Joe Cummings is something of lacrosse royalty, having played D1 as a Maryland Terp and then professionally for a number of years. He was an All-American in both high school and college, accumulating many highlights, awards, and wins over the years. However, ask anyone who knows him and lacrosse is more of an afterthought. Yes, he was an extremely talented and successful player at the highest levels, but the sport, more than anything, has served as a vehicle for him to lead and love others well.
It’s hard to pinpoint the beginning of Joe’s lacrosse career because according to his mom, Jan, he’s had a stick in his hand since he could “walk and talk.” Joe is the third of four children in the Cummings family, and when they first moved to Baltimore, they had little knowledge of the sport. But they quickly learned just how big lacrosse is in the state of Maryland. John III, the oldest of the Cummings children, took to it almost immediately, and it was not long before the entire family was “hooked” (all four kids -- John III, Lindsay, Joe, and Sara -- played varsity lacrosse in high school). Joe, who is nine years younger than his brother, remembers “wanting to do everything he did,” lacrosse included. From the very beginning, the sport served as a way for him to connect with people -- whether it be his siblings or friends -- and it is still an overarching motivation that lies at the core of who Joe is and what he does.
Not surprisingly, Joe had his eyes set on following in John III’s lacrosse footsteps, including playing at Loyola Blakefield in high school. He entered Loyola as a high school freshman with what he describes as a “great class of guys,” featuring the already very well-known student-athlete Steele Stanwick, whom Joe calls “the best lacrosse player I had ever seen.” The two had been rivals in their middle school days, playing on different youth travel teams, and Joe’s team beat Steele’s in the State Championship when they were in 8th grade. But early on in high school, they became great friends, on and off the field. Their team won back to back championships in 2007 and 2008, becoming the first program in MIAA (Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association) history to do so. The two have remained good friends since their years as high school teammates, and while they will always have those fun lacrosse memories, what stands out the most to Steele are the “off the field moments.” He describes Joe as a “great friend with tremendous morals and values” and shares, “in my experience, you will not find a greater role model.”
After high school, Joe was offered a scholarship to play Division 1 lacrosse at the University of Maryland, one of the best lacrosse programs in the country. He remembers Coach Cottle, who was head coach at the time, telling him, “Talent can be found anywhere, but what we want here are great people first.” They certainly got that in Joe, and he in turn, found that to be more than true. Upon his arrival as a freshman, he was instantly surrounded by great people. Joe speaks very fondly of his college years. Even with the pressure and spotlight, his teammates pushed one another and sacrificed for one another, leading to strong foundation of mutual respect and trust. Their team fell twice in the National Championship during his time as a Terp -- one to his friend Steele Stanwick and the University of Virginia Cavaliers in 2011 and the other, to Loyola University in 2012. Steele shares that even in that moment of defeat, Joe was one of the first to find him, congratulate him, and tell him how proud he was [of him]. Steele says, “I think that says everything you need to know about Joe Cummings.”
Joe isn’t really one to speak of his own accomplishments. Those who know and love him say this is just who he is and who he always has been -- humble and others-focused in all things. His parents, on the other hand, have many stories and memories that stick out to them about “JoeJoe” (as his family affectionately calls him) and his many accolades. His dad, John, proudly recalls the legendary goal against Lehigh in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Joe scored the game winner with six seconds on national television. (We tried to find a clip on YouTube, but sadly this was in the pre-social media era). Joe was an All-American in high school, two-time All-American in college, and was named the Athlete of the Year at Maryland his senior year, an award that is across all teams and all sports at the school. Jan recalls being invited to attend the event, not knowing Joe would be recognized. She says, “I am still a little undone about that special night.”
However, more important than his development as a player and the many honors he racked up during his four years, his parents loved watching Joe grow as a person through his experience at Maryland. One of Jan’s favorite memories was right after a game vs UVA and old friend Steele Stanwick in 2012, which Maryland had lost. Joe had been invited to speak to a large group of families who attended the game through FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes). She recalls “tears streaming down our faces” as Joe stood before these people after the loss and simply shared his “precious heart for the Lord.” In 2012, Joe was chosen for the One Love Foundation’s “Unsung Hero Award” which was created to honor the life of Yeardley Love. This award “places value on kindness and generosity, characteristics that are often undervalued in the competitively charged environment of college lacrosse.” For those who know Joe, they would tell you that kindness and generosity have always been woven into the fabric of who he is, regardless of the situation or person.
