When the Toronto Rock’s Adam Jones found out he and his wife Lauren were expecting their first child, he was in the middle of a playoff run to Canada’s national championship with his summer team in Peterborough. He was itching to tell his teammates the good news, but had to wait for the perfect moment.
“I remember knowing Lauren was pregnant but no one on our team knew. Then during the Mann Cup in New Westminster, BC, I surprised her with a flight out for the Friday game. We won the Cup that night, and immediately in the locker team I told the guys we were expecting. It was such an awesome experience.”
Family is just about the only thing that trumps lacrosse, so it’s lucky that lacrosse teams are extended families and the two worlds can intertwine.
The National Lacrosse League has a lot of dads in various stages of building their families and we wanted to celebrate them for Father’s Day. In addition to Jones, we talked to New England Black Wolves’ assistant coach Darryl Gibson and fan favorite Shawn Evans of the Buffalo Bandits.
Jones’ daughter Avery just celebrated her first birthday. Gibson’s son Tyson is a star at Robert Morris University and expected to be a high NLL pick this September. Evans has four children including an 11-year-old daughter, five-year-old twin daughters and a one-year-old son.
“The day Avery was born was the best day of my life,” said Jones, an Owen Sound native. “A true gift. It definitely makes it harder having to leave for long road trips knowing what is waiting at home. I’m lucky to have Lauren, my amazing wife who is supportive and allows me to still play. I know it can’t be easy.”
One thing that makes long road trips easier is being able to coach your own kids in minor sports. Right now, Avery Jones is a little young for a lacrosse field, but she’s already learning the sport by watching her dad and mimicking his moves as she crawls around the house with her pint-sized lacrosse stick.
Evans’ eldest daughter Paityn is playing both box and field lacrosse right now in the family’s hometown of Peterborough and Evans proudly says she loves them both.
“I’m coaching her in box lacrosse. She’s enjoying it. It’s nice to watch and see your children play something that you grew up playing.”
Gibson coached Tyson all through minor lacrosse and said that he’s loved the game since he was a child.
“Instead of daycare, he came to practices and summer lacrosse camps with me. He developed his passion for the game organically from being around it so much,” Gibson explained.
He saw a great work ethic in his son, that, coupled with a natural talent, made him realize that Tyson had a future in the game.
“Like any parent, you just want him to be happy whatever he does. The game has given him so much already; everything else is just a bonus. I’m just glad I can still watch him play.”
Paityn Evans could end up representing Canada one day in international play and follow in her father’s footsteps to a high-level NCAA school – her cousin Erica also did that – but Evans said she’ll face no pressure from him to choose lacrosse in the future.
“I hope she likes to play and enjoys it as much as I do but whatever she decides to do is up to her,” Evans said. “I’ll help guide her a little bit, but she can do whatever she wants to do.”
Jones is prepared for possibility that Avery won’t even like sports at all when she grows up, although with a lacrosse-playing father and a hockey-playing mother – and all their teammates – she’ll certainly have lots of positive influences.
At some point, parents have to let their children go but each of the men hope that by the time that happens, their children will have soaked up some of the knowledge they’ll pass on. They want them to be better than they are. To have a great work ethic, to be respectful and to make choices that make them happy.
Bringing child into the world is something special, Evans marvelled. Being a father is one of the best journeys that life can take you on. Bonding with your child over sports makes that journey extra special and exciting.
“Having children changes your life in every way,” he said. “I hope to take some of the things that my own dad taught me and teach my kids the same way but also use my own advice to guide their way.”
In addition to agreeing that their children changed their lives for the better, the three men also said that they owe much of their success to their own fathers, without whose influences they might never have picked up a stick.
Evans, in particular, choked up a little talking about the influence his father, Paul, had on him as a child. Paul Evans is one of Peterborough’s most well-known athletes and has been a staple in the local lacrosse and hockey communities since the 1970s.
“I really looked up to my dad,” Shawn said. “I never got to watch him play but I still hear a lot of great things and I’m one of those people that listens and respects people like that, that have something to teach. He had a huge hand in my career, coaching me and teaching me the skills I know now.”
The Evans family shares a tradition of winning. Paul won four Minto Cups and three Mann Cups. Shawn won two Mintos and currently has six Mann Cup wins in addition to the 2007 NLL championship with Rochester.
Jones’ father Brian also played lacrosse at a high level and helped the Peterborough Lakers win a Mann Cup in 1978. Jones won the same trophy with the same team last year – almost 40 years to the day.
“The best thing about my dad is how humble he is,” said Jones. “I didn’t find out he won a Mann Cup and a Memorial Cup in the same year until I was 18 years old and found out from someone else. I had to ask him about it. Since then I’ve always wanted to be humble like he is.”
Like Paul Evans, Brian Jones coached his son all the way up through minor lacrosse. But for Gibson, his sports relationship with his father was a little different.
“My dad was a Scottish immigrant who played rugby,” Gibson related.
But he fell in love with Canada’s national summer sport when his son did, and rarely missed any of Darryl’s games. He makes it to most of Tyson’s games, too.
“He was new to lacrosse, but he really loves the sport as a fan,” Gibson explained.
A year after Jones told his Lakers’ teammates that he and Lauren were expecting, they won the Mann Cup again, and five-month old Avery was there to witness it and even take a seat in the storied Cup. Evans was able to put his own baby boy, Rhett, in the Cup as well.
Winning championships with family by your side is the best feeling in the world and Jones, for one, can’t wait to celebrate an NLL Cup win next.
“Avery stood up and held onto the rail at her first Rock game so she could see,” Jones recalled. “I loved seeing that. When you have a baby, you go from playing for yourself to playing to give your child a chance to watch you play. Having Avery come watch is special and she makes me play better.”