Photo by Brian Ray
Steamboat boys lacrosse coach Bob Hiester leads his team from the sidelines during Saturday's game against Evergreen High School.
Steamboat Springs There's a reason Steamboat Springs High School boys lacrosse coach Bob Hiester is in the Colorado Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
There's a reason the Colorado Lacrosse Coach of the Year award is named after Hiester.
And there's a reason that when supporters moved to get lacrosse sanctioned by the Colorado High School Activities Association, Hiester gave the presentation.
Say the name Hiester in the ranks of Colorado lacrosse, and everyone has a story.
The veteran coach has been on the sidelines of lacrosse games in Colorado for 38 years and has loved the sport for more than four decades. He started in 1970 at Cherry Creek, when there were eight teams in the state and just a league champion. Hiester's seen the start of high school programs at Smoky Hill, Grandview and Steamboat Springs.
"You go anywhere and mention you played for coach Hiester and everyone knows who you're talking about," said former Steamboat lacrosse player Jake Flax, who now plays on the club team at Colorado State University. "He's such a prominent figure in lacrosse. He's an ambassador for the sport."
Hiester said he's had fun watching the sport he fell in love with more than 40 years ago grow the way it has. According to statistics from the National Federation of State High School Associations, lacrosse is currently the fastest-growing high school sport in the nation. Play has increased an eye-popping 227 percent in the past 10 years. In Colorado - the 11th most popular state for lacrosse - CHSAA has gone from 24 sanctioned teams in 1999 to 49 this year. That number doesn't include the numerous club and independent programs in places such as Durango, Aspen and Pueblo.
"I never really thought too much about the growth," Hiester said. "Each year there were teams that kept coming in and each year it got bigger and bigger. It's been neat to watch the game grow."
Hiester said he thinks a lot of athletes are drawn to the sport for the same reason the veteran coach was years ago at Colorado College. Hiester was playing football at Colorado College when he was approached to play lacrosse.
"They said, 'You can come out, knock people down and run,'" Hiester said. "I looked at it, and it was a fun game."
Hiester learned a little about lacrosse while he was at Colorado College. He started teaching at Cherry Creek in 1968, and by the spring of 1970, he was running the lacrosse program. After 22 years at Smoky Hill coaching football and lacrosse, Hiester moved to Grandview for three years before coming to Steamboat.
"All the programs have survived real well," Hiester said. "I feel good about where it went. Each place it was kind of a natural progression."
Embracing the game
It's certainly been a progression in Steamboat. Hiester compared the first practices in Steamboat to standing in a popcorn machine, with balls going every which way.
"Coach Hiester was one of these hall of fame Colorado coaches. We had coach (Kelly) Meek and coach (Mark) Drake, so we had had coaches like that," said Ryan Hochreiter, who played on the first Steamboat lacrosse team and now helps coach the junior varsity. "All we had to do was shut up and listen. We knew he'd tell us what to do right. We didn't know what to expect, what we were getting into, or what the game could bring to us. But coach Hiester instilled a love of the game in us that still is there today."
Like his previous stops, Hiester is building a program that is ready to compete. He calls this year's Sailors the most complete team he's had in his seven years. And like the programs he started before, when Hiester does decide to leave Steamboat, the program will no doubt be in better shape.
"The stick is like a magnet," Hiester said. "When you know you've made it in lacrosse is when you see a little kid walking down the street with a stick. That's it. It's starting to spread. It's watching kids embrace a game they don't know. It's taking them from there to where they understand the game and enjoy the game. To the point where they are now, where we're playing the game at a pretty good level."