Saturday, April 24, 2010
Fred Opie: The very nature of growing up black in a white suburb in the 70s, 80s and then playing what was then and essentially still is a “white boys” sport in the the 80s and 90s, as my African American friends so often remind me, put me in unusually intimidate spaces with white folks, and sometimes in spaces in which some racist whites folks in our game made it clear I might be seen on the field maybe, but my opinion and critic was not welcome. I remember as a player and as Hank Janzyck’s defensive coordinator at Gettysburg College, on more than one occasion, I would challenge a referee's call in an assertive but respective way, and white officials would turn on me with an intolerance that they frankly did not show toward white players and coaches on my team or the opposing team. For many folk seeing a black lacrosse player or even more so, a coach is as rare as seeing a black member of the U. S. Senate. I wondered if Rick had similar experiences.
Rick Sowell: I think it would be naïve to think I didn’t experience racism growing up [and in our game]. Some of it was subtle, some not so subtle, but it pales in comparison to all the positives I’ve been able to take away from being involved with the sport of lacrosse and growing up in this environment. The friendships, competition and travel are all experiences I would not trade for anything. Through lacrosse, I was able to meet my wonderful wife and we now have two wonderful girls, so I have been blessed.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Rick Sowell running midfield for Washington College in game against Navy, Annapolis, Maryland
Guest blogger Rick Sowell:First thing I remember is that it was hot! I was fortunate enough to tryout on 3 separate occasions and each time I felt it was an honor to participate at such an elite level. It’s a challenge like none other; an opportunity to represent your country, how great is that? Four days of extremely intense lacrosse. I remember Fred [Opie] (Croton Harmon, Herkimer, Syracuse) played terrific, making plays all over the field. Aaron Jones (Hempstead, Cornell) also played well, I thought. It was my first time seeing Danny Williams (Hempstead, Army) play and boy could he get up and down the field in a hurry. His stick skills held him back a bit, but he was quite an athlete. I must also say, being among the few Afro-Americans to tryout was a neat experience. On the field trying to compete at the highest level, and off the field becoming friends was a lot of fun!
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
What I remember most about Herkimer is playing them in the 1983 Regional Final at Herkimer. A week earlier we beat the top ranked team in the country, Nassau Community College in a great game at Cobleskill. It certainly was a fun time to be on campus after our victory! Rolling into Herkimer the following week as the #1 team in the country, we were quite full of ourselves. And, before you know it, found ourselves down to a much inspired Herkimer team we had no problem beating during the regular season. I can’t remember the sequence for most of the game, but I do recall Cobleskill, being down 4 or 5 goals late in the game, only to come back and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. I remember hearing Herkimer really giving it to us as if the game was over. But, after scoring a goal late in the game, our faceoff man, Pete Basti went on a run winning 4 or 5 consecutive faceoffs, and allowing us to pull off the comeback. It was awesome! I also remember Fred Opie being one heck of a player, and he could talk smack too! He was all over the place with that long stick, even played extra-man offense, now that’s something! I believe that victory back in 1983 was the last time Herkimer lost to Cobleskill. Lead by Coach Paul Wehrum, Herkimer won 21 consecutive Regional Championships, 8 National titles, including 5 in a row 1992-1996.
Monday, April 19, 2010
The 1984 Washington College lacrosse team Rick Sowell (front row, second from the right).Fred Opie: In this segment guest blogger Rick Sowell, college All American, Stony Brook Head Coach, and US Team Assistant Coach, continues the story of how he started playing lacrosse in New York's Western tier region in the 1970s. Rick and I are similar in age and we played against each other in Junior College (early 80s) and with each other on Maryland Lacrosse Club (early 90s). We grew up in the same state but hundreds of miles apart., yet I am struck by the similarities of our small town lacrosse experience and the the racial politics of growing up black in a white suburbs (see my earlier post on this topic).
