Staff Intern: Graham Robson Nikki Williams, the director of girls lacrosse for the Gwinnett Lacrosse League, has enjoyed introducing lacrosse to the Gwinnett youth. Williams is happy to add another sport that girls are able to play while they are going through school.
Nikki Williams, 44, is the director of girls lacrosse for the Gwinnett Lacrosse League. A Georgia transplant from Connecticut, Williams began playing lacrosse as a freshman in high school.
Williams is the former lacrosse coach at Agnes Scott, the Youth Club Director at Step Out Sports and has coached every level of the sport other than professional in her years in Georgia.
In this installment of "Getting to Know..." Williams talks with staff writer Ben Beitzel about her work in Gwinnett, not changing the rules of lacrosse and to the troublesome feeling that Gwinnett doesn't rule lacrosse like it does in other sports.
BB: You just recently starting working with the Gwinnett Lacrosse League. It seems like this county is a step behind some of its neighbors in adopting the sport.
NW: There are two areas that are sort of a little bit slower in terms of their growth Gwinnett is one, and in-town, surprisingly, is the other one which is surprisingly not growing as quickly as the Roswells, the East Cobbs. But Gwinnett has a pretty strong heritage of parents supporting sports and lacrosse is another one now that they are.
BB: With the Gwinnett Lacrosse League, since it opened in 2008, what are they, and you doing to grow the sport?
NW: The Gwinnett Lacrosse League is basically a youth lacrosse league. You have boys and girls participating from the U15 and down ... our youngest group is a U9 for the girls. We help with training for some coaches, training some kids and then we have a league. Each association has some teams and then they play in a league all spring long.
Like any other sport. The Gwinnett group mirrors a little like the football (league).
BB: You said the numbers are nearly doubling each year, that must be a lot to take on.
NW: Right now one of our biggest struggles is the numbers have outgrown the knowledge base. That is something we are trying to work real hard on. How are we going to train our coaches? How are we going to train our officials? How are we going to get proper people teaching our kids? Right now, there are not a whole lot of people who have played lacrosse.
BB: Yeah, there's not that sort of organic knowledge base you get with football and baseball.
NW: Exactly, and this is so different. This is not something that you watched on television growing up or that you were a fan of. The other interesting thing is that the girls and boys sport is very different. It's called the same thing, but it's a completely different game. There is a completely different approach to the game. They have different equipment, different lines, different rules. You can't even say, 'Well, I've coached boys I am going to go to the girls.' One of the things we in the lacrosse community we are very prideful and want to keep our sport the way it is. One thing I keep telling people is, 'This isn't a new sport. It's a new sport to the South, so don't think you can change the rules.' You aren't going to say to the football players, 'We are going to go eight yards for a first down, now and not 10.' People want to switch things up and I am like, 'You can't just do that.'
BB: You moved here 15 years ago. Where were you?
NW: I came from Connecticut, from the northeast.
BB: So you grew up playing this sport?
NW: I played lacrosse since ninth grade. I played in boarding school up there and then went and played in college. I was an all-American, played in a national championship.
BB: For who?
NW: St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. Then I came down here for business. I was working with a company that did computer camps. I am in youth programming, that is sort of my background in school. I was worried that I wasn't going to have lacrosse and I found the Atlanta Women's Lacrosse Club and in my first six months down here and those became my friends. Those are the ones that really spearheaded a lot of this (growth). We are the ones who are on the boards of the officials. We do some of the coaching clinics and coaching all over the place and just trying to get it up and going.
BB: Ninth grade isn't the earliest to start. How'd you start playing lacrosse?
NW: I didn't have a spring sport. I played baseball growing up. When I was going to (boarding) school, they were like, 'You can't play baseball.' 'Why?' 'It's a boys sport, you can play softball.' 'I am not playing softball. It's not the same. No.' I played soccer goalie and (the lacrosse team) said, 'We need a goaltender.' And the seniors on my floor said, 'Well, you're playing.' I started and the first game I ever saw I started in cage and never looked back. I didn't pick up a stick until the winter before tryouts.
BB: It must have stuck with you.
NW: It did. It did. I am a crazy person that loves to get hit. And it just stuck with me. I went and played in college for four years and even after that I went back to the school and coached there. And then when I came down here and was working ... I would leave my office at the end of the day and would ref 10 games a week, private lessons for kids, helping teams. It was like two jobs, it was crazy. I was like, 'You know what, I'm going to quit the one I know is paying the bills and just go full time doing what I am doing.'
BB: You played ice hockey, soccer and lacrosse. You certainly picked sports that most Americans look at and shrug.
NW: (laughs) I know. I know. It's all right. I don't mind.BB: You played three sports growing up. But with a year-round lacrosse schedule is it helpful to focus just on that one sport?
NW: I think it's important kids play other sports as well. Not just one sport. I think (playing multiple sports) is beneficial and unfortunately the way the world is going they are getting away from that. I think you can see it in our kids. They don't have the field sense that other athletes have from playing other sports. Being able to see things and anticipation is difficult. That is stuff you get from playing different sports. I am still a believer they should try to do something else.
BB: Do you miss Connecticut?
NW: No. I miss my friends and family, but I like it down here. I like the weather. I like it not getting cold. I like that I can play golf not matter what. Anytime, anyplace. It's not crowded. It's nice down here.
BB: Am I right in getting the sense that in Gwinnett, it, for lack of a better word, annoys the people in the county that they aren't as successful as Cobb County and others?
NW: It bothers them. Yes it does. You can't shortcut it. I think one of the things is, it is not exactly like football either, the mentality of it. Lacrosse doesn't follow that. They are starting to embrace the community of lacrosse, it is sort of a little more free spirit.
I think that they are catching up. Whenever you are starting a new league, the problem is you have good kids and you have beginning kids. Unfortunately the good kids are not going to get better playing with the other kids and that is where you have the issue, that is where you have the struggle until those numbers even out where you can split off the good kids. And we aren't there yet, we are two years from that. You have better players that are playing in not very competitive (environments). That's what they are frustrated with and there is nothing you can do until those numbers even out. And they will.