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Loving Lacrosse: My 45-Year Journey to the HOF

Since we are now celebrating National Play Lacrosse Week and Native American Heritage Month, it might be a good time to reflect back on my own journey through the sport, so the readers can understand what I found so attractive about the sport and the desire to cover it.

It now seems like a good time to get this all down from my memories, having turned 64 this year and not getting any younger.

My first memories were in the mid-1970’s or so, when WPIX, Channel 11 in New York, started picking up the College Game of the Week from the Baltimore broadcasts (WBAL?) with these colleges I didn’t know much about, like Johns Hopkins, Washington & Lee, Towson, etc. Probably right around when the sticks were evolving from Wood to Plastic. It was an interesting view and seemed like an exciting game to watch, but I had no idea what I was looking at. Even though I grew up on Long Island, it was in an area where lacrosse was not really played (Merrick) widely, and I still kid to this day that it was a community of a lot of nervous Jewish mothers who didn’t like us to play a sport where we could get hurt . . .

The famous Armadillo Game from back then:

As high school passed by it was time to look at colleges. Hard for the kids to understand now, but our access to information about schools was very limited, mostly to guidance counselors and to the library, where we would find these massive Guides to Colleges, like Peterson’s. Our parents, at least in Merrick, seemed to have this bias towards choosing the most prestigious college we could get into, regardless of whether it was the right place for us. Part of that was kind of a ‘keeping up with the Jones’ thought process and part was ‘what else could you choose based on’?

A funny recollection . . . in 1973 I was working at a summer camp in the Adirondacks named Balfour Lake, which was popular with the local families in Merrick and Bellmore and one of the counselors (I believe his name was Ross Herman) would wear his Hobart College t-shirt and he had finished his freshman year that summer. For some reason, the name stuck with me, probably because there was not a lot of names to compete with. Well, as the senior year went on, we did what everyone else did back then . . . take the SAT’s (my crowning achievement of academics . . . the guidance counselor said I should be ashamed of my GPA after seeing the results-LOL), visit campuses and start to fill out applications.

Visited Bucknell (the golf course on campus!), Lehigh and Lafayette one weekend. Then BU and Northeastern. Hartwick, Oneonta and Hobart. American and George Washington. Applied to a few more, like Muhlenberg.

The visit to Hobart was auspicious, since we didn’t know about the Trimester schedule and arrived after a 6-hour drive to a closed campus, in VERY cold weather. Thankfully there was someone who was around that could give us a tour of the empty campus, but hardly a real feel for campus life.

Circa 1970’s . . .

Came down to three schools, Lehigh, Muhlenberg and Hobart. The deposit check to Muhlenberg had been dropped in the box this morning when my Dad got a call from Harvey Gale, a man who served as an applications parent (his son, Peter Gale, would go on to great fame for the Chernobyl accident, where he served as one of the top experts on radiation poisoning and treating it) and had gotten friendly with my Dad. He asked my Dad that if Hobart accepted me, would I commit to there and after a family discussion, we said yes (See kids, back then it was a WE decision . . .) and the check was retrieved from the mailbox for Muhlenberg, and off I went.

In retrospect, I doubt very much I would be in this position if Harvey Gale had not reached out . . . funny, how the littlest thing can change one’s path. There’s a very good possibility that I was the LAST person accepted in that year!

When we drove to the school to drop me off, we had gone via the Thruway, and as we were getting close to Geneva, there was a billboard noting “Welcome to Geneva, the Lake Trout Capital of the World”, “Home of the NCAA Division II-III Lacrosse Champions”.

Okay . . .

This was an earlier version:

Of course, I didn’t know at the time about the synergy between the two, as Richie Moran wrote so eloquently about in his book, and some YouTube videos from whiny Syracuse players recently . . .

And I ran into Ross Herman. He remembered me. He must have gone the Belushi route and actually did join the Peace Corps, since we ended up graduating the same year . . .

Fall turned into winter and into spring. After being constantly counseled that attendance was required at games, some of which was from my RA Jack Davis, the star running back and one-man clear on the lacrosse field, I was looking forward to rocking my new t-shirt at the games (that t-shirt lasted about 20 years until the washing machine took matters into its’ own hands) and the first one was a home tilt against Rochester.

Two hours later, I had witnessed my first game and it was about 33-1. I turned to another person and asked if it was always like this, and he said no, we are playing Adelphi next, and they should be a good game. But that was 22-6 and I was wondering what was going on. Syracuse fell 24-8.

How the heck were they this good?

Just happened to be that the 1977 team is likely the best in school history.

Rick Blick, USA National Team Goalie. Dave Mc Naney, the same in midfield. Jim Calder, Canadian National Team member. Terry Corcoran, Roy McAdam, Ed Howard . . . I could go on and on.

I was hooked.

