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Behind ‘The Crown’: How Chris Schiller Helped Build A Major Lacrosse Event In The South

Chris Schiller was not ready to give up on lacrosse after his playing career ended. His indoor career with the Rochester Knighthawks resulted in a 2007 title and an induction into the Knighthawks Hall of Fame in 2016. He also played for the United States in two FIL World Indoor Lacrosse Championships before joining the US indoor team’s coaching staff as an assistant. He also spent time with his hometown Rochester Rattlers of Major League Lacrosse before his work life took him down to the Carolinas. He discovered just how much a hotbed of lacrosse the south was.

“The (Charlotte) Hounds were here,” said Schiller. “The lacrosse scene was already set here by some incredible individuals. One of my best friends growing up, he’s the head coach of Providence Day here, runs a really large youth program. Does a great job, really builds the knowledge around here from a lacrosse standpoint. So, the lacrosse scene was already set. It was stable, it was growing, and it’s just exploded for the nine years I’ve been here. Not because of me, but because of all these youth coaches that want to get involved down here.”

Chris Schiller also saw how the recruiting process for high school players was a mess.

“The showcase started with me just seeing the scene of recruiting in high school,” Schiller said. “I had a certain belief that the way I got recruited was I thought the best way. So I wanted to bring something like that in some respect. . . So I was a big believer in hiring as many college coaches as possible. I don’t believe in sending a kid to a tournament with 5,000 other kids. I don’t care if you have 200 college coaches, the chances of you getting a good look is very difficult unless you’re in one of the top, top club teams making it to that final championship game.”

So Chris Schiller set to change the way recruiting was done for the southern lacrosse community. To do that, he founded the Southern Select Lacrosse Showcase.

“I brought the concept of hey, I’m going to hire all these coaches on staff,” Schiller said. “They’re there for the entire week, it’s not just I’m going to do the All-Star game and leave. All these kids are coached by these coaches for three straight days. It’s that personal relationship they develop. They truly get to see these kids and truly get to know them as people and players.”

While the idea was easy to come up with, Chris Schiller knew it was not going to be easy to get the showcase to succeed.

“It’s a tough market, it’s a saturated market in terms of showcases,” Schiller said. “These kids all have options. Generally, their club coaches tend to run showcases themselves for their kids. It’s a very tough market to try to run something like I do.”

Despite that saturation, Southern Select is still running strong.

“I think it’s remained extremely stable,” Schiller said. “Nine years, we’ve had showcases come in to Charlotte and the Carolinas. Every year, someone tries, it doesn’t go well, and they’re out. So I’m pretty proud that it’s lasted nine years, and it’s remained stable, about 150-200 kids a year in the showcase. That to me is a success.”

While the Southern Select Lacrosse Showcase is going strong, that was not the only idea Chris Schiller had cooking in the lacrosse world. While Schiller described the showcase, behind him a large crowd gathered, examining the NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte. While they enjoyed the exhibits, they were truly there to take in the 2019 MLL Draft as part of a weekend celebrating lacrosse around the Crown Lacrosse Tournament. Schiller had gotten four quality NCAA teams to come to Charlotte for two games in three days. Three of the teams ranked in the top five nationally.

READ MORE: Read about the 2019 Crown Lacrosse Tournament from the perspective of the NCAA coaches who had their teams competing at the event here.

“I kept seeing these one-off tournaments where these teams went off to California, Atlanta, and all these places to play away from their home bases and cities,” Schiller said. “And I’m like, why can’t that happen here? I played at Penn State, so I talked to (Penn State head coach Jeff) Tambroni, and I’m like what do you think of this idea. He’s like I love it, set it up. So it was born. Honestly, it just snowballed from there in a good way. Once we got the teams locked down, I could focus on expanding it to the MLL draft, Mike Powell playing, Greg Gurenlien, Drew Adams, and Rob Pannell coming down.”

The clinics were an added bonus on Saturday morning that Schiller was quick to credit the players for.

“I’m good friends with Greg and Drew,” Schiller said. “It’s all about contacts and meeting people. Just being good stewards with helping people out. That’s what this whole event is about. Talking to Greg, Drew, and Rob, they went to Cornell and Penn State. They wanted to come down anyways. So put the clinic on. That was their, that was on them. They put that together. I just wanted it. . . This event started getting bigger, because I wanted to fill it. I wanted people to have options.”

