By Camille Platt
Troy Kemp doesn’t shy away from calling himself an evangelist. When he gets excited about something – be it a math solution or simply a hamburger – he’s going to share the news with a bit of gusto. That’s how he’s treated the game of lacrosse in Chattanooga.
A native of Long Island and a football player, Kemp didn’t touch a lacrosse stick until his freshman year of college at Colgate University. His teammate gave him a broken stick, which he fixed with a little athletic tape and used to toss a ball around for fun. After graduation, Kemp taught mathematics at an independent school in Delaware and was recruited to coach lacrosse. He decided if he was going to mentor young players he needed to play more himself. He joined a summer league and realized the game was as fun as he expected.
“What I found is a sport that fit kids of all sizes and one you could become proficient in in a relatively short period of time, and one you could practice on your own,” he remembers.
Kemp moved to Chattanooga to teach at McCallie in 1992 when the Blue Tornado lacrosse program was just a few years old. TSSAA rules stated that boarding students who transferred in for grades 10-12 were ineligible to participate in varsity athletics for a full calendar year. To accommodate, the school had started two new sports as club teams: rowing and lacrosse. Staff member David Hughes, who learned lacrosse at Blue Ridge School, joined Hank Lewis to coach the first three seasons until Kemp came on board.
In the team’s early years, Kemp admits there were times he wasn’t sure McCallie’s lacrosse program could survive regular competition against stronger state prep-school teams like Montgomery Bell Academy (MBA) and Memphis University School.
“MBA beat us four times in the first or second year we played. And they dominated us, because these kids had been starting early and were playing year-round,” he says. “I realized that if we were going to sustain a team at McCallie, we would need to start training at the middle school level.”
To give his boys more playing time in the off-season – and to grow knowledge of lacrosse in the the Chattanooga area – Kemp started a summer league. In 1994, via word-of-mouth and a few newspaper advertisements, he found a group of former lacrosse players living in Chattanooga who wanted to rekindle their skills. He invited area youth to join, and for $25 anyone could play with Chattanooga Lacrosse two days a week. Kemp rented the equipment from McCallie so participants wouldn’t need any experience or gear. He hosted clinics to introduce the sport city-wide and modified the rules to simplify play until the young teams caught on. Originally run as an LLC, Kemp turned the organization into a non-profit run by a board of directors in 2002 for greater access to fields and facilities around the city.
Slowly, Chattanoogans fell in love with lacrosse. Baylor School added its first boys’ team in the early 1990s, and later Girls Preparatory School (GPS), the Signal Mountain community, Girls Leadership Academy, the Soddy Daisy community, and Boyd Buchanan School followed suit. Ooltewah High School begins play with its first team this year.
Photos Courtesy of McCallie School