Upholding the tradition

In years past, Bishop Timon High School was mostly notably known for its hockey and football programs. The teams would routine churn out college talent and win titles.

As the years have gone on, the school has seen a slight switch. While the football program is returning to its former glory, it’s another sport that has taken center stage.

The Timon lacrosse program has been on the rise ever since former coach Mike Burke was hired to start the program. A former St. Francis High School graduate, Burke went to South Buffalo to build a culture, and dynasty.

He did exactly that as under his watch the Tigers won numerous Monsignor Martin Athletic Association and Catholic State titles. His players went on to have successful college careers at the likes of Maryland, North Carolina, Cornell and Albany.

To say expectations are high if you play lacrosse would be an understatement. While Burke went to coach at St. Francis, no one wants to see a drop off of the program.

Timon is still expected to challenge for titles, and get kids into top-notch college programs on the Division I and II level.

Neil Gardner knows about tradition. The senior attackman bleeds green and gold as his grandfather and father both attend the school. He knows what it means to be a Timon man. He knows the mystique that comes with graduating from the school that is located in South Buffalo.

Going to Timon is like forging a brotherhood for the rest of your life. Twenty years after he graduates Gardner will still meet up with his buddies from school and lacrosse team as they talk about the old days.

“Playing at Timon is a great experience. There is nothing better knowing that you're playing with your brothers on the field for the pride of the school,” stated Gardner. “Timon students are extremely close and we all take care of each other. There are high expectations on and off the field and we are all working for the same goal of winning Monsignor Martin and the state championship.”

The standards have been set high, some may say to high, for this program. The talent is still there and Gardner has felt the pressure to succeed right from the start.

Gardner made the varsity as a freshman and saw first hand what it was like to play with some of the best players in Western New York. He saw the work ethic they put it to become better.

With his position, Gardner is trying to live up the names that played there before him. Names like Connor Fields and Layne Collins are some big shoes to fill but Gardner doesn’t see it that way.

He sees it as a chance to forge a new legacy for a group of players that knows what it’s like to strap on the yellow helmet with green T. Living up to expectations is something Gardner embraces because of his love for his team and school.

“Yes, because I have a lot of pride in Bishop Timon and the program that was built before I got here. I was lucky enough to play when I was a freshman and play with outstanding players who taught me to be a complete player and how to work hard for the team. Timon has had a winning tradition and my goal is to continue that for the program and the younger players,” explained Gardner. “My freshman year, I had the opportunity to play with great players including Connor Fields and Adam DiMillo. They took me under their wings and taught me a lot about the game at the high school level. I learned what moves work for them and the type of game they play. Since Connor was the same position, he spent time with me to show me how to practice hard. He also showed me how to practice hard and how to bring finesse to my game.”

Finesse is something you would think of when talking about Gardner. Gardner isn’t cut in the same mold of Fields, who brought a little more speed to his game. Fields used a lot of his hockey knowledge to play the sport of lacrosse.

He was a great goal scorer for the Timon hockey team, and playing hockey really helped him with his shot. Gardner is more of your run through you type of attackman. He doesn’t mind going through you to score a goal. He doesn’t mind backing you down, think of a center posting up in basketball, to get his shot off.

What is underrated about Gardner is how he can pass the ball and find the open man. If teams want to slide a double team over go right ahead. Gardner will gladly take on the double and get the ball to someone else who can score.

“I am the type of attackman that like to use my power to beat a defender one on one,” he explained. “I also love to set my teammate up so they can score. I do love to work on a hard shot and score from any point on the field.”

Scoring is something he has done a lot of since Fields and DiMillo graduated three years ago. Gardner has carried the torch for the Tigers’ program, and that helped him get a lot of looks for college.

It was one college that stuck out to him, however. Division II Lake Erie College has been recruiting Western New York and Timon hard over the years. Look at the roster of Lake Erie and you will see numerous Timon boys on the roster.

But, that isn’t the sole reason for Gardner to go a couple hours away to school. When he set foot on campus it just felt right to him – and that sold him right away.

“I chose Lake Erie College because it has a strong academic program and it is located a few hours from Buffalo. I had a really good connection with coach Gartelman and the fantastic lacrosse program that he has built,” explained Gardner. “It was a very interesting choice because it was a very competitive recruiting process, going to different colleges for a visit every weekend. The day I visited Lake Erie College, I knew it was perfect for me. I was very comfortable with the size and location of the campus.”

Now that the recruiting process is over Gardner can just sit back, relax, and take it easy during his senior year. If that was the type of person he was.

Instead Gardner is getting the young Tigers ready for the season – after all that’s what most good leaders do. He is working on his game and getting his team to practice hard as they prepare to take on defending champion St. Joe’s and a resurgent Canisius and Nichols programs.

What used to be a cakewalk in the league has turned into a dogfight as any of the five teams, including St. Francis, can walk away with the title.

“I'm the type of leader that is always trying to make great team plays. I will always be there for my fellow teammates and pick them up if their confidence is low or a big play is needed. I like to practice like I play and I try to set a positive energy for my team,” stated Gardner. “A good leader is always doing things the right way, having a positive attitude and working 110 percent of the time. We have to work hard and play harder.”

At the end of the day, Neil Gardner will graduate with his diploma from Bishop Timon High School. He will leave the lacrosse program just like he found it four years ago. Turning out top-notch men on and off the field.

He has upheld the tradition of a lacrosse player and a Timon man. And there is nothing better than that.