It’s a gusty, cool night, and about 25 teenage girls are lined up on a football field, lacrosse sticks in hand. They are hushed, intently listening to their coach as, drill-sergeant-like, he slowly walks by each one.

“Challenge the ball,” he says sternly, “and pass it like you mean it.”

All eyes are on this man with deep-set eyes and a mop of salt-and-pepper hair as he makes sweeping gestures with his lacrosse stick. He pauses, blows his whistle and the girls spring into action, barreling down the field.

“Focus, focus,” he shouts from the sideline, arms flailing.

The man on the sideline is neighborhood resident Mark Walker, and if you ever want to hear a man speak with passion, just ask him about his lacrosse team, the Dallas Lady Panthers, a neighborhood girls lacrosse team Walker started.

Texas public schools don’t recognize lacrosse as an official sport, so public high schools don’t have teams. Instead, neighborhood athletic associations usually sponsor teams — and dozens of local boys lacrosse teams have existed for years. But until Mark Walker stepped up four years ago, there really was no such thing for Preston Hollow girls.

Originally, when Hillcrest’s athletic association decided to establish a girls lacrosse team, plenty of girls signed up, including both of Walker’s daughters. But there was still one big problem: The team lacked a coach.
A couple of other dads asked Walker to coach the team. Did he ever play the game, or have a big love for it? Not exactly, he says.

“I had virtually no coaching experience, and I knew nothing about lacrosse whatsoever, so I told them they were crazy,” Walker says. “They asked me to do it for the girls, so it was pretty much the ultimate guilt trip, and I gave in.”

Walker did his best to coach the Dallas Lady Panthers that summer, with the understanding that a permanent replacement was on the way. By October, nobody had stepped up.
“The season was getting ready to start, so I sat the team down and said, ‘Girls, we’ve got a problem, I don’t know this sport, and I don’t know what I’m doing here,’” he says. “That’s when destiny intervened, pure destiny.”

That destiny arrived in the form of Bill Morrison, the older brother of one of the teammates and former coach of the Texas A&M women’s lacrosse team, and his wife Darien, a former A&M player. The couple were about to move to Dallas and agreed to help coach.

Two weeks later, Colleen McMahon, a local teacher and four-time All American college lacrosse champion, also offered her expertise.

“Things were looking up for us to say the least, and you really can’t get much better than that for starter help,” he says. The team finished their first year with six wins and six losses.

“We struggled through that first season, but we made it with a lot of help, and a lot of luck.”

But the luck wouldn’t end there. Walker eventually lost the Morrisons to schedule conflicts and McMahon to a job transfer, but again and again, people with lacrosse backgrounds came on board.

There was Raisa Wilson, a local lacrosse referee and former captain of the Naval Academy’s lacrosse team.

“Raisa had refereed several of our games, so she saw how much help we needed,” he says. “And at first, I was reluctant to let her help because she was brutal as a referee and had made some of the girls cry during games. But I knew we needed the help, so I accepted. And let me tell you, she was even more brutal as a coach. She really worked those girls, but it made them respect her, and it made them a lot better.”

And Therese Naab.

“I was coaching the girls by myself one night, and a man walking by approached me and said he could see our team obviously needed some help, which was true,” he says.

The man was the father of Therese Naab, a former college lacrosse player who had made it to NCAA Division National Championships. Walker was determined to recruit Naab as a coach.

“I contacted her alumni association every week for about a month asking them to have her call me,” he says. “I really just pestered them until she finally called me and said, ‘Who are you, and what do you want with me?’”

Though Naab initially didn’t want to help — “as far as she was concerned, she’d laid down her lacrosse stick and sworn off the sport after losing the big national championship game in college” — Walker eventually convinced her to attend one practice.

“She walked out on that field like she owned it, and I knew at that moment that she was home,” he says.

And, after the team lost Naab to a job transfer, there was Lorrie Chan, a former college lacrosse player.

“I always like to have a female coach on the field because I know I can’t be a role model to girls like they can,” he says. “Lorrie has only been with us a few months, and when she first came out to practices, she wasn’t really sure if it was something she wanted to do. But I knew once she got to know how great the girls were, she’d want to stay, just like I did.”

Today there are 32 Dallas Lady Panthers from 10 schools. Though neither of Walker’s daughters play any longer, he still has a lot invested.

“I stay because I feel like I can keep this team glued together and be a mentor to these girls. I stay because I feel like I’m making a difference in their lives,” he says. “But the story really isn’t about me, it’s about all the other coaches who have helped me along the way and made this possible. The story is really about these girls who come from all these different schools and have pulled together to make team. They are the heroes, not me.”

Walker’s players are quick to say he’s being modest.

“His dedication is absolutely what makes this team work,” says Mandy McMurrey, one of the few players who has been with Walker from the beginning.

“He’s dedicated to seeing this team succeed, and that means a lot to all of us. It lets us know that someone cares enough to want to help, and we know he cares about us on and off the field. I’ve had coaches who kept me in a constant state of fear, but he makes it known that we can go to him with any kind of problem we have. He’s like a second dad to a lot of us.”

Teammate Madison Noland agrees.

“Without him, there’s a good chance none of us would be playing lacrosse right now,” she says. “I know we’re all thankful for him because we know he doesn’t have to do this for our team, but he does it anyway.”

And Walker says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“As long as there are girls in this neighborhood who want to play, I will volunteer to coach them the best I can.”

For information about the Dallas Lady Panthers or to join the team, call Mark Walker at 214- 692-6321, or e-mail him at comusalaw@aol.com.


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