Don Rigger brought lacrosse to Decatur.
Need proof? Go to Bulldog Stadium on Wednesday night and watch the Decatur High team battle Pope High in a semi-final game for the state championship. The action starts at 7:30 p.m.
Many of the Decatur players learned the sport from Rigger years ago in recreation department leagues. He's still instructing them today as a community coach on the high school team.
"I remember thinking when these guys get to high school they're going to have years of lacrosse under their belts," said Rigger, whose real job is with the Environmental Protection Agency. "All that lacrosse IQ is developed by playing together over years."
Greg White, director of the Decatur Active Living Department, said Rigger has a passion for the game.
"Don had a vision and said let's give it a try," said Greg White, director of the Decatur Active Living Department. "He's the one who championed the whole idea."
Rigger grew up playing lacrosse outside Baltimore and competed in college on the Washington and Lee team. He moved to the Atlanta area in 1984 and found virtually no youth lacrosse programs.
He approached the Decatur Active Living Department about 10 years ago and convinced them to give lacrosse a try.
Rigger helped the city obtain a grant to buy lacrosse equipment and coached, too, remembering that "we got creamed in every game" the first few years. Now about 250 kids play in the spring rec leagues.
In 2005, Rigger approached Carter Wilson, the Decatur High athletic director, about starting a school team.
"It would have been easy to say, 'No, we don't want to do that,' " Rigger said. "You know how it is in Decatur, there's never enough fields."
But Wilson said yes, and JV teams for boys and girls were launched, though they had to practice on the Winnona Elementary field most of the time. In 2007, varsity teams for girls and boys started.
Rigger wanted to make sure the sport was played by kids throughout the Decatur community.
"I didn't want it to be a white sport in an integrated school," he said. "We actively recruited African-American kids to play."
Stacy Green, Active Living program director, said Rigger went after the best athletes. "Don would come to the basketball games and if they were fast he'd follow them out of the gym," she said with a laugh.
The strategy worked. Decatur has developed an integrated team that's made the state playoffs every year since 2007, Rigger said. However, the team has never reached the semi-finals until this year.
Another measure of success is that several Decatur players have received college lacrosse scholarships, including Green's son. Satrick Green plays at Limestone College in South Carolina.
Rigger and his wife, Mary, have three kids: Ben, a junior and goalie on the Decatur High team; Wytch, a 2009 Decatur High grad who plays lacrosse at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania; and daughter Madison, who played lacrosse at Decatur and will graduate this weekend from Davidson College.
"If I'd stayed in the Baltimore area I would have been one of a thousand dads who know something about lacrosse," Don Rigger said. "Here it's kind of special. I love building something -- that's what's fun."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story had the wrong first name for Don Rigger's wife, Mary.