Puyallup: Sports

Heart, service at the core of lacrosse device’s creation

Larry Mackey demonstrates an overhand shot with the Elite Shot, a tool he created to help lacrosse players learn how to properly shoot overhand.
Larry Mackey demonstrates an overhand shot with the Elite Shot, a tool he created to help lacrosse players learn how to properly shoot overhand. jbessex@gateline.com

It may look innocent, but for Hassan Mackey, the device has brought on hours of frustration and nightmares.

Yes, The Elite Shot has caused some headaches for many lacrosse players.

The contraption is the brain-child of Silverback Lacrosse and its founders, Larry Mackey and Jared Pullen. While a normal lacrosse goal is 6-by-6-foot, the Elite Shot shrinks those dimensions to 6-by-10 inches to develop more accuracy in shooting.

“It’s frustrating. It forces you to shoot overhand to be more accurate with your shots. If you don’t, it will be a frustrating (experience). It’s given me nightmares,” Hassan Mackey joked.

Yet all those times he worked with his father Larry, through all the stages the Elite Shot went through, Hassan kept improving. He became a sniper from his right side. Seeing how this tool helped his son first master his shot from the right side — and then from the left — Larry knew there was something special to what he created.

But it wasn’t just his son who improved.

“We first used it for the teams (Puyallup Panthers LC) he coached, and saw that many of them improved over time,” said Pullen, who built the Elite Shot after Larry presented him with the idea. “We really came into this with the idea of wanting to improve the players around us.”

This creation wasn’t just a tool to improve his son’s skills, but one meant for the world around Larry, because in his heart, he was a teacher.

“The Elite Shot is narrow for a reason, because it forces you to shoot overhand. It’s supposed to knock out the bad habits many (new) players get into because they see some guy shoot underhand or sideways on YouTube,” Larry said. “And that’s all the space you’ll have to shoot during a game (with a goalie present). It teaches you to think and react as you look for that amount of space on the fly.”

Like anything Larry involves himself with, it all comes from the heart.

“I originally came up with the design as a way to help teach the Uganda players the fundamentals of the game,” he said.

Rediscovering the spark

In 1988, Larry had just moved to Washington after being stationed at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord. From that first moment here, it was a different feeling like he never had before.

Through the Army, Larry had seen the world and experienced leadership that helped him get through the worst times of his life. For years, lacrosse was an afterthought for Larry, but when he came to the Northwest, the sport came back in full force.

“There wasn’t a club team in Tacoma when I first got here,” Larry said. “With military guys — guys (who are) stationed on base — if they didn’t have a club team they could play for, they could play for a local college club team. So that’s how I ended up with (University of Puget Sound).”

For two years (1988 to 1990), Larry was an interesting forward for the Loggers. But his time with UPS was short, and lacrosse was in his blood again. Over his time with the Loggers, Larry’s networking circle began to grow, meeting the who’s who of the local lacrosse world. One of those men was Ken Rogers.

In 1993, Rogers wanted to rectify that, so he approached Larry along with Dave Haglund, Brad Hammer and Peter Tunnard with the idea of starting up a new team, Tacoma’s Huron Lacrosse Club, named after the French name for the Wyandot (Huron) People from the Saint Lawrence River Region of Canada.

“We chose Huron (wild boar) to pay tribute to those dudes who created the game, because to us it was about continue the traditions they gave us,” said Larry, who spent 15 years playing for Huron (1993 to 2008). “It was a way for us to honor them. But playing for Huron, I really got to learn the game more than ever.”

That was because of Tunnard, a man who came in to just teach the fundamentals of the game to the team but made a greater impact.

“I can’t emphasize enough what Pete did for me,” Larry said. “He saw that I was left-handed, and told me that was going to be hard to stop. So he helped me learn to shoot overhand, to where I was scoring at a ridiculous rate.”

Scoring was great for Larry; it made him a star for Huron LC. But his true potential was just being discovered.

Pay it forward

Meeting Pete Tunnard was fate for Larry — or just plain luck — but that experience of working with Tunnard changed Larry. He wanted to give back to the sport that he loved.

“Pay it forward, man,” Larry said. “You give back and you pay it forward.”

All Hassan Mackey ever knew about his father was a simple tenet. It was how he identified Larry growing up: coach, teacher and mentor.

“I know that he’ll be honest with me when after a game,” Hassan said.

Larry is a teacher, and lacrosse is his craft to teach people.

“From my first meeting with (Larry), he was able to fix my game and help me improve with my stick game,” said Rogers graduate Jeremy Cornely, who will attend Montana University on a lacrosse scholarship.

For years Larry was a teacher, a guide for many lacrosse players, yet there was still something more left to give.

Just finding one

In 2011, Larry saw an interesting post on Facebook where lacrosse was being introduced to Uganda. Out of curiosity, Larry sent message checking this novel idea out.

“When I saw that, I was thinking, ‘This can’t be real,’” Larry said with a laugh. “But after messaging back and forth, I was able to organize myself going over there to run some clinics.”

It was an amazement for Larry and then-14-year-old Hassan, as they traveled across the world to an unfamiliar country. For Larry, it was about his chance to start something — really begin a sport in its infancy.

“It’s just starting there. It’s unreal how fast and strong many of these guys are. They would run right by you, it was crazy, man — but they were undisciplined,” Larry recalled. “Many of the guys would say, ‘Coach, look at what I can do,’ and then shoot it underhand or sideways.”

So he went out to teach the fundamentals he meticulously taught Hassan or any player he took under his wing.

By the end of his visit, it left an impressions on Larry. His time in Kampala, Uganda had lit a fire inside of him, knowing that there was just something bubbling on the surface of the new Ugandan lacrosse world. Larry had to help with it.

“I wanted to give them something to that would force them to follow the fundamentals of lacrosse,” he said. “On the plane ride home, I started to come up with ideas on how to do that, and that’s how I came up with the idea of the Elite Shot. It was meant to help the Ugandan National team.”

The heart of Larry and Jared Pullen’s creation is just that: heart.

Now with Silverback Lacrosse only months into the company’s creation, the Elite Shot has already been distributed among the extended family. Emerald Ridge Jaguar LC and Puyallup Panthers LC use one for their teams, and Hassan will be donating one to his college program, Eastern Pennsylvania University LC.

But the heart of this device, this tool has always been about giving it back and paying it forward.

“My main goal is for me and Hassan and a few of the local lacrosse guys to go back out to Uganda by 2017,” Larry said. “We want to take a few of the Elite Shots and donate it to them. (It’s) something they can hold onto and help them grow as a national team.”

All part of paying it forward.

A family built on lacrosse

Part 1: Hassan Mackey has met life with a smile

Part 2: From Long Island, N.Y. to Washington, lacrosse has made Larry Mackey into the family man he’s become

Part 3: Larry Mackey has become the first African American lacrosse equipment designer in the U.S.