BY GABE COHN
Some men are lucky enough to be professional coaches, teaching the game they love as a career. Some kids are lucky enough to be great athletes, talented enough at the game they love to earn a scholarship to play at an elite level. And sometimes the men who are lucky enough to coach are also lucky enough to coach their talented athletic kids at the college level.
When Rory Whipple was named the lacrosse program’s first head coach in 2011, he never would have imagined he would get the opportunity to coach his son in college. But, for the past three years, Whipple has had a unique opportunity to coach his son Conor here at UT.
This father-son relationship in sports began long before Conor decided to transfer from Georgetown University to the University of Tampa in 2013. It started in his hometown of Barrington, Rhode Island.
While growing up, Conor played more sports than just lacrosse; if it was considered a sport, Conor played it. As a child he was entrenched in football, lacrosse, baseball, basketball, swimming, wrestling, fencing and bowling. Through Conor’s eclectic sports childhood, his dad was always by his side.
“Ever since Conor was five years old, I have coached him in several of his favorite sports,” Whipple said. “I have coached him in pee-wee football, pee-wee wrestling, and pee-wee lacrosse, so I have always been there for Connor no matter what the sport.”
In 2000, Coach Whipple began his seven-year stint at Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island and that is where Conor began to fall in love with lacrosse.
“When my father was a college lacrosse coach at Bryant University I would go to all of his home games as well as a few practices,” Conor said. “The opportunity to be around those teams and that atmosphere sparked my love for lacrosse.”
After his tenure at Bryant University, Coach Whipple moved on to coach nearby Florida Southern University in Lakeland. With the new job came adjustments for the Whipple family. After the Whipples migrated to Florida, Connor had to make major adjustments. He repeated the eighth grade and played lacrosse for the All Saints’ Academy. Upon entering high school, however, his options were limited, so his parents sent him to Saint Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, Florida, an institution with both reputable academics and athletics.
While the move to a prep school presented a new experience and new challenges, Conor thrived. At Saint Andrew’s School, he was an eight-time letter winner (four in lacrosse, two in football, one in wrestling, and one in bowling), a three-time All-American, a Nike Blue Chip prospect, and a two-time state champion in lacrosse.
“I learned how to become an independent person at St. Andrew’s,” Conor said. “In moving away from my family at such a young age, I was forced into taking care of myself, so I thank my parents for giving me the opportunity to have that experience.”
Conor’s high school years gave him a chance to have an early feel for college life and gave him a chance to expand his game. But what was a good opportunity for Conor, left a sad reality for Coach Whipple.
“Unfortunately, for high school we decided to send Conor to Saint Andrews, so he was away for four years,” Whipple said. “As a result, we didn’t get an opportunity to see him play a lot and I didn’t get a lot of time to coach him, so it was hard for my wife and me.”
After making the transfer from Georgetown to UTampa, Conor’s college career has been a wild success. As a freshman, he made the first-team All-SSC, was the SSC player of the year and was named to the DII second team All-American team. As a sophomore, he racked up even more achievements, including being recognized on the SSC Commissioner’s Honor roll list and earning spots on the First Team All-SSC and SSC All-Championship team.
Coach Whipple explained how much of a pleasure it is to have Conor on the team and how much it means to him to see Connor have success at the collegiate level.
“In all of my years of coaching, Conor is one of the most motivated and dedicated kids I have coached,” Whipple said. “He has been a great leader and team captain and I am extremely fortunate to be able to coach him here at the University of Tampa.”
Often when a son plays for their dad in any capacity there is scrutiny amongst teammates, but in this case, Conor’s teammates are all supportive and Coach Whipple treats his son just like any other player. Coach Whipple, who is in the middle of his successful stint coaching his son, gave some advice for coaches who have the same opportunity. to coach their sons.
“Even though sometimes you might be harder on your son as a coach, just enjoy the opportunity,” Whipple said. “Throughout my coaching career, I have coached a lot of other kids, but the opportunity to coach my son in college has been very meaningful to me and I am grateful for the opportunity.”
The bond held by father/son duos like this is special. At an age when most children grow away from their parents, these pairs grow closer by working on the game they are both passionate about. Coach-dads and player-sons are able to share knowledge, moments and experiences that build both into better men. The Whipples have defined the lacrosse program at UTampa and continue to grow the game in the Tampa Bay community through their lacrosse camps and outreach programs. And of course, they do it together.