Next season, the great game in Ithaca, where the Cornell-Hobart game was christened the Super Bowl of Lacrosse and rated a feature story in Sports illustrated, which was the holy grail of sports before ESPN came along. That game also featured into my FLN period.

The upset by Roanoke in 1978 behind Bob Rotanz’s last minute shot (the previous year watching Roanoke goalie Bill Beroza setting the NCAA record for saves in a near upset – Bill is also now a friend) and the stunning loss to St. Lawrence in 1979 before finally winning again in 1980, to start the lengthy streak). In my senior year, I was filming the games for Coach Dave Urick, while sneaking in a little floor hockey, since he liked to join us in that. Storming the field at Schoelkopf after finally beating Cornell.

It was a heck of a ride for the four years.

Bob Rotanz . . . early villain in my college years:

But like so many others who graduated in the pre-ESPN era, finding some coverage of the game was not easy, so I did what I could and caught it here and there.

As the years went by, ESPN started to give more and more coverage, and the schools started to stream games, so the interest started picking up again. Listening to the broadcasts via the local Geneva/HWS outlet. Ted was the man.

My son finally got to that age where we could start him on a few sports. The T-Ball was filled up and he took to Roller Hockey like a fish to water. Finally, at age 11, he gave Boca Jets Lacrosse a shot and scored twice in his first game, but the two sports were the same day, and it got a little too much for him, so he gave up the lacrosse after the first season.

I discovered the Saint Andrew’s program around that time and started to go to a few games, and became a fan of them, as Coach Goldberg was in the middle of his title run. Like others, I also discovered LaxPower and started to post some stuff on both the Florida High School page and Hobart’s.

Lee Coppersmith was a star of the Scots back then, but I did not know his dad, Rich, was a year ahead of me at Hobart, until one day I got an LP message from him asking who I was, since he was seeing my post about SA and Hobart. We got to know each other, as so many in this community do, through the love of the sport.

Finally, I started to do some game recaps on LP, and the first one was the infamous 20-6 trouncing of St. Thomas by SA (sorry Terry!), and it was fun to see the response.

We’re good friends now, but he certainly had reason to think I was a jinx back then . . .

2012 comes around and the FHSAA finals are in Port St. Lucie, which made it an easy drive for me. SA was looking for revenge after Lake Highland had finally ended the title streak. I had become friendly with Dean Borg, who coached my son’s Boca Jets team, and whose son Cole was on the SA roster.

After SA had gained their revenge, Dean introduced me to Ernie Mahler at the field, and we agreed I would try to write for the then nascent Florida Lacrosse News site. Ernie, Brian Davis and a few others had started the site partly to accommodate covering the kids and if a few bucks were made along the way, the better. If memory serves, I did not actually meet Brian until the next season, or maybe at a summer event.

I really didn’t have a blueprint for what I was going to write, which kind of came back to bite me later that season since I kind of grew up with the NY Post, not exactly the best way to cover high school kids. The first season was actually a lot of fun because it was so new to both me and the readers. My first memories were of Daisy Jacobs and Suzanne Benz, Benjamin parents/fans, and fanatical about attending games that season, since they seemed to be at half the games I covered! We jokingly called them my groupies.

Daisy and Suzanne:

Another fun memory was of a game at Jupiter about halfway through the season, as Ernie joined me to take pictures. As we entered the gate, he introduced me to three Moms, who laughingly noted that I was an actual person, since I had come out of basically nowhere to write about games, and no one knew who I was in the community.

The season went on and the readership grew, and it was time for the Final Four in West Orange, where I was going to get the other side of the coin, as that NY Post influence came through. Thankfully, Tom West and I can laugh about it now over a few cold ones, but the first time I wrote about Ponte Vedra caused a LOT of heartburn, and if honest, a few PV parents who wanted to send me to Siberia.

The LHP-PV semifinal was unfortunately not much of a game (unlike the previous year’s when LHP came back from a 4-goal deficit late to pull out a victory in Port St. Lucie) and I kind of forgot we were dealing with high school kids. My opening line of the recap article was “Somewhere on the trip from the northeastern shores of Ponte Vedra and West Orange, the Ponte Vedra offense got off the bus and forgot to get back on”. Of course, if you try to find that line today it only exists in a screen print since Brian and I had to re-write the article the next day, after the feedback Brian got.

Lesson learned.

We still get on each other over the Isles and Rangers though:

Although a few slip ups over the years have tended to occur but given the amount of words I’ve written it isn’t too much. One such one was the one time Brian insisted I take a sentence out, and to be truthful it was justified for where it took the article, but thankfully just about everyone I tell the story to laughs at it (it was a religious reference that included Jews, Catholics and Protestants). It got to the point where Brian and I would joke that I was allowed to tick him off three times a season since I was doing this for free!

By the way, Brian deserves a lot of credit from the lacrosse community for all he did while with FLN and his coaching and Ernie deserves it too for footing the bills and all his great photography too.

