Joshua Wicks won a state title as a lacrosse player at Baylor School.
He led Soddy-Daisy's boys to a Tennessee Scholastic Lacrosse Association championship last spring in his fourth and final season as coach of the Trojans.
And this school year he returned to his hometown as coach of the Signal Mountain boys, who started the season 4-0 while outscoring their opponents 57-21.
So while winning is important and fun for Wicks when it comes to lacrosse, it's not what matters most to him. The COVID-19 pandemic that brought to a halt the Eagles' season after that undefeated start — putting them on a long list of sports teams at all levels on hiatus — has provided a chance for Wicks to emphasize that to his players.
"Just when you think everything is going right, a wrench can get thrown in your plans," Wicks said. "This time has presented an opportunity for players and coaches to better themselves and find a way to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. Life is going to hit you in the face, but you have to get back up every time.
"I told my guys they are champions in my opinion, and even if they did win a state title, people will forget that. But the life lessons you can learn through sports are so much bigger than the game."
The Eagles were learning those life lessons already this year through 6 a.m. workouts, team breakfasts and the impressive opening run, with all seven seniors playing major roles in the 10-man lineup and Tyler Pawson standing out in that group by scoring 19 goals.
The highlight might have been a 12-10 victory over Soddy-Daisy in which, Wicks said, the Trojans played their hearts out.
That's the type of effort Wicks expects from his players no matter where he's coaching and no matter the circumstances. Many of his current players are in their sixth or seventh season of lacrosse, and even while following social distancing guidelines, they have continued to practice skills such as shooting and passing, sometimes by throwing the ball off the wall to themselves.
In a series of posts to its Twitter account on March 25, the TSLA announced several changes as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, including the cancellation of any unplayed regular-season matches through April 26 as well as the playoffs. The TSLA said teams could play matches from April 27 to May 31, provided their schools/school districts had cleared them to do so and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were followed.
"I always tell my boys to compete with a fire in them," Wicks said. "You can't coach desire. You either want it or you don't. Every time I want my guys to leave nothing to chance. When you take the field, you strap your helmet on, put your mouthpiece in and go to work.
"These guys will all remember the family they went to battle with here and memories the sport gave them even if they don't get to play another game."
The halt in play isn't the only setback for Signal Mountain and other Tennessee prep lacrosse programs. While the sport was on track to become sanctioned by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association beginning with the 2021-22 school year, those plans are stalled for now.
Less than 10% of private and public schools in the state offer the sport, which can be expensive when buying new equipment for players such as helmets, gloves, sticks, and pads.
The TSSAA Legislative Council recently voted to delay the sanctioning process indefinitely to avoid the negative impact that sanctioning would have on already established teams. A representative from the TSLA was at the meeting and brought forth that the sanctioning would be too premature.
"The intentions to sanction lacrosse were good, but you have to make sure the sport will be sustainable and come to fruition," said Soddy-Daisy principal Steve Henry, a Legislative Council member. "Schools need to have the facilities and numbers to make it reasonable to make it a TSSAA sport."
The Eagles and other Tennessee prep lacrosse would just like to get back on the field at least one last time this year if possible.
"We are staying positive and not mad at the TSSAA," Wicks said. "If we are sanctioned four to five years from now, that's great. We want these guys to work hard every day no matter what they are faced with. They can be champions on and off the field."