The 1984 season made a lasting impression on the W&M Varsity Men’s Lacrosse team. While it was their final season as a D-1 team before becoming a club sport, it was also the beginning of an impactful legacy. The bonds they formed with each other and the program’s final head coach, William F. “Bill” Devine J.D. ’86, have continued to this day.
“There is no question that there is a binding relationship amongst anyone who was involved in W&M Men’s Lacrosse,” says former Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach Clarke Franke ’76, M.A.Ed. ’79. “I know guys from the ’60s to guys like Tim Carroll ’87 to recent alums — that group has common connections and relationships that don’t fade over time.”
This April, Franke, Carroll and alumni from the varsity team returned to campus for their annual reunion to watch the club team play and reconnect with each other. When alumni learned that Devine wouldn't be able to attend because of his health, a group of lacrosse alumni — including Carroll, Jack McDonald ’86, Rigg Mohler ’87 and Tom Tierney ’85 — gathered in the Shenandoah Valley earlier that spring to pay tribute to Devine and the impact he had on their lives.
Devine came to William & Mary to attend law school in the fall of 1983. He had previously played lacrosse at Washington & Lee and wasted little time joining the sport at W&M. He reached out to Franke and asked if he could help with the team, and Franke says he immediately made him assistant coach.
But before long, word came that the W&M Men’s Lacrosse varsity program was going to be cut for several reasons including budget constraints. Franke, a member of the team himself as a student under the direction of current W&M staff member Al Albert '69, M.Ed. '71, P '03, took this news deeply and personally.
“As a coach you have different relationships with every year’s team,” Franke remembers. “That freshman class that came in in 1983 was one of my favorite group of guys. It was hard to call the team, and especially the new guys, and tell them we weren’t coming back that spring.”
The team fought to ensure they could play one final season. Their efforts were successful, and Devine took on the head coaching responsibilities as Franke took a job in Baltimore. Franke says Devine helped keep the team together: “Bill’s involvement was very much — for the group at least — right place, right time.”
Carroll recalls that Devine was quoted in the Flat Hat student newspaper, “We'll take no prisoners,” in describing our approach to the season.
“We were undermanned, and we didn’t even have per diem food money,” Carroll says. “Why not play fearless? That’s a valuable lesson to learn before starting our work lives.”
Carroll was a member of the last freshman class recruited for the varsity team. Once lacrosse became a club sport, Carroll recalls, people joined the team because they loved the sport and wanted to be part of the culture built over decades, still fostered by Devine.
“Bill stepped up during what otherwise could have been a devastating chapter of our lives,” Carroll says. “When you see people do things like that for you, even when you’re a 19-year-old kid, that sort of dedication stays with you.”
Over the years, lacrosse alumni have stayed connected to each other and current W&M players. Most recently, thanks to efforts spearheaded by Albert, Franke and other alumni, the group has grown closer through their shared commitment to support lacrosse at W&M.
During the pandemic, they began raising funds for the club team, providing resources for new uniforms, funding for charter buses to games and coaching stipends. They also have begun meeting every spring to watch the team compete and reminisce over a reunion weekend.
When the alumni heard that Devine’s health was in decline due to a recent diagnosis, they decided the time was right to honor the man who held the team together at a critical juncture in their lives.
“We wanted to acknowledge his impact on us and on William & Mary,” Carroll says. “He ensured our experience here was meaningful. All while being a law student!”
This spring, Carroll and several other lacrosse alumni visited Devine at Washington & Lee, where he has remained involved with lacrosse over the years. They presented their former coach with a framed letter of gratitude and recognition from William & Mary, signed by Athletics Director Brian Mann, honoring his dedication to the program, students and university.
“When needed most, you stepped up,” the letter reads in part. “To have devoted yourself to those teams while simultaneously pursuing a law degree required an extraordinary person, one devoted to serving others. Time has demonstrated just how extraordinary you are, both through your successful career in law and continuing devotion to teaching the game of lacrosse.
“The true legacy of a coach is seen in the lives influenced by their example. The admiration and affection that your former players show today reflects just how big a role you filled then for those teams and the young men you led. Your legacy, seen in the lives of men’s lacrosse alumni, stands as a testament to the enduring lessons you taught on the field.”
Carroll says that seeing the look on Bill’s face when they handed him the letter touched all of them: “Not only did he know how much we appreciated the impact he had on our lives, but he was acknowledged by the university for what he meant to us and William & Mary.”
Many of the alumni from W&M Men’s Lacrosse have stayed involved with the sport after their time at the university, going on to coach teams, establish youth programs and fundraise for lacrosse in their own communities.
“When you achieve enough distance and perspective,” Carroll reflects, “you realize it’s not enough to just say ‘there was something special about that time,’ you need to approach it like Clarke and Bill did. You need to engage and nurture the culture that makes the team special. The guys who played for them are just passing along what they gave.”
Carroll was a panelist for the Presidential Conversation on data revolution amid global change at William & Mary Weekend in San Francisco on June 3. During the weekend, he met Jill Ellis ’88, L.H.D. ’16 and Kathy Carter ’91, who headlined the kickoff celebration.
“Jill and Kathy both played soccer at W&M during my time. Their impact has been incredible on the field, and more importantly they have touched lives in so many ways off of it. Witnessing the full arc of how they seized the opportunity made possible in part by lacrosse being cut delivered me full circle,“ says Carroll. “Add in Clarke and Bill and the cast of characters that stuck together and after forty years, and I can finally say I would not trade the experience.”