the lacrosse coach during Linehan's first three years at Penn, and Jim ``Ace'' Adams, who coached his senior year and provided him with his first coaching opportunity with the freshman team.

Even after beginning his career at Lower Merion, Linehan scouted Penn's lacrosse opponents on the weekends.

``That was the most intensive learning experience for lacrosse,'' Linehan said.

The influence of his father, Jack, has remained a constant. Jack Linehan attends the Aces games and was present for the team's state title win over Ridley on Friday.

``He's been an inspiration, and has given me fatherly advice,'' Linehan said.

Linehan's wife of nearly 27 years, Barbara, also played lacrosse at Haverford High. In the early years of their marriage, the family owned a van so he could take as many team members as possible to college games on weekends.

``I wanted our kids to see the game being played at the highest levels,'' he said.

The Linehans have remained a lacrosse family all the way. Son Rory, who just finished his junior year at Cornell, starred for Conestoga. And son Courtney, a current senior at Conestoga, has been part of the Pioneers' amazing postseason run this year.

It has been a championship spring in the Linehan household, and the school's alumni have been quick to recognize the Aces' success. E-mails from former players have been streaming in, and Lower Merion's alumni and current student body comprised many of the more than 3,000 spectators who attended the championship game at Marple Newtown.

``They are pretty excited,'' Linehan said. ``It was 15 years since we played for the championship.''

But there is a possibility for one every year, a scenario that is unlikely to change with Linehan in charge.

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