Another person who needs to be given a lot of credit for FLN’s success is Wells Dusenbury, who was working with ESPN West Palm and WPTV-5 at the time. Wells would produce the 11:00pm sports segment for WPTV and many of you remember his running around to lacrosse games so that the sport would get on the air. Wells played at SA and Club at UF, so he knew the game very well. We decided to do podcasts on Sunday afternoon/evening for ESPN West Palm and frankly we were both surprised how well they did. There was a lengthy period where we were the most listened to podcast on the ESPN affiliate, ahead of high school football, the Dolphins and all the rest.

Wells Dusenbury – Podcast Partner

It was on one of those podcasts where I made the prediction that really put me on the map with the audience. In the playoffs, St. Thomas (sorry again Terry!) was traveling to Columbus, after handling them easily in the first game of the season. Columbus then ran the table and, on the podcast, I noted that if there was an upset in the Sweet 16 round, that could be it. And Columbus did win the game.

Wells and I had a great chemistry on these broadcasts. I think it was four seasons. We never had to retape a single episode, and they were 25-40 minutes on average. A few times we taped right after a Final Four game too. Having those podcasts gave me credibility among readers and even outside the state. If he had stayed with WPTV and ESPN we might still be doing these today, albeit on YouTube or other platforms by now.

After such a successful and fun first year, how could I not go further?

Year after year, my writing got tighter and better. The first few years are kind of rough as you look back at them.

I mentioned the Cornell-Hobart game above and how it came full circle.

In 2015, the Prep Showcase was held in Boca Raton and I ran into Matt Kerwick, a Hobart grad (and former Hobart HC) and then Cornell Head Coach. I had started to correspond a little with new Hobart Head Coach Greg Raymond, and something clicked in my mind, so I brought the idea to Brian and Ernie about Hobart and Cornell playing in our area as part of a major event.

We pulled it off and that 2016 event was one of the great memories for me in the 10 years.

But that wasn’t the only memory for that 1978 game. I had never met Jeff Goldberg or Chris Kane before and one day I mentioned to Ernie that I would like to have breakfast with Jeff and he arranged the four of us to meet one day in Delray.

As we were waiting for the table, I introduced myself to Jeff and he responded with “Oh, you’re the guy who was criticizing me on LaxPower”. Jeff is pretty much a brutally honest guy and a lot of people would kind of avoid the issue, but I looked at him and said “Only one time, and I guarantee you will agree with me”. Jeff gave me sort of a quizzical look and I’m sure he wasn’t used to a stranger saying that to him. I reminded him of the 2010 SA-Boys’ Latin game that was an amazing 13-12 BL win and when Quinn Cade stole the ball in midfield but couldn’t find an outlet and Jeff didn’t call the timeout. He looked at me, and to his credit, said “You’re absolutely right, I still think about that one”.

We still laugh about that to this day.

During that breakfast I had a chance to remind Chris about the 1978 game and I had brought the Sports Illustrated with me. He claimed that he did not know about the article, which I found hard to believe since he was quoted a couple of times in it . . .

But I did get even with him a few seasons later. I must have covered 6 games he refed that season, and at each I would tell the booth announcer about how we had a member of the National Hall of Fame in the stadium that day and they should announce the information at halftime. All 6 games.

Chris was very helpful to me with the few times I met Richie Moran, starting with that Hobart-Cornell game at Oxbridge. Just another example of how the community is so open and friendly with each other.

Of course, not everything starts well, but almost all the time it ends well. Early readers know that I am not the biggest fan of the IMG program, and Bill Shatz and I did not really hit it off at all. Once Bill left, we actually found a lot in common and now we get along great. Hopefully, we’ll be able to collaborate on a lot of events going forward.

So many great memories pop up, and you’ll see them as we publish more “From the Vault” articles. The people I’ve met have shown so much appreciation and it’s a great feeling to know I’ve touched a lot of lives in some piece of a positive way. Over the last few seasons, we’ve been able to substantially increase our coverage of the Girls side, and your appreciation is wonderful. We’ve joined in expanding the content to Varsity Sports Network and Brevard Sports Network. Lax Sports Network segments and Inside Lacrosse interviews.

We’ve seen the best and the worst. Great players balling out in college and too many accidental deaths. The spread of the sport to so many more high schools but also covering the Stoneman tragedy. Mikey Stolzenberg and John Michael Knight inspired us. A few bad actors saddened us.

Why this sport? It’s so easy to find things to write about. The people are great. The games have so many subplots and great endings. The articles write themselves at times.

I hope I have an influence in the national lacrosse community in how to cover a game.

Ten years in the pocket and I hope at least ten more.

And now, a member of one of the two Florida USA Chapter’s Hall of Fame.

That’s quite the ride.

45+ years.

And counting.