Back when high school lacrosse barely existed in North Carolina, Brent Voelkel was on two men’s lacrosse national championship teams at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Since Voelkel was in school in the 1980s, he’s watched the sport grow.
“When I was in college down here, there wasn’t high school ball,” Voelkel said. “Now there’s got to be well over 100 teams playing in and around the North Carolina area.”
While Voelkel is originally from Baltimore, he fell in love with Chapel Hill when he was in school.
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Voelkel didn’t just like Chapel Hill for the memories the town gave him. Voelkel liked it for the potential he saw and the impact he thought he could have in the lacrosse community.
So when he had the chance to move back, it was an easy decision.
“This was an area I really felt like things might really grow as far as the sport of lacrosse,” Voelkel said. “I wanted to give back to the game.”
Voelkel decided to give back by going to a place where lacrosse was still growing.
Since returning to N.C., Voelkel has coached various youth programs, and this season is his fourth as a head coach at Chapel Hill High School.
“He’s a good guy,” said Timothy Bennett, Chapel Hill High School’s athletic director. “As I’ve gotten to know him, he does a good job with our lacrosse program. We have a quality program here. He does it the right way.”
Bennett jokingly admitted to being what he calls “lacrosse challenged,” but he trusts Voelkel’s experience and lacrosse background.
Bennett has been with Chapel Hill High School for less than two years, and the school he came from didn’t even have a lacrosse program. Coming to a school with a program like the one Voelkel runs is like night and day for Bennett.
“Everything I’ve learned about lacrosse I’ve learned about from our lacrosse team,” Bennett said. “All I can tell you is, when the season starts, he’s got a JV and varsity team with a bunch of kids that work hard, and I’m pleased with what I see.”
Marshall Bowden helps Voelkel out as an assistant coach and has been working with him for about five years. The two met when Voelkel was coaching Bowden’s youngest son at the middle school level. While Bowden never played lacrosse, he got involved in coaching when his son started playing.
Bowden said Voelkel’s vast amount of lacrosse experience, knowledge and connections help him, but there’s more than just experience that makes Voelkel a great coach.
“He’s just very personable. He’s not a standoffish type coach,” Bowden said. “He doesn’t push kids away necessarily. He brings them in.”
Bowden added that the type of community-like atmosphere lacrosse provides keeps him engaged in the sport. He said Voelkel acts as a father figure to players, helping to perpetuate that sense of community and family at Chapel Hill High.
“That’s one of the reasons why I like him,” Bowden said. “He’s very mild-mannered, but he’ll come after you very hard.”
Voelkel came down to N.C. hoping to bring developmental lacrosse in the area to the same level of that of Pennsylvania, Baltimore or New York. But whether he does that or not, Voelkel just wants his players to learn and grow together in almost a family-like way, the same way he did.
“Lacrosse can take you so far,” Voelkel said. “But the life lessons you learn along the way are really important.”
Max Miceli is senior journalism major from High Point, writing for the Durham Voice and Carrboro Commons.