Sol Bliss and Deven York have made their names in the varsity and club ranks and they will use this experience to help guide the Western region teams.
Bliss’ fascination for the game came long before he picked up a stick. “I was a ball boy in third grade for the varsity team,” Bliss said. “That was my exposure to lacrosse up until seventh grade when I started playing modified.”
Bliss played at Tully High School before continuing his career at Syracuse University. After graduation, Bliss transitioned to coaching. “As soon as I graduated from Syracuse in 2003, I coached at ESM [Eastport South Manor] High School,” Bliss said. “I coached at ESM for one season and then I got a job at Tully teaching and I coached there for seven years, varsity. Then, I coached for another five years at the high school level at Onondaga and then I started doing FCA full time and now I’ve been doing that for almost six years, directing the FCA program. I currently coach at Jamesville-Dewitt High School.”
Although switching from player to coach was tough, Bliss has been able to grow from the opportunity. “My first year coaching, transitioning from player to coach was tough but I felt like I learned a lot,” Bliss said. “I had to learn to other side of this sport to be a coach for the first time.”
As he’s grown as a coach, Bliss had been able to impact many young lacrosse players. “I had an opportunity to coach a lot of really good players who have moved on to college,” Bliss said. “Being a part of their development and part of the process of getting to the highest levels that they could reach, that’s a big piece of it.”
Bliss joined the New York State Regional Championships team to help give opportunities to the next generation that he had when he was growing up. “Knowing the Winkoffs through clubs connections, I feel like the conversations we had, we were always on the same page of creating opportunities for kids and doing things with integrity and excellence,” Bliss said. “When Mike created the New York State Regionals, he gave me a call and ran the idea by me and I really liked it. I was a part of the Empire State Games and I thought it was an awesome event and it opened up a lot of doors for me so I got behind it 100%.”
In 2021, Bliss is looking forward to the continued growth of the tournament. “The event has gotten better every year,” Bliss said. “Before COVID last year, I thought it was set up to be an outstanding event. Just the fact that it was still able to get pulled off and it was a great event given all of the challenges and obstacles, I think that this year, it’s going to be even better. For our kids, it was one of the only tournaments around. Being in New York, a lot of our teams couldn’t travel and didn’t do much. I think just doing that created a lot of positive memories for a lot of our kids.”
York grew up in an area that encouraged young lacrosse players to help jump-start his career. “I grew up in Canandaigua,” York said. “Definitely a good lacrosse culture and tradition here. I played here in high school and then I went to a small college in Massachusetts, Gordon College, and I played there.”
York returned home and coached in his old stomping grounds. “When I came back, I got a teaching job in my hometown,” York said. “I started coaching modified lacrosse, then JV lacrosse for 10 years and then, in 2017 became the head coach.” He still leads Canadaigua Academy’s boys’ lacrosse team.
During one of his most successful seasons, York and his team got a unique opportunity. “In 2009, we won the state championship and we won a contest with New Balance,” York said. “New Balance was trying to get into the lacrosse game so they sent a film crew from New York City to follow us, from the kids in school to every practice and they did a web-series. They gave us $60,000, sneakers and equipment and uniforms and we ended up winning the states that year so it was kind of like destiny. It was incredible.”
York found his way to the New York State Regional Championships thanks to connections to his fellow Western region directors. “I began coaching 3D lacrosse a couple of years back and was introduced to Dave Dobbins and then getting more involved with clubs and Sol Bliss at FCA,” York said. “They reached out to me to coach one of the teams which I did last year for the first time and I loved it. I love the concept of bringing back the Empire State Games that was so big in New York for so many years. I wanted to be a part of trying to bring that back and also I wanted to be a part of showcasing the talent up here in the West and being able to compete with anyone in the state.”
This year, York is excited to continue to progress as a coach. “Personally, it’s great for me as a coach to work with other coaches and grow myself,” York said. “You get better by playing teams from outside your area and you get better by working with coaches who do things differently. We have a really good staff put together, a lot of varsity coaches and really guys who have become my friends too. I plan on having a good time, learning a lot and competing.”