Shawnee lacrosse steeped in tradition

Shawnee boys' lacrosse coach Erik Stilley (center), who replaced longtime coach Tim Gushue this season, inherited the defending S.J. Group 3 champions. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Shawnee boys' lacrosse coach Erik Stilley (center), who replaced longtime coach Tim Gushue this season, inherited the defending S.J. Group 3 champions. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Posted: April 06, 2014

As with her teammates, the poem is second nature to Caroline Shinske.

She recites it like most people recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and she does it without thinking.

The poem was made famous by Bear Bryant. He was said to have carried it everywhere he went.

But Shinske didn't know that. Her teammates didn't know that.

To Shinske and the rest of the Shawnee girls' lacrosse team, the poem is tradition, recited by generations of Renegades players before every practice:

This is the beginning of a new day.

I can waste it or use it for good.

What I do today is very important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it.

When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, leaving something in its place I have traded for it. I want it to be gain, not loss. Good, not evil.

Success, not failure in order that I shall not forget the price I paid for it.

The words carry weight in themselves.

But more than its actual meaning, the poem is a fitting symbol of the small, sometimes quirky rituals that help define one of the nation's foundational high school girls' lacrosse programs.

"Tradition is one of the things we pride ourselves on," said Shinske, a senior attack.

The Shawnee boys' and girls' lacrosse teams are steeped in enormous success, high expectations, and deep roots. These are not your typical high school sports programs.

So it's fitting that when both were faced with head-coaching vacancies this offseason, neither reached very far.

Aimee Seward was selected to head the girls' team. Erik Stilley was chosen to lead the boys' team.

Seward played college lacrosse at Mary Washington with several Shawnee alumnae. She has coached Shawnee field hockey for three seasons and even assisted on the girls' lacrosse team in 2012.

In 2003, Stilley was a freshman on the first Shawnee varsity boys' lacrosse team.

From that time until this offseason, the program was led by legendary South Jersey coach Tim Gushue, who has also headed the Shawnee football team for more than 30 years. In an area in which boys' lacrosse, even today, is still somewhat in its infancy, the Shawnee boys quickly became one of the area's best, highlighted by the team's South Jersey Group 3 championship last season.

And while the boys' team might not have the depth of history that the girls do, there is no shortage of tradition. Aside from Gushue, Shawnee assistant coaches Gene Shulman and Bob Turco are regarded as titans of the sport in New Jersey. Turco has coached lacrosse all over the state for decades and has been successful everywhere he has been.

All three are still involved with Shawnee. To Stilley, they are mentors, helping him forge his own path while reminding him of the values that made Shawnee boys' lacrosse such an instant success.

"Tim Gushue, Gene Shulman, and Bob Turco are three of the most passionate men I've ever met," said Stilley, who was a volunteer assistant at Shawnee for the last two seasons. "And that's the biggest thing, having that passion for what you're doing - for the sport and for the program."

Seward, too, is excited about the challenge of leading a program with a storied past.

The Shawnee girls won their first of eight state titles in 1989. But the team is mostly known for its yearly battles with national juggernaut Moorestown in one of the country's most prolific high school sports rivalries in any sport.

Shawnee most recently lost to the Quakers in last year's Tournament of Champions final. Only three times since 1987 has the New Jersey girls' lacrosse championship not been won by Moorestown or Shawnee.

"That kind of tradition is something I'm excited to be part of, something I want to cultivate," Seward said. "I love the kids, I love the game of lacrosse, and I love the pride that this program has. It's something we work to uphold every day."

Seward and Stilley do not appear bogged down by the pressure and expectations surrounding them. Both appear comfortable even in the early parts of their first seasons.

It speaks to the support they've received from the community; the administration; the alumni; and, most important, the players.

While the coaches want to make their mark on Shawnee lacrosse, both understand and appreciate what they are a part of and that much will not change.

Seward "has already helped me and taught me so much before this season," said Shawnee goalie Lily Argyle, who had Seward as her goalie coach during her freshman year. "She's helped me so much with my confidence. And we all just feel really comfortable with her."

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