Betsy Dripps met lacrosse about 60 years ago as a fourth grader at the the Shipley School outside Philadelphia. At that time, lacrosse was little-known, mainly practiced in Eastern regional pockets like Philadelphia. It is one of the oldest sports in North America, with roots in Native American culture dating to the 1600s, and exposure to the sport, particularly women’s lacrosse, required you to be in the right place at the right time.
Dripps was one of those people. It was love at first sight, and the former player, coach, and official has pioneered the sport, helping lacrosse achieve its mainstream status today.
For those efforts, Dripps will be inducted into the Eastern Massachusetts Lacrosse Hall of Fame in ceremonies at Harvard University in Cambridge on June 28.
Dripps founded the girls program at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) in 1995, and coached the team for 21 seasons before retiring in 2015. Her teams went to the state tourney in 18 of those seasons, and won between 150 and 200 matches over that span.
She is the second Island resident in the past two years to achieve Eastern Massachusetts Lacrosse Hall of Fame recognition. Jackie Diggs, an Island resident and another lifelong advocate of women’s lacrosse, was inducted in 2017 for more than 50 years of advocacy and involvement in the sport as a coach, administrator, and official.
The induction ceremony and a reception will be held at Harvard’s Bright-Landry Hockey Center from 5:30 to 7:30, then Dripps will move to Harvard Stadium to be introduced at halftime of a match between a men’s professional lacrosse all-star team against the U.S. national men’s lacrosse team.
We know Dripps for her work here starting the girls program, and from her legacy of players who have gone on to grow the sport, but the MVRHS success was the capstone of her pioneering work.
“I made the high school team as an eighth grader, and played five years of varsity lacrosse before moving on to Sweet Briar College and worked as a player and assistant, I guess to get the program off the ground,” she said last week. Her daughters Heidi and Marion were lacrosse team captains at the Shipley School, Dripps’ high school alma mater. Heidi continued her lacrosse career at Middlebury College.
Dripps started a women’s club team in the Philadelphia area after four years as a Navy wife, while raising three kids. “Our team played in three national tournaments. I guess I played the sport for 30 years, and I coached during that time,” she said.
Dripps, 71, is fit, restless, and energetic. She is as focused on the sport as that fourth grader ever was. “We got here in 1994, and I told (then athletic director) Russ MacDonald I wanted to start a girls lacrosse program. He said, “Betsy, there are no teams. Who will you play?” But I had noticed that some South Shore towns, Hingham, Duxbury, Scituate, were starting programs. I contacted the coaches, and we put home-and-away series together. And Russ gave me the OK in 1995. There were no leagues then. You played whoever had a team. No problem getting teams to come here. They loved coming to the Vineyard,” she said.
The early days were really a bootstrap operation. “I talked with Mr. Brine, who ran the Brine Sporting Goods business. He had a home on Chappaquiddick. He gave me sticks. Marianne Neill of Marianne’s Screen Printing in Vineyard Haven and Chesca owner Joanne Maxwell, who had a daughter on the team who wanted to learn, donated our goals. I lined the field myself, and we got going. I knew it would work; it’s a running game, like field hockey and soccer. We had 30 kids the first year, and a JV team in the second year,” she said.
From those early days, Dripps found herself touring England with her teams and hosting British girls teams on the Island.
Dripps’ approach to the game is different. She doesn’t know how many wins her teams had or the records of her top scorers, but she is proud that her teams had the highest grade-point average in the school.
“Records were never important to me, though I can tell you we were undefeated one year in the regular season. I really loved them loving it, the sportsmanship, being team players. A lot of kids went to college and did well at college lax,” she said.
Dripps may not be much for records, but she has an impressive talent for keeping track of her kids and their accomplishments. “I don’t want to leave anyone out, but I probably will,” she said, beginning a litany of accomplishments of her players in lacrosse and life.
“Vanessa Pisano [also a 1,000-point basketball scorer at MVRHS] set records at Wheaton, and is a lawyer. Scooter Campos, defense, played at Ohio Wesleyan. Madison Hughes played Division 1 for Central Connecticut State, and just won the Connecticut state championship coaching at New Canaan High School. Molly Fisher and Kurstin Moore [current MVRHS coach] played at Ithaca. Kelsey MacDonald played at Plymouth State, coached at Wellesley College, and coached the Israeli national team. She still holds the college record for ground ball efficiency. Taylor Macdonald played at Eastern Connecticut State, and coached in Colorado.
“Alexis Russillo played at Franklin Pierce, and Jenev Schilling at Hartwick. Lee Hayman is playing now at Denison University. Kayla Leonard and Kerry O’Donoghue played at Roger Williams.
“Kim Dowling, who was on one of my first lacrosse teams at the high school, is now coaching her daughter’s lacrosse team up in Maine.
“Hayley Pierce, who just graduated from medical school, played on a very competitive club team at the University of Miami while studying premed. Hayley received academic all-American honors for lacrosse while she was at MVRHS, being a top student in her class, and captain and the top player on the MVRHS lacrosse team,” Dripps said.
Dripps is a fan of multisport participation for kids to avoid burnout, and she wants the women’s game to retain its original premise of speed, perfect passing, and teamwork. “The boys game is physical. We need to avoid the run-and-gun physical game,” she said, calling also for more and improved officiating to ensure game flow.
“Lacrosse is a fun sport to play, whether you go on with it or not. It’s always more fun when you win, but it has to be fun. It’s OK to make mistakes, that’s how we learn. The camaraderie and sportsmanship that develop make it a great game,” she said.