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How one of the greatest high school lacrosse coaches jump-started my love for the sport

512 wins, 23 Philadelphia Catholic League championships, 9 state title appearances, 5 Pennsylvania state championships, 1 legend.

Liam Turnbach

This is a story about high school lacrosse, Philadelphia high school lacrosse that is. This site’s focus is about the college game, but I would not be here without the help of one man.

Earlier today, Bill Leahy officially announced his retirement after 28 years as the head boys lacrosse coach at La Salle College High School, my alma mater. Leahy was the founder of the program in 1992, one that was a modified junior varsity program at the time of his arrival.

In his 28 seasons, Leahy, also known as CBL, went 512-115 (roughly a .817 winning percentage) overall, earning his 500th win on April 25. He is one of 19 high school lacrosse coaches in the country to ever win 500 games. His Explorers have won 23 Philadelphia Catholic League Championships (or more commonly known as hubcaps) and appeared in all 27 PCL title games since they began in 1993 along with nine Pennsylvania state championship game appearances, winning five of them (2004, 2008-2009, 2013, and 2019). The 2008 team was US Lacrosse Magazine’s top high school boys’ team that year.

Leahy coached 290 All-Catholics, 13 of them were league MVPs, 94 All-State selections, 61 All-Americans, 24 Academic All-Americans, 5 Under Armour All-Americans, 10 professional lacrosse players (MLL and PLL), one Tewaaraton Award winner (Matt Rambo in 2017), and one Team USA player (Tucker Durkin in 2014 and 2018).

I was also fortunate enough to be a part of the program for four years as a student and even now as a proud alum. But my involvement started out different than everyone else.

Step back to my first day as a freshman at La Salle. I was one of two kids from my public middle school that was originally part of the Class of 2014. I visited the school earlier in the year when I had nothing to do due to my public school district going on strike for a week. I fell in love with the place. I knew this was home.

But it took me awhile to get acclimated to my new community. A ton of my classmates and future friends came from catholic grade school. I knew a few of them and began to get to know others that are some of my best pals today as well. But it didn’t feel right.

I was balling my eyes out at home later that night and my parents tried to comfort me, everything would be fine with time. Like most of the time, I doubted them. I wanted to give up. But we set up a meeting the next day with my guidance counselor.

Lo and behold, it was Bill Leahy.

At that time, he was just that to me, a guidance counselor. I didn’t know anything about lacrosse outside of going to two Philadelphia Wings games. But then I saw some of his past accolades in lacrosse, including that 2008 achievement. I took a mental note of that, maybe my non-athletic self could be a part of that. We’d continue to meet once a week, then once a month until the end of the year.

February of 2011 came around and lacrosse was looking for managers. I figured I’d give it a try, even though it’s a sport I didn’t even know. I watched JV practice a few times just to get a feel for the sport and how it’s played. I was with the JV team the entire season, made friendships with guys I’m still close with today, and even helped out with varsity game at Leahy’s alma mater, Calvert Hall.

I got bumped up to varsity the following season and met even more guys and still met with Leahy as he helped me get through an AP class, one of the hardest classes at La Salle. Again, I wanted to give up, but it was different. I made my way through that class and that year, and got even better with lacrosse. We went to Hershey for the state title game but lost to Conestoga.

Once junior year came around, I transitioned over to a college counselor, but still talked with Leahy about life, my family, and even more lacrosse. I’d see if he needed any help with things during the next two years, even if it was stuff that wasn’t all shiny. Keeping track of stats, organizing equipment, making season ending banquet videos, or helping out with video and audio stuff during their summer camps. We won more hubcaps, a state title, and had plenty of memories. I found out about getting accepted into Syracuse on the bus ride back from Calvert Hall after our first game of the season.

Most of you know the rest of how my story goes, me heading to Syracuse and being a part of their program for four years and then to ESPN. But I still kept in touch with Leahy, whether it was via text or a phone call, visits to La Salle (there were a lot), or watching practice and games as an alum and supporting current Explorers.

I thought about this after talking to Leahy, who told me he decided it was the perfect time to go out after winning La Salle’s fifth state title. Lacrosse is truly a medicine game. At first, maybe lacrosse didn’t directly help me with my early struggles in high school. But later on, it helped me feel comfortable with my decision. And it helped establish my true home away from home.

Luckily, Leahy won’t be completely away from La Salle. He’s staying as a guidance counselor, along with associate head coach Tony Resch, and will have nearly 300 freshmen to know in the fall. Leahy helped Resch with the process of becoming a guidance counselor after transitioning from being La Salle’s Athletic Director. But now he has time to enjoy time with his wife and two kids, who I remember when they were younger while I was at La Salle, as they go through high school. Everyone in the La Salle community and beyond is happy, including myself.

While the question of who will take over starts to be asked, let’s push that aside. Celebrate his achievements. And if you don’t have a connection to Leahy or La Salle as I do, think about the first person that got you to fall in love with lacrosse, or even how that person used to lacrosse to help heal you as the medicine game.

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