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Senior IT manager moonlights as Lamar HS lacrosse coach

2014 March 27
by HISD Communications

In this week’s I Am HISD, which features district students, graduates, employees, and other team members, Senior IT Manager Dave Vollmer talks about why he’s so passionate about the sport of lacrosse, how he helped bring it to HISD schools, and what it was like to be recognized by the mayor last year with a day named in his honor.

By day, you’re a senior manager in HISD’s IT department, but by night, you serve as a boys’ head lacrosse coach for Lamar High School. How did that happen and how does that work? Do you have to leave early sometimes to go coach the team(s), or is your schedule flexible enough that it’s not an issue?

Coach Dave Vollmer with some of his students at Lamar HS

Well, lacrosse is not a UIL sport in the State of Texas, so it’s not sponsored as a sport. Years ago, we created a lacrosse club at the school with the principal’s approval. I serve as a volunteer coach. We have a spring season, and I do my coaching after work. My schedule was officially modified years ago to come in earlier and leave earlier, but if I can’t get away, I can’t get away. I was the first head coach in the 1988–1989 school year, and I’ve been there ever since.

I understand you were instrumental in bringing lacrosse to HISD as a district. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

I was a lacrosse player and played in men’s leagues for years, but some of us started a summer league and some high school kids started showing up to play with us. One of the boys, a kid named John Paul Wolenski, told me, “We’re gonna start a team at Lamar,” because St. John’s was going to make it a varsity sport so Lamar students couldn’t play with them anymore.

And I said, “Well, let me know if you need any help.” And this was in July or August. In October, he called me back and said, “Can you come to a meeting with (then Principal Ronnie) Veselka and talk to him about lacrosse and what it is and why we want this?” So I said sure, because I knew Ronnie and he knew me.

At the time, a physics teacher named Mr. Montgomery was the sponsor, and Veselka said as long as we adhered to no pass/no play rules and any other requirements, we could do it. Then Ronnie looks at me and says, “So, I guess you’re going to be the coach?” But we won the championship that year and just kind of kept it going.

Wait. You mean you won the state championship your first year out? What do you attribute that to?

The group of kids I was working with was very enthusiastic. There were just some fantastic young men in that group.

How many HISD schools have lacrosse teams now? Do any have girls’ teams?

At the high-school level for boys, there’s Bellaire, Westside, and Lamar, and then Pin Oak and Pershing at the middle-school level. Lanier used to have a boys’ team, but I don’t think they do anymore, just girls’. Lamar and Bellaire definitely have girls’ teams, too, but I’m not sure about Westside.

I want to say the girls’ team started around ‘92-ish, maybe three years after the boys started. They’ve done really well. They were really successful in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. They even had a young lady who got recruited to Northwestern University to play recently, and that’s one of the top five college lacrosse programs in the country, so that really speaks to the quality of the program and the athletes at Lamar.

Why are you so passionate about lacrosse in general?

I’ve been involved in game for a long time. It’s just something I really enjoyed. I started playing lacrosse in college and never stopped.

Growing up, I had two teachers who were gym teachers and coaches—one in elementary and one in high school—who were kind of instrumental. I lived in Chicago until I was about 10, and then we moved to Connecticut, where I was kind of a fish out of water. But I always had after-school sports, and the coach in Connecticut, he was the kind who just made you feel better about yourself. It’s not like I was a great athlete or anything, but those guys encouraged me to a degree that made it good.

As it turned out, (becoming the Lamar lacrosse coach) was a really fortunate accident type of thing, because it’s probably been the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever done.

You were recognized last year by the Positive Coaching Alliance of Houston with the “Double-Goal Coach Award” for your positive impact on young athletes. What was that like for you?

It was very pleasant surprise. I had no idea until I had an email from the PCA that said, “Hey, you’ve been nominated for this award and we’re going to pick 10 winners nationwide.” It really came out of the blue. I ended up having a phone conversation with one of the PCA representatives, and a couple weeks later I got a note that I was one of the winners.

The PCA was founded by Jim Thompson, a Stanford coach who saw some really ugly things going on in youth sports. He felt like people were really losing perspective on what this is all about, so let’s remind ourselves of what the true purpose of participation in sports is for young people. It’s to have fun and compete and try to win, of course. But the other side of it is learning the life lessons—that hard work is important, and that teamwork is important.

What they’ve tried to do is reach out to coaches in youth sports across the country, and give them techniques that not only train young people to compete and win but also to keep the greater message of honoring the game and respect for the game and others. It’s not a “win at all cost” mentality. It’s a great organization.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker declared April 2, 2013, as “Coach Dave Vollmer Day,” and you were presented with a proclamation on that topic by City Council Member (and former player) Jerry Davis. What was that like for you?

It’s hard for me to talk about that stuff, but it was pretty cool. Jerry was on my team in ‘90 and ‘91. I’ve known him ever since, and he came back and helped me coach in the late ‘90s and helped start the club at Westside. It was very humbling and gratifying that they would go out of their way to honor me in that way.

Okay, last question. I noticed there’s a Vollmer Street not too far from HISD headquarters off of Sherwood Street. Any relation to the person it was named after?

I wouldn’t know. I think any Vollmer in Germany is a crowd name (like Smith or Johnson).

If you know a graduate, student, employee, or other member of Team HISD who should be featured here, please email us at info@houstonisd.org.

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