After Maryland, Joe spent a year with an internship program called the National Student Leadership on Faith and Values. The interns traveled around the country for different events, and it was during a stretch in Greenville that he met his wife, Sarah, at a Clemson game. Sarah recalls being drawn to his humility, intentionality, thoughtfulness, and encouraging spirit. She says, “Joe is authentic. He’s the same with everyone and that’s why people always gravitate towards him.” Being from the south, Sarah had not had much prior exposure to lacrosse. It wasn’t long before she learned that “Joe is famous is Baltimore and in the lacrosse world.” He played professionally for a few years, during which time they dated, got engaged, and married. Sarah’s first time watching him was when he played for the Ohio Machine. Joe loved his years playing professionally, but after a few seasons, he stepped away to have more time with Sarah as they planted roots in Greenville.
Joe came to CCES in 2016 as the Boys Varsity Lacrosse Head Coach. He was also a part of the Admission team and last year, became our Director of Auxiliary Programming for after-school activities and the ever-popular Summer Encounters camps. As a player, Joe always loved the team aspects of lacrosse, so it’s not surprising that after his playing days he would step into coaching and take to it like he was made for it. Sarah says, “I love watching him coach; he’s 100% in his element.” Joe was heavily influenced by his college coach, John Tillman, for whom “lacrosse was the tool he used to teach athletes about life.” This is the same lens through which Joe views coaching. He says: “I love having the opportunity to connect with young people and walk with them through these incredibly challenging times they are facing today.” Joe and Assistant Coach Matt Hastings have worked together to establish a culture of building players up to “Be the Best” they can be, a phrase that was deeply ingrained in Joe during college as Maryland’s team slogan. Matt and Joe’s friendship actually goes back to Joe’s Ohio Machine days, where Matt worked at the time. Joe was traded to Ohio, and according to Matt, he “differentiated himself” right off the bat as a great player with “high character.” They both speak very highly of each other, reflecting on how they push each other as coaches. They are different in approach, which lends to a great balance for the team, but are aligned when it comes to values and principles. Matt says of Joe: “He absolutely LOVES the boys and the game. He tries to use the sport to develop the boys into better men.”
Even as a coach, Joe still considers himself a “student” of the process, constantly trying to better himself for his players. His first year at CCES coincided with the start of our Coaching Leadership Academy, a partnership with Dr. Milt Lowder and AMPLOS, a group that specializes in sports and organizational psychology. Milt and Joe hit it off instantly, connecting over their shared philosophy for leadership, faith, and goals. Joe calls Lowder a mentor and a friend, someone who has had a huge impact on him “as a person and coach.” Lowder says when he thinks of Joe, he thinks of “humility first.” He was unaware of Joe’s lacrosse accomplishments until someone else told him, a similar sentiment among many when they first meet Joe. He describes Joe as someone who “has the courage to live according to what he believes, on and off the field,” and he has seen Joe strive to instill that same spirit in his players.
When Joe first came to CCES, the players were excited to meet their new coach but were a little unsure of what to expect. It became apparent very quickly that the culture “Coach Cummings” wanted to establish was much bigger than the game of lacrosse. Jack Sanders ‘18 says [Joe] expected discipline and accountability, but that he also “wanted us to know that there is more to life than just winning.” Porter Brown ‘20 mentions the “Be the Best” motto that Joe brought with him and how it wasn’t limited to just lacrosse. He shares: “I quickly realized that Coach Cummings lives it out in all that he does, and in doing so, encourages those around him to do the same.”
When asked about the impact Coach Cummings has had in their lives, his two former players mention lacrosse briefly, but mostly speak to the ways he has influenced them as people.
Porter shares, “I can say I am a far better person for knowing Coach Cummings. He taught me how to lead with humility and sacrifice with honor. On and off the field, he helped shape me into the man I am today.”
Jack says, “I am forever grateful Coach Cummings came into my life. He made a better person in every way imaginable.”
To say it is a gift to have Joe as a part of our CCES community would be an understatement. He fully embodies what it means to be a Cavalier and we consider ourselves blessed to have front row seats to watch him touch the lives of all who know him.