Brotherly Love Fuels Highland Park (TX) Program

By Eric S. Smith

Some coaches are the perfect personification of their team.

Ross Thomson is one of those coaches. Thomson played lacrosse at Duke University after his older brother Derek had gone there and became an honorable mention All-American defender.

Later, Derek headed to the Dallas area to start his life and coach high school lacrosse. Ross quickly followed suit.

"I've always followed my brother, whether it was to Duke or down here in Dallas," Thomson said.

Perhaps that is why Thomson is the perfect coach for Highland Park II. As the name would suggest, Highland Park II is a second varsity program at the school.

In the state of Texas, there are two high-school divisions. Division I is for developed programs to compete at the highest level in the state. Division II is designed for teams to grow, develop and eventually move into Div. I.

The Fighting Scots had two junior varsity teams, but the top team was destroying opponents and getting little competition. So a few years ago, there was talk of turning the first JV team into a Div. II varsity team. Initially, there was some resistance from the Texas High School Lacrosse League. But eventually the argument that a team of young players--Highland Park II has no seniors--that are trying to grow within the sport is truly why Div. II exists in Texas.

In 2007, Highland Park II began competing on the varsity level in Div. II. So Ross Thomson coaches the underclassmen who are attempting to develop into varsity-level players for the next season. The younger Fighting Scots, in a way, are following the older varsity team, which perhaps most appropriately is coached by Derek.

"We went to league with the number of kids we have, and the support of our board, and knew we could add another high-quality team into the league," the younger Thomson said. "There were some worries that we'd move kids around, but from an ethical standpoint, we don't do that. The players remain on the team they are initially selected for."

The Fighting Scots certainly have been a competitive club in Div. II in the last two seasons. In their first year, they lost in the state championship. But last season they captured the title--and Highland Park I also won the Div. I crown.

"It was huge for us," Thomson said of the Div. II title. "But we had losses during the year. We lost to Coppell in the city championship and came back and beat them. We also beat Cy-Fair who defeated us in the championship the year before.

"So our kids really grew and we proved to be a role model for others to emulate. We aren't just beating everyone in Div. II, but our kids grow throughout the year. That's exactly what a developmental program is all about."

Thomson admits his biggest struggles come at the beginning of the season. His team consists of mostly sophomores, but inevitably there are five or six juniors on the squad. Initially, those players are devastated that they aren't playing Div. I, but a little refocusing by Thomson does the trick.

"I have to remind my kids that this is not a downgrade," Thomson said. "I make them realize that they would be second or third string and rarely play on the Div. I team, but on our team they are leaders. These juniors really become like seniors and learn how to lead early, which really helps them when they move up to Div. I."

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