In Paul Sieben's profession, it pays to have a vision, a solid concept of what the future might hold. Sieben's not a palm reader, he's an architect, a man who builds substantial structures.
Sieben has prominent buildings to his credit, but his most challenging creation might be the girls lacrosse program he started last year at St. Ursula Academy, because this was something made without a blueprint or a set of plans - no steel, no bricks, no mortar - just Sieben's desire to give lacrosse to others.
Sieben, who grew up playing lacrosse on Long Island and officiated college lacrosse in the Midwest for about 10 years, wanted to pass on his love for the oldest American sport to others. He approached school officials at Ottawa Hills, then St. Ursula about starting a lacrosse program, and he said those magic words all school administrators love: “I'll pay for everything.”
There was interest at Ottawa Hills, but not enough girls signed up to field a team. Sieben then contacted St. Ursula and found more interested players, and formed a combined team - the St. Ursula Lightning - with athletes from the two schools. Last year's team had 19 girls, and this year there are 25.
“What fool would say no to an offer like that?” asked St. Ursula principal Jane Charette. “Our budget did not allow us to add another sport, but Paul came forth with a good idea and was willing to make it work both financially and as a coach.
“The response has been very enthusiastic, and this is an opportunity that meets the needs of more young women and gives them something to feel a part of.”
“Considering this was something new, and a sport that most of these girls were not familiar with, we've had an excellent response in numbers, and in the quality of the scholar-athletes we have on the team,” Sieben said. “Girls from both schools have come together, developed some lasting friendships, and their enthusiasm for lacrosse has been contagious.”
And they have been successful. The team went 9-7 in its first year, and goes into its final games of this season this weekend in Cleveland with a 9-10-2 record. The team competes as a club at the varsity level in the Ohio School Girls Lacrosse Association, a group of 40 school clubs from around the state.
The Lightning plays against a team from Sylvania, but the rest of schools in the league are in the Cleveland area. Since the team does not have a field, all of its games are on the road
“Playing every game away from home makes it tougher, but we've been able to overcome that,” Sieben said. “I like winning as much as anyone else, but I think it's more important to be building character.”
Toledo-area businessman Mike Wilcox, who was a three-time All-American lacrosse player at Bowling Green State University, said Sieben's love for the game has made the new program an instant success.
“I've played the sport since I was a kid, and I've been around the game for a very long time, and I have never seen anyone with more passion for lacrosse than Paul Sieben,” Wilcox said. “He has single-handedly done something very significant by giving life to a new high school sport for these girls. He's changed some lives and given some of these kids a real sense of purpose.”
Sieben, 54, passes the credit to the sport.
“Lacrosse is a sport that combines a number of skills, and it requires quite a bit of hand-eye coordination. I think a lot of our girls came out because it was something different, but they've grown to love the sport because it is so fast and so challenging.”
And lacrosse offers the girls another major benefit - college scholarship opportunities. Sieben said four of the five seniors from last year's team played college lacrosse this season, and the sport could be spreading to more schools in the area.
“Some of the other schools in Toledo have shown an interest in starting a program, and I'm willing to help them get it going. Some people say I have a passion for building; I like to design and build buildings, but I also like to build character. I see coaching lacrosse as an opportunity to build something worthwhile and something very lasting. It's my hope that the love of the game will stay with these girls for a very long time.”