The Waverly Lacrosse Club had its beginning in the spring of 1991 when Bill Prahler held a meeting to gauge the interest among high school boys. The club arranged to have three games played at Waverly High School that spring, with teams from Ann Arbor Pioneer, East Grand Rapids, Birmingham Seaholm and Ann Arbor Huron.
“At the end of the spring the kids said, ‘We can do this,’” Prahler said. In the fall of 1991 he had 25 boys sign up to play competitively the following spring. Initially the club committed to playing boy’s lacrosse only.
Prahler played lacrosse at Michigan State University and in 1963 he was a freshman on MSU’s first lacrosse team. He was a teacher at Waverly High School and an experienced coach, having coached tennis at the high school as well, and he coached lacrosse at Muskegon Heights before coming to Waverly. Prahler coached lacrosse at Waverly until 2005, when he accepted an assistant coaching position for MSU women’s team.
“There were not many varsity lacrosse teams in the state until 1973,” Prahler said. “A lot of us (high school lacrosse coaches) were just involved as collegiate boosters and coaches trying to get talent to go to MSU.”
One of Prahler’s biggest decisions was to decide if the club wanted to work in partnership with other schools. They met with Potterville schools first, because Waverly had an existing consortium with Potterville at the time for scholastic programs.
In the spring of 1992 Waverly fielded its first team. Waverly, Grosse Pointe North and Madison Heights Bishop Foley had new teams that season, giving Michigan 19 schools with lacrosse programs. Waverly played a varsity schedule that year. Prahler credits former Waverly High Athletic Director Rick Schmidt for pushing the club to play a varsity schedule and not a JV schedule.
“His advice was, if we played a JV schedule, we’d have to play the heavyweight teams — Birmingham Brother Rice, Detroit Country Day and Cranbrook,” Prahler said. “But if we played a varsity schedule, we’d pick up a better age group of competition and experience.”
Waverly went 3-6 in 1992, and lost in the quarterfinals of the Michigan Scholastic Lacrosse Association (MSLA) state tournament to Ann Arbor Pioneer. The team fielded mostly freshmen and sophomores. It beat an established Troy team 5-4 in double overtime for its signature win of the season.
When lacrosse began at Waverly, the Waverly School District provided fields, field maintenance and line marking. All other funding was provided by the players, their parents and booster association fund-raising. All the coaches were unpaid volunteers.
In 1993 Waverly went 5-13. “We took on an incredibly tough schedule,” Prahler said. “It (record) was not bad for us. But we got a wakeup call, and we practiced all the time.” The following year wasn’t much better, as Waverly went 6-13.
“We were rated No. 1 in Class B one of those years,” Prahler said. “We promptly lost our first seven games. … The first three years were not very impressive record-wise, but we always played the toughest competition in the state.”
Prahler was initially assisted in starting the lacrosse program at Waverly by Jim Robinson, who eventually had two sons play in the program. “Jim Robinson was a key person,” Prahler said. “He was instrumental in getting lacrosse going. He was probably the person who developed more lacrosse talent (at Waverly) and was a superb coach.”
In 1994 the Waverly Lacrosse Club received another helping hand in Larry Sibiski. Sibiski had gotten to know MSU lacrosse coach Rich Kimball, and when he asked Kimball about lacrosse at the scholastic level and where he could help out, he put Sibiski in contact with Prahler.
“I called Bill and he warmly welcomed me aboard for the 1994 season,” Sibiski said. “I coached the midfielders and a little bit of defense. I signed on for what would be a 13-year stint.”
Sibiski said the early years were tough, with a lot of games being played in the Detroit and Grand Rapids areas against good competition. “One of the things that I think it did for us was it made us aware of our vulnerabilities as a program and as a team.”
In 1995 Waverly began a streak of winning seasons that lasted through the 2001 season. Waverly went 11-6 in both 1995 and 1996. In 1997 the team went 16-6, then in 1998 it posted a 20-3 record. The team went 16-6 in 1999, and then in 2000 it won the Class B state championship with a 19-2 record. In 2001 it repeated as Class B champions with a 20-2 record.
“All of that was the hard work that the guys put in,” Prahler said about those years.
The Waverly Lacrosse Club fielded its first girls team in 2000. Sibiski said they had talked for several years about starting a girls program, but they were unsure who they could get to spearhead it. In 2000 Erin Kelly was the first girls varsity coach. She had played lacrosse at MSU.
“What we had hoped for is that if we established ourselves, we would become varsity,” Prahler said of the girls program. “So we formed a boosters group and put in girls lacrosse.”
Sibiski said they wanted to make sure that both teams had equal use of the same facilities and that the program catered to both teams. “We wanted to keep it as a fraternity-sorority type of thing,” he said. By adding a girls team, Sibiski said it met the goals of growing the program.
To help the girls program grow quickly, a high school tournament began in 2000 with 16 teams gathering for a one-day tournament. The Waverly girls met with quick success, winning the Class C state championship in 2001.
Also in 2000, the Waverly School District recognized the accomplishment of the lacrosse program, with its emerging gender parity and the large number of players (100+) by funding a Waverly Lacrosse Advisor’s position to oversee and manage the program at all levels.
In 2003 the high school lacrosse programs were elevated to varsity status. In 2004, a middle school girls team was formed and coached by Richard O’Boyle. A field was added to the high school girls tournament for middle school girls teams.
One of the keys to having the high school program grow was starting a middle school lacrosse program. Sibiski began the middle school program in 1998, with seventh- and eighth-grade boys and girls playing on the same team.
“It was in those years that we decided that if we’re going to be a significant team in the state (at the high school level), we need our own feeder program,” Sibiski said. In 1999 almost 40 boys and girls were involved, so two middle school teams were created. Also in 1999 the middle school boy’s tournament began. Every year over 50 middle school boys teams gather at Waverly for a two-day tournament.
The middle school program also helped the high school program achieve more success. “There was a time when it just frustrated Bill and I that Detroit had such a stranglehold on the state,” Sibiski said. “We were always good, but not good enough. We started having our successes (in high school) because of the middle school program.”
The Waverly Lacrosse Club was the genesis for all other mid-Michigan teams in starting their lacrosse programs. The Waverly middle school teams consisted of players who went on to play at East Lansing, Holt and Okemos. Prahler helped Holt organize its program and he did several developmental clinics to help the East Lansing program. Many of the coaches at other Lansing-area lacrosse teams are former Waverly players.
“We saw in the fall of 1991 that we weren’t going to make this without more mid-Michigan teams,” Prahler said.
Today Waverly and Lansing Catholic Central combine students for both the middle school and high school teams. Prahler said that Catholic Central tried to begin its own program in 1993, but on the eve of the season its coaches abandoned the team. So Prahler invited the Catholic Central players to join the Waverly team, thus beginning a long partnership.
“It was during those years (mid-1990s) that we kind of came up with a pledge for ourselves to not only serve our community, but the whole Lansing community,” Sibiski said. “I think, to our credit, we really helped the sport grow. It was a lot of people, a lot of great parents and kids.”
Waverly is also known for the Chuck Vorce Tournament, which began in 1996. Every year, more than 30 boy’s JV teams gather at Waverly for a one-day tournament in honor of Chuck Vorce’s memory.
Chuck Vorce played for Waverly in 1994 as a freshman goalie, but he was diagnosed with bone cancer in 1995 after the season began and died that later year. “What in inspiration he was for our team,” Prahler said.