Mike Thumim is a kid of the 1980s. The Columbine High School graduate and Dakota Ridge boys lacrosse coach grew up during the Cold War. And while his friends were taking French, German and Spanish classes, he was taking Russian as his foreign language requirement. He even studied Russian as a minor at Ohio University.
Fast-forward to 2014, and if one were to tell him that he would have the opportunity to combine his passion for lacrosse with his knowledge of Russia all into one, even he might have a hard time believing you. But that’s the case.
“If you had told me 30 years down the road or 25 years down the road that I’d be coaching the Russian team, I’d be like, ‘What?’ It’s kind of cool to use the two things,” Thumim said.
Thumim reached out to team organizer Eugene Arkhipov earlier this year about helping out the Russian national team at the 2014 Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City. He’ll coach defense and goalies for the squad that is making its tournament debut.
His experience, which includes three years at Mullen and 11 at Golden, 10 of them as head coach before coming over to Dakota Ridge in 2012, is invaluable for a Russian squad lacking experience.
“I think it’s great. The more the better. We can never get enough coaches, especially with these guys,” Arkhipov said. “They can only learn from me. That’s not enough.”
Sure, Arkhipov can teach the offensive fundamentals, he said, but he’s not as familiar with the defensive fronts and goalie game to be of much help there. That’s where Thumim comes in. He was the defensive coordinator at Mullen from 2009-11, helping the Mustangs reach the 2009 state title game.
Thumim isn’t just a coach for the Russian team. He’s also been a gracious host, having five players stay with him prior to teams moving into the dorms at the University of Denver last weekend. One of those players was Gavriel Yegiazarov. His lacrosse experience is minimal, at best, because of the lack of opportunities to play in Russia.
“There are only two teams in Russia (one in Moscow and another in St. Petersburg). We can’t get enough experience when you don’t play together all the time,” he said.
That, as much as anything else, is why this tournament will be so valuable. The Russians will play July 11-13 in the Plum Division against Wales, New Zealand and Argentina before crossover games begin next week.
And while Thumim’s knowledge will be a benefit to the players, he and Yegiazarov can also learn from each other when it comes to speaking in the other’s native tongue.
“He’s like me, but with English. He wants to get better in English, and I want to get better in Russian,” Thumim said. “We’ll be like, ‘Are we going to talk in English or talk in Russian for the day?’ I think they kind of appreciate having an American who kind of knows Russian a little bit. It’s not like Spanish or French, where there are a whole lot more people who speak it.”
Be it working on his Russian speech or coaching players in international competition, one thing is for certain — Mike Thumim is about to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime experience thanks to his background in lacrosse.
“I’ve done a lot of things as a lacrosse coach,” Thumim said. “I’ve never won a state championship, but I’ve been coach of the year at a couple of places. I’ve coached in a state championship. I’ve had All-Americans. One year, I was a selector for Team USA for the U-19. I traveled everywhere for coaching. This is just another great experience that I would’ve never dreamed that I would able to do even four years ago. I’m definitely going to take everything, every moment, and try to enjoy it.”
Contact Michael Hicks at email@example.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 15.