Local Gay Lacrosse Player Wants to End Youth Homophobia
The first text came in around 10 o’clock. Parked in his leather chair in the living room, Jon Scott had just wrapped up work for the night. Cryptic, the message on his phone was a mere six words.
“I need to talk to you,” it read.
On the other end, Sam Knollmeyer, then 15 years old, was struggling and time was running out. Calling Scott was the only option. His parents were nearby, Knollmeyer told his lacrosse coach in another text, and they couldn’t find out.
Find out what? Scott shot his goalie another text. Nothing came back, the next five or 10 minutes disappearing into the Massachusetts night.
Knollmeyer was thinking about suicide. He finally broke the silence with another text. He was gay or maybe bisexual, he wrote, and didn’t know what to do.
“It sort of hit me like a ton of bricks,” Scott remembers. “I realized in the couple of seconds it took me to read that text, the enormity of the conversation I was about to get into.”
The first inkling that something was different came in fifth grade. Knollmeyer didn’t know what being gay meant—an understanding that wouldn’t come for at least another couple years—but what he did know was that one of the other boys looked good.
Playground social norms and not having LGBT as a topic in fifth-grade sex education lessons instilled in Knollmeyer the idea that he had to like girls. Life in middle school—with its generic teasing and insults—did, too.
Knollmeyer was curious, though. He was evolving and wanted to try to figure things out. He was also scared. Knollmeyer wanted to be a parent someday, but told himself that dream wouldn’t be possible if he was gay.
So the boy, with dark blond hair and a shyness hidden behind a friendly demeanor, tried to be straight. Perhaps, he thought, his homosexual feelings were something he could play off. Perhaps they were a phase. Perhaps heterosexuality was something he could learn to like.
Knollmeyer and Scott first met on a frigid night in March 2012. After losing a political race, Scott wound up in Plymouth, Massachusetts. There, he was given the opportunity to run Plymouth Rock Youth Lacrosse, a newly created select U15 program.
It was the third and final night of the select team’s tryouts, and the only reason Knollmeyer showed up was because his friend bribed him with a new lacrosse stick. Nobody tried out for goalie during the first two sessions, and the friend knew Knollmeyer had spent a season in between the pipes in elementary school.
“Little did I know, that night, he planned on quitting in a couple of weeks,” Scott says about his then-newly found netminder. “He didn’t like it.”
At first, Knollmeyer and Scott didn’t get along. Knollmeyer thought Scott, though seemingly knowledgeable with an impressive resume of turning goalies into big-time stars, was kind of intimidating. Simply put, Scott was serious about the game. Knollmeyer wasn’t.
A pregame dispute between the coach and a referee a handful of games into the season became the first turning point in Scott and Knollmeyer’s relationship.
The game—against an area powerhouse—was the last of the night, and one of the referees, having already officiated that night, wanted to go home. So he told Scott that Plymouth Rock was going to play without a warmup. Scott said no, adding that not warming up his eighth-grade goalie would be a safety issue. The referee was furious about Scott’s defiance and had a meltdown.
“On that field in Scituate, there was a bond forged between Sammy and I,” Scott explains. “And I think he knew that there was somebody that cared about him.”
That bond evolved after the season from player-coach to something that would later help save Knollmeyer’s life.
Knollmeyer is a perfectionist. It wasn’t long before he not only wanted to play lacrosse, but saw it as a pathway to a better college education and life after school. So he started spending more and more time with Scott and immersing himself in the sport during the summer between eighth and ninth grade. As time went on, conversations broadened from lacrosse to shared interests and similarities in who they were and how they operated as people outside of lacrosse. About a year into knowing each other, Knollmeyer was mistaken for being Scott’s son.
One night, Scott took Knollmeyer and a middle school teammate to watch a lacrosse game—an activity that became routine for the coach and goalie. Afterward, Scott’s carful was in the parking lot waiting its turn to leave when somehow the conversation turned to Scott’s coaching days at Portsmouth Abbey School in Rhode Island. While there, Scott learned about one of his players who fiercely hid his homosexuality.
“It, to me, was one of the saddest moments of my coaching career because I could never make things right for that kid,” Scott explains, adding that people should never feel like they need to hide who they are. “I’ve always vowed that if that situation ever came up again, that I would do everything I could to make it right for the next person.”
As the conversation played out, Scott had no clue how important it would be less than a year later.
Midway through the lacrosse season during his freshman year at Plymouth North High School, Knollmeyer caught word that an acquaintance wanted to settle an old score from elementary school. Knollmeyer wasn’t looking for a fight—he didn’t have any issues with the other kid—but ended up later inviting the kid over to the goalie’s parents’ empty house.
Knollmeyer had never fought before and wasn’t taking the fight seriously. Then he took a punch to the nose. Blood gushed like a broken faucet. Adrenaline kicked in and Knollmeyer started wailing on his opponent, breaking Knollmeyer’s thumb in the process.
After the fight and still bleeding, Knollmeyer went to take a shower. Adrenaline gave way to a rush of emotion. That’s when he broke down and started reflecting on what had just happened. In the course of thinking about everything in the shower, Knollmeyer thought about human nature. You’re gay, he told himself, and that’s something you must come to terms with.
That February, Knollmeyer texted a fellow ninth grader at Plymouth North who had already come out of the closet. Knollmeyer decided to talk to the kid because of his firsthand experience with coming to terms with his own homosexuality, and Knollmeyer was looking to see if he was experiencing something similar. Knollmeyer asked the kid to keep things quiet, but the news quickly spread through the school’s halls like wildfire.
“I don’t know if I would be out right now if that hadn’t happened,” Knollmeyer says, looking back. “I always think about that, think about what I would have done if that didn’t [happen].”
Initially, Scott thought someone had gotten a hold of Knollmeyer’s phone and was playing a prank the night his goalie came out to him via text message. So he quizzed the teenager on something only Knollmeyer would know. Sure enough, it really was Scott’s “Sammy” on the other end.
Scott asked Knollmeyer to give him four minutes. He was going to fix himself a drink, and then Scott would be ready to talk with him for the rest of the night if Knollmeyer wanted.
“No matter what,” Scott told Knollmeyer that night. “I have your back.”
The two talked for roughly four hours that night. Knollmeyer told his coach about the dark thoughts; how he believed his broken thumb had ruined his lacrosse career and, sexually, how Knollmeyer needed to be honest with who he is.
Scott told Knollmeyer that the teenager was being courageous. That Knollmeyer was Scott’s hero for coming out of the closet as a freshman in high school. During the conversation, Scott thought back to his former player at Portsmouth Abbey, the one too afraid to come out and be himself.
Scott was treading new water with this conversation. Realizing its impact, he started having an inner dialogue. He wanted to make sure he was helping Knollmeyer through the situation, knowing that each part of the conversation that night could lead in a different direction. When all was said and done, the two decided Knollmeyer wouldn’t hide his sexuality if it was brought up at school. At the same time, it was agreed that Knollmeyer wasn’t about to start freely advertising things.