What started as a one-off tournament blossomed into the Nittany Lions, the Towson Tigers, the Cornell Big Red, and the Jacksonville Dolphins playing two games in three days sandwiched around clinics taught by some of the best players in the world, musical performances by Mike Powell, and the next generation of MLL players being selected. Yet it all started with getting Tambroni and his Nittany Lions locked in followed by Pete Milliman and the Cornell Big Red.

“I’m best friends with Pete Milliman,” Schiller said. “Once I got that matchup set, that both coaches were like we’ll do it, getting Towson and Jacksonville, I’m like why don’t we make it a little bigger? Where it’s a two-game weekend, preparing you for Memorial Day weekend, and it just morphed into that. I played with (Towson head coach Nadelen) Shawn on the U.S. team, I grew up with him. (Jacksonville head coach John) Galloway, I played against and he’s an Upstate guy. It was just a natural fit. It kept growing.”

For an event held in Charlotte with teams from up and down the eastern seaboard, the Crown had a distinct Western New York flavor — Schiller, Nadelen and Milliman all come from the Rochester area. Chris Schiller hails from Penfield, Nadelen from Henritta and Milliman from Rochester. Tambroni and Galloway are from the Syracuse area, while Tambroni is from Camillus. The geographical proximity of their upbringings had a hand in their connections, and it was these connections Schiller leaned on to get the Crown going.

“That was the easiest part,” Schiller said before addressing the struggles of getting the event off the ground. “The hardest part is the operations that go along with this type of event. It was getting people engaged and excited about it. In my mind, everyone has a lot of options including local kids here. There’s so much going on. So, the hardest part was trying to get the hype up about the event, getting people to go to the event and the operations to pull it off. When these teams started getting No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 rankings, you have to put on a good event, because it brings a lot of attention. So that was hard.”

While Schiller talked, the crowd continued to fill the first floor of the Hall of Fame. Fans posed for pictures, chatted with representatives from the MLL, the Hounds, and the Atlanta Blaze, and checked out the exhibits.

“That was almost a natural fit,” Schiller said. “The draft traditionally has been up in Baltimore. I know with the whole dynamic of the PLL and the MLL going on, you have to do things different. The PLL is forcing the MLL to raise their game, which is great for everyone. It gives people more options, it gives players more options, the quality starts going. So they approached us, we approached them, it doesn’t matter how it happened, but it happened. The idea, they visited Charlotte. We threw the idea out at them to have it here, we took a site tour, and ideas just kept popping. I mean, this is awesome. MLL’s never done anything like this. This is pretty cool. I think this is going to be a skeleton for any professional organization to host a draft in a lacrosse atmosphere.”

While big events dominated the weekend, Chris Schiller had an opportunity to grow the game due to a couple of graduates of Penn State who wanted to donate tickets. It went from just handing out free tickets to influencing a special lacrosse program in Charlotte.

“There’s two individuals here, Rob Warren and Wes Furchner, class of 1996 and 2000, who wanted to donate tickets. So Chris Matthew, our ops guy, said hey, I saw this ESPN story on the Charlotte Secondary School. Why don’t we take their donation of tickets, give it to them, and we’ll celebrate the growth of lacrosse. We’ll give tickets, they’ll give tickets, it’s a feel-good type of thing. People need help, the less-fortunate, people just getting into the sport. We’re trying to grow the game, and that’s just a great way to do it. It all kind of meshed together. People want to give. We had an organization that needs help. That’s how it was born.”

Not only did the players receive tickets, but they were honored during halftime on Friday with Charlotte Hound and Cornell jerseys.

“They all put it on,” Schiller said. “That’s what it’s all about. When you get so much, you start not appreciating what you’re getting. These kids, they’re starting to feel appreciated and get things they’ve never had before. You see it, they appreciate the gift we gave them. You saw it on their faces. If I gave someone something like that, a jersey, they’re like oh cool and put it over their shoulder. Those kids, they loved it.”

People coming together to make things happen at the Crown was a theme. Schiller was as quick to credit people behind the scenes as the coaches and players that everyone could see. Prior to the Crown, he had the jitters, but he assembled a team of volunteers that made the weekend work.

the crown lacrosse classic peyton williams chris schiller
Screenshot: Penn State Men’s Lacrosse Instagram. Original photo by Peyton Williams.

