Uniting a team Charleston Tribe lacrosse players inspired by teacher

Charleston Tribe coach Peter Collins talks with goalie Brandon Dawson.

The impact Peter Collins has had on the Charleston Tribe club lacrosse team can be seen in results on and off the field.

For the past two seasons, the Tribe has made it to the state championship game in its league before falling to the Benedictine Military team out of Savannah. There is disappointment in coming so close, but there also is perspective on how far they've come since the 25-year-old Collins took over the program three years ago. The Tribe players, who come from several schools in the Summerville area, have learned to give it their all on the field and off as well.

“We had a lot of great individual players, but we couldn't play together like a real team,” said Tribe player Carson Jones, who will be a senior at Summerville High School next year. “Peter took over ... and got our team to work together, and we've gone to state twice. He made us more serious about (lacrosse). We all get along really well. There are no school rivalries.”

But it's Collins' battle off the field that has made the players even closer. Collins recently had to tell his players that his Hodgkin's lymphoma had resurfaced. His battle with cancer has inspired the players and strengthened their resolve.

“Seeing everything he's going through and he keeps coming back coaching, we have gotten a lot closer as we try to support Peter. He's given us a common bond,” Jones said.

Collins said the players and their families have rallied around him, and they have become a close-knit family.

“Going through radiation and then coming back and my players seeing me without my hair and not being able to do what I used to do on the field, the kids really rallied around me, really supported me,” Collins said.

Jones' father, Dr. Tim Jones, said prior to Collins becoming the Tribe's coach that it was a group of players who had no connectivity — individuals not playing as a team.

“Five years later, they look like a team. In big, bold letters on the bottom of their jersey it spells out family. He has sculpted this group of young boys to fine boys of character,” Jones said.

Lacrosse in many ways defines Collins. He began playing the sport on a club team at Fort Dorchester High School. As a high school student, he became a volunteer lacrosse coach for middle school athletes. Collins decided to attend the College of Charleston because he wanted to continue coaching, and that led him to major in elementary education. Collins teaches eighth-grade science at Alston Middle School and in 2012 was a Rookie Teacher of the Year.

One of Collins' biggest goals is to have lacrosse become a recognized high school sport in Dorchester District 2, where he attended school and now teaches.

“We have so much talent, but at the same time, we need more. We need more competition and the only way to do that is to get the sport to the next level and make the sport grow,” Collins said.

He said it is difficult for the Tribe to play against the type of competition it needs to improve because the public school programs in the Lowcountry are reluctant to play a meaningless game in which their players could be injured. He said more coaches are needed and the sport needs to begin at a younger age.