Middle School students learned on February 15 from a special guest, as Chazz Woodson '01, head men's lacrosse coach at Hampton University, returned to Johnson Theater to speak about Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), work ethic, determination, and much more.
Coach Woodson was a standout lacrosse, basketball, and football player at Academy before advancing to play lacrosse at Brown University and then professionally. Joining him on stage was JT Giles-Harris, a lacrosse standout at Duke University who is now an assistant at Hampton. Middle School Director Jeff Boyd guided the discussion, allowing them to answer a wide array of questions.
One of Coach Woodson's messages for students was that he never identified himself solely as an athlete - his attributes in community service and other areas were just as important to him. In college, he didn't spend a lot of free time with teammates, instead choosing to bond with other African American students and other groups.
“My identity was not a lacrosse player, or a football player or basketball player," Coach Woodson said. “Even when it seemed to be from the outside world. ... And I think that was immensely critical, particularly when I was in college. ... I had a firm sense of who I am and why I do the things I do."
Coach Woodson also spoke about the value he derived from community service. While at Brown, he did a type of study abroad, teaching at an elementary school in New York City. He said he developed a love for working with young students at Norfolk Academy, when he served as a camp counselor. His father, Ed Woodson, was a longtime teacher-coach at Academy, so Chazz saw from a young age how committed such teacher-coaches were to helping students.
The time teaching in New York "shaped the rest of my life," he said.
After graduating from Brown, Coach Woodson played in Major League Lacrosse, where he excelled. Coach Tom Duquette, who coached Chazz at Academy and introduced his former player on the Johnson Theater stage, called him “one of the most dynamic and innovative players ever to play" the game.
However, his love for working with young students and athletes held strong, and he remained committed to teaching and coaching. As a member of the Board of Directors for USA Lacrosse, he helped develop the Sankofa Lacrosse Clinic Series, which provides free clinics to children in communities that are underrepresented in the lacrosse landscape. He helped found Nation United Lacrosse, which works to increase diversity in the sport and beyond. He was also a big brother with Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Miami, and taught at the elementary and middle school level in Florida.
During the presentation on February 15, video of Coach Woodson's playing days ran on a big screen. As soon as the video concluded, he made an important note - that success came after a lot of struggles. He scored sparingly early in his college career and played sparingly early in his professional career. He was cut or traded multiple times.
“There's a lot of hard work in that," he said, pointing to the highlight reel. “It's also not all highs. There's a lot of lows. And there are points in there when I didn't want to play anymore. There are points in there when I wasn't having fun. I think that's extremely important to point out, because you're going to go through certain things in life, whether at school, whether playing a sport, where not everything is great."
The presentation was one of several students are hearing during Black History Month, and Coach Woodson spent considerable time unpacking what it means to him to be coaching lacrosse at an HBCU. Hampton announced his hiring in July 2020, but because of Covid he hasn't coached a game yet. The Pirates open their 2022 season February 19.
Hampton is one of the few HBCUs to ever field a lacrosse program — Morgan State was the first, when it played in the 1960s into the 1970s — and the significance of this was not lost on Academy students. HBCUs offer a strong sense of community, Woodson said. Coaching at one offers the opportunity to spotlight those and their many other benefits.
“This is a program that can change the face of lacrosse," he said.