“Two weeks ago, I was a nervous wreck,” Schiller said. “It’s gone. The train’s rolling. We figured out a lot of things behind the scenes yesterday. It is what it is. You don’t need to know what’s going on behind the scenes. I thought the event ran great because of people like Chris Matthew. He’s our ops guy, he did everything yesterday. The volunteers, we had 20-plus volunteers from the lacrosse community come in here and volunteer their time to walk teams out, to deliver food. Anything you can think of. Deliver towels. It takes everybody.

“Logistics is everything. This is our first event. I thought it ran pretty much without a hitch. We still have a day to go, and it’s a big day, but we’re feeling very confident. Things that we don’t talk about is we’re going to have a full year to sell this thing now, in terms of sponsors, getting people involved. We’re getting women involved now, so let’s get women’s organizations involved. I want to empower women to come out and see what strong women there are out there playing lacrosse. It’s just going to morph into something big, bringing whole communities together.”

Unfortunately for Chris Schiller and the Crown, Friday night’s weather put a damper on the festivities, both figuratively and literally. A near-constant rain coupled with temperatures in the low 40s could have kept everyone away. Schiller even acknowledged he would have stayed, but the fans impressed him.

“I wouldn’t have come,” Schiller said. “Good for them. That’s strong. 41 and rainy, good for them. That’s why tomorrow’s going to be amazing. It’s the first nice day we’ve had here in a long time in terms of heat. It’s setting up, man. It should be good. . . Down here, the weather plays a major role. We couldn’t have asked for worse weather than last night, and people came out. . . I think tomorrow is going to be the measuring stick for how this event does. If we don’t have a big crowd, then I will say the idea was great. The coaches and the players love it, I talked to all of them. They think it’s a great thing. Everything that’s come together with Drew, the clinics, and the MLL Draft, people love it, it’s great. We’re bringing the lacrosse community together. We need people to come out to the games. Tomorrow is going to be the measuring stick to see. Talk to me after tomorrow, and I’ll let you know how the event went.”

After the final buzzer sounded Sunday, Chris Schiller made his way off the field. The exhaustion was evident. Yet he saw the crowd that had assembled on the final day of the first Crown. Saturday night, ahead of the final day, he took a moment to look back at his journey and see if he ever imagined being in the position to pull off an event like the Crown.

“I don’t know,” Schiller said, “Probably not. If I’m honest, no. But did I imagine always being involved with the sport? Yeah. I’ve always thought of things to do, and I just have never done them. Finally this idea was good. I truly believe this idea is good. It’s great for the community. … Like I just want people to have fun and meet each other and make connections and love the game.”

As the interview wound down, the discussion naturally turned to the future. What does Schiller have in mind for the Crown? Was it simply a one-off tournament?

“We’ve got a lot of big things happening,” Schiller said. “I’m not going to announce them yet. I don’t like to say anything until I’ve got stuff in writing, because you’re setting false expectations. What I will say is we’re going to have two, hoping once again top-5, men’s teams and two top-10 women’s teams playing here next year, and a Division II game to boot. So we’re going to have a Division II men’s game, a high-level DI women’s game, and a high-level DI men’s game all in one day. This is going to be a one-day event. It’ll be a weekend again, but it’s going to be a one-day event, because it’s too tough. I mean it’s too tough when you have a Friday-Sunday. These kids, they have stuff to do. Sunday’s always a great day. Usually nothing’s going on. I did feel bad Friday, it’s tough to get to. So we learned our lessons, so next year it’s going to a one-day Sunday event.”

The addition of a high-level DI women’s game was not lost when looking at the crowd assembled for the MLL Draft. There was a girls’ club team in attendance in their jerseys and excitement was evident on their faces. Adding a women’s game to the Crown is another chance for Chris Schiller and crew to grow the game.

Sunday afternoon, Schiller largely got his weather wish. A slight sprinkle to start the event soon gave way to sunshine and warmer temperatures. The crowd was significant and loud. After the final game finished, Schiller slowly walked off the field to join friends and family. The exhaustion was evident. When asked about his final thoughts on the weekend, he simply said to wait for next year. If the weekend is any indication, Schiller is on to something with the Crown in Charlotte, North Carolina.