FOUR QUESTIONS…A CONVERSATION WITH JOHN HAYDEN
John Hayden has been the head lacrosse coach at Apex High School for the past 14 years after founding the team as a club in 2001, and his team just won the NCHSAA state 4-A men’s championship.
Coach Hayden attended Farmingdale High School on Long Island and helped his team win the Nassau County lacrosse championship before heading to Rutgers and participating in the NCAA two times while playing for the Scarlet Knights. He credits his outstanding coaching staff and dedicated players for the on-field success the Apex team has realized throughout the years.
Apex has played in three straight championship games and six overall while winning titles in 2015, 2013, and 2005 (before NCHSAA sanctioning). Apex has an all time playoff record of 34-10 while playing in 9 of the past 12 final fours. Coach Hayden has served as the Dean of Student Services at Apex for 17 years and is a long time resident of Apex.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in high school lacrosse during your time as a coach?
The growth! When I moved here almost 20 years ago, I think there were about ten high schools playing (public and private combined). We are over 130 teams now from the Outer Banks to Asheville. Incredible!
The level of play continues to increase as well. The teams we field now are so much better than the ones we fielded even 10 years ago.
I have loved being involved along the way. There are so many great people like Jim Kirkley and Duke Whelan, who were so instrumental in growing the game the right way- too many to name, but those guys stand out for me. The NCHSAA getting out front of it and fully sanctioning the sport starting in 2010 was a huge catalyst for further growth.
The end game is not college scholarships. The end game is opportunities for kids to be a part of an engaging activity that they can be passionate about and become more connected with their school and positive role models. The numbers of kids who have been positively affected by this growth over the years is staggering. It is very satisfying to see play out. The work is not done though!
What is it about lacrosse, do you think, that has enabled it to enjoy such growth in the last few years?
I think lacrosse is the kind of sport that where someone can go to a game for the first time and come back so excited after seeing it. We have had so many people in our school (faculty and students) see games over the years and come away saying that was one of the best sporting events they have seen. This sport requires athleticism, toughness, brains, and a lot of heart. It is fun to watch, but even more fun to play. The basic skill of catching and throwing can be almost addictive. At my semi-advanced age I still loving having the stick in my hand at practice or at home and just playing catch.
Lacrosse is still an attractive sport to a lot of athletes because it is the type of sport you can pick up even in high school and excel. It has elements of basketball, hockey, football, and soccer so a lot of kids can cross over and understand the sport quickly and develop the skill level needed to be successful. Also, you do not have to be any size person to do well--two of the best players I have ever had at Apex were also two of the smallest guys on their teams.
What is your best memory of high school athletics personally, from your own involvement in them?
I still talk to my players about the experience I had in high school playing lacrosse. I was on a great team with a great group of guys who are still all friends today, even though we live in different areas of the country. I have always hoped that the players that I coach could have a similar type of experience both on the field and off the field. This year’s Apex team does remind me so much of that team I played on. We always considered ourselves to be very unselfish and play together as a team better than anyone else. I think that is one of the things that set this Apex team apart.
In your limited spare time, what are some of the activities you are involved in away from athletics?
Funny question- spare time?
Actually, it may sound corny, but the greatest thrill I have in my life is watching my own kids grow up. I love being involved in what they do, but more so, I love just watching and being a fan and supporting them. My daughter will be at Apex High School with me next year and she is very active in athletics and life and in general. I know how fortunate I am to get to work with my son in the way that I have throughout his high school years. I know not many parents have the kind of opportunity to work so closely with their child (and his friends as well). It has been great for me to have that kind of window into his life and to be a part of the lives of the other boys who we have watched grow up together. That time will come to an end about a year from now, but I will always appreciate that we were able to do this together.
Aside from all that, I can’t wait to go back to Bald Head Island this summer!