Gary Lawson has a gift for building and empowering.
Building athletics departments and programs. Empowering coaches and student-athletes.
A native of Buckinghamshire, a county outside of London, England, Lawson has a successful history of building teams and programs as a coach in New York for 20 years, culminating as a NCAA collegiate women's soccer coach at St. Joseph's College Brooklyn (N.Y).
Previously, Lawson was the athletic director at the Nord Anglia International School of New York from 2018-2020.
Lawson brought those abilities to the Bulldogs of the British International School of Houston in Katy, where he oversees the school's nine sports programs and over 40 teams as athletic director.
"I found myself in Houston and loving it," Lawson said. "I love this school and love this job."
Lawson is in his second year as athletic director at BIS Houston, which has more than 70 nationalities. Last year, the school had almost 300 student-athletes from the middle school through the high school levels.
"In the short time that we've been here, and even through COVID, we've been able to expand the number of teams from middle school to high school, been able to get more student-athletes involved in all of our athletic programs, been able to enter student-athletes into state competitions, whereas in previous years we haven't been able to enter those," Lawson said.
Last season, the Bulldogs had athletes qualify for the TAPPS soccer, swim, tennis and golf state tournaments.
"This is why I do the job I do," Lawson said. "Give these kids the opportunity to compete and represent our school. They get to represent themselves and their family, and they come from all over the place. They find themselves transplanted here in Houston, a bit like me, and we create that platform for them to succeed. Practice, play with friends, compete.
"And if we win some games and lose some games, that's cool. But in the years to come, they'll forget those results. What they will remember is the coach that encouraged them, the best friend that helped them through a season, a game-winning goal they scored. Those are the memories we want to cultivate."
The school's athletics department continues to grow.
Volleyball and basketball are in their first year of TAPPS competition. Students are joining athletics at a rapid pace, particularly as the school's sports become better recognized.
For Lawson, it's all about providing the opportunity for the student-athlete.
"Taking a team or program that needs a bit of TLC, giving them the empowerment to get really good at a sport if they practice it, are dedicated and have passionate coaches like we do. The world's their oyster from there," Lawson said. "They may not go to a DI college or play. But they may go back to their country and become a coach or carry on that journey in the sport at a professional or recreational level."
Lawson completed his formal education in the United Kingdom. He thoroughly enjoyed his time in New York, finding meaningful roles as a coach and administrator. He didn't necessarily expect to ever find himself in Texas.
But when the previous athletic director of BIS Houston, Matt Harris, departed, Lawson jumped at the chance to continue to develop the school's athletic program.
Having already been in the pipeline of Nord Anglia Education, he was considered an ideal fit for the task in east Katy.
"As an athletic director, success can be defined in so many different ways," Lawson said. "Is it the participation levels of the students and raising the number of children that engage in after-school athletics? Is it wins and losses?
"For me, personally, the wins and losses are of lesser importance, so ask me in 20 years' time when I get to see the impact the student-athletes have had in their lifetime. It's quality of the person over the player. Not the number of championships."
Long before the start of the high school volleyball season, even before preseason training in early August, Tompkins players would joke around with each other about how good they expected to be this season. How dominant they'd be.
Typical stuff for any high school athlete, when optimism, hope and great expectations fulfill the dog days of summer strength and conditioning camps.
"But we were just messing around. It wasn't serious," junior outside hitter Cindy Tchouangwa said. "We knew good players had left and we knew we'd have our work cut out for us."
But as the season began, against a hellacious non-district schedule, the wins started mounting. Six straight right out of the gate. Senior outside hitter/defensive specialist Paris Herrman and Tchouangwa putting up ridiculous numbers, lighting up stat sheets. Eleven wins in the last 11 games.
And a close-knit team coming together quicker than anyone anticipated, particularly after senior libero Madison Gundry had suffered a season-ending injury during the summer.
"Our chemistry is right on," Herrman said. "We started off super young all together on varsity, freshmen and sophomores together, and now we're all juniors and seniors. We were ready for this."
And the Falcons have proven it, the latest showcase a demonstrative 3-0 sweep of rival Katy (27-25, 25-18, 25-23) on Wednesday to go to 2-0 in District 19-6A and 22-5 overall, including wins over Pearland Dawson, Clear Springs, College Park, Cinco Ranch (twice), Bridgeland (twice) and George Ranch.
"I'm really not surprised," said Herrman, the anchor of a deep, versatile team with 3.1 kills per set, 4.6 digs per set and 35 aces. "We've put so much work into this and have so much talent, so I'm really glad we're living up to it."
Against Katy (18-14, 1-1), Tompkins put together an impressive performance, at times completely overwhelming a stacked and experienced Tigers team that has five NCAA Division I commits.
Herrman got the Falcons past the Tigers in an intense first set, compiling five kills. She knew to avoid Katy's talented senior libero Izzy Denton and swung away from her, otherwise expertly finding vulnerabilities in the Tigers' defense.
.@parisherrman caps off the second set with her 12th kill of the game for a 25-18 @OTHSVolleyball win and a 2-0 lea… https://t.co/bbGuA9Ml3w— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)1631750788.0
In each of the second and third sets, Tompkins jumped out to 14-5 leads but watched as Katy, behind the swings of senior middle Jordan Gamble and senior outside hitter Chandler Lee, fought back and gave a scare each time, even taking a 22-21 lead in the third set.
But the Falcons' depth offensively was too much. If it wasn't Herrman (15 kills, three aces) or Tchouangwa (12 kills) scoring points with smart power hitting, it was junior Tendai Titley (eight kills, three blocks), senior Natassia Baptiste (five kills) or junior Kaitlin Lopez (four kills) finding openings.
"They're fiery. They're hungry," Tompkins coach Allison Merrell said of her girls. "Katy always gives us a run for our money, so they knew they were going to have to come out hard early. We were shaky in the first set, but settled in, got some nerves out of the way and played our tempo and our game."
Herrman, a four-year letterman, has always been a leader of Tompkins' success. She's even better this season as an all-around player, picking up slack in the back row due to Gundry's absence.
"Her passing, defensively, in serve-receive … she's improved so much since junior year," Merrell said. "She has more confidence back there, and I have more confidence in her back there. She's a rock star in the back row for us right now."
But it's the emergence of Tchouangwa that has been a game-changer for the Falcons' offense. Tchouangwa is averaging a team-best 4.2 kills per set and boasts an incredible .492 kill percentage; last season, those numbers were 3.1 and .397, respectively.
.@OTHSVolleyball’s @CTchouangwa with the rocket of a swing. She’s already got four kills in this second set. Tompki… https://t.co/q9AclP1OEu— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)1631749874.0
Merrell said Tchouangwa's outstanding play is a result of natural growth. She's an upperclassman now and the team needs more from her. She's answering the call.
"It's my mentality," Tchouangwa said. "I'm sharper. I'm more focused on the court. I'm a better passer. I just want to get the job done."
Schematically, to better suit all the talent, Merrell has implemented more attacks from the back row, to accommodate Herrman, and a faster offense.
"We have the talent, for sure, but when we all get into a rhythm, we're unstoppable," Herrman said. "We have so many weapons, and if we can get a good serve-receive pass with our steady defense, the sky is the limit for our offense."
Perhaps it was no joke after all, then, when the Falcons would talk amongst one another about how good they would be.
"They make adjustments on the fly, they stick to game-plans. There's a lot of accountability with this group," Merrell said. "I also think they know how talented they are. That excites them to work hard."