Rick Sowell: In 1972, thanks to a flood that wiped out the city of Elmira and crippled it for many years, that all changed. Many homes were destroyed, including ours and to avoid experiencing something like this in the future, my parents moved to us to a suburban community called Horseheads where high school Math Teacher and Coach Tom Moffitt would years later introduce me to lacrosse. Few African Americans lived there before the flood, and just a few moved there after the flood. My family was one of the very few African Americans to move to Horseheads in 1973. Growing up in Horseheads was certainly much different than Elmira particularly in regards to size of the communities black population. Of the 520 students in my high school senior graduation class, three were African Americans. So, it was a much different world then what I was used to living in Elmira. Overall, I experienced a wonderful childhood, but it wasn’t always easy. For example, dating was very difficult; some parents just did not want me dating their daughter. Other times, I would catch grief from the opposing team, because in most cases, I was the only African American on the field. These things made it tough, but it certainly could have been much, much worse.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Growing up, for the first 9 years of my life, I lived in a city named Elmira, NY.* Elmira is located about 2 hours south of Syracuse, 2 hours east of Rochester and about 4 hours northwest of New York City, also called the Southern Tier region of New York. Elmira was an area where many African Americans had settled over the years. I can still remember my father cutting hair every Saturday morning down in our basement because he was one of few who could cut hair. Our basement would be packed with fathers and sons, both getting haircuts. Living in Elmira I grew-up around many Afro-Americans. Elementary school was integrated and there was always someone to play with after school.
*Fred Opie: Elmira, New York was also the hometown of the late Ernie Davis, the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy, and the person featured in the film The Express. This is a must see film along with Jim Brown All-American, a Spike Lee documentary. Jim Brown helped persuade Davis to go Syracuse when he had fifty scholarship offers. There are scenes in the movie The Express shot in Elmira’s 1950s and 1960s African American community. Jim Brown All American provides the only film footage to date that this historian has scene with big Jim playing lacrosse at Syracuse. The documentary shows Brown wining a face off and then going down to score. The film also includes interviews with Brown’s Syracuse teammates, Roy Simmons Jr. and Oren Lyons; and a scene with these three SU lacrosse alum and All Americans having a catch out on Coyne Field on the campus of Syracuse University. You can purchase a copy of both films on DVD on line. The films are a great way to introduce lacrosse to athletic directors and football coaches who are reluctant to support the start of a lacrosse program; especially high schools in the south and southwest with a spring football season. It’s also would work equally well in introducing African American communities to lacrosse. Here's a utube clip in which Jim Brown talks about Ernie Davis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWWkaH9PRCs
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Following making the US National Team in the summer of 1989, I decided to take the GA position at Gettysburg instead of Dartmouth. SU teammate Tim Nelson took the job at Dartmouth and within weeks coach Dave Urick left Hobart to become the Head Coach at George Town; he hired Cobleskill and Washington College lacrosse alum Ricky Sowell as his first assistant. Rick and I tried out that same year for the US National team which made the experience in more special for me. There were something like 6 African Americans at that tryout which had to be a record at that time. Sidney Abernethy received an invitation to tryout back in 1981 but he turned it down feeling just too burnout and in need of a break from the game. Thus perhaps we were the first African Americans to do so in 1989 but I am not sure. The group include Ricky, Dan Williams (Hempstead, Army) Aaron Jones (Hempstead, Cornell), and a midfielder from Penn State Chris (can't remember the last name)who was a very good. I was the only one among us who made the team. I've heard tale that one disgruntled white player, a defensemen from my home region, claimed I made it because I was black. I found that pretty comical. I do believe I surprised a lot of folks because I was not a D-1 All American and other than the "shot" people had never heard of me or thought much about my game. However I started for two years on one of the top club teams, and earned all club honors. In addition, I definitely played my best lacrosse during the tryouts and enjoyed every minute of the experience. Ricky, Aaron, and I would go on to play for MLC in 1992 I believe, wining a club championship that year. I asked Rick to serve as a guest blogger and he was gracious enough to reflect on his lacrosse experience. The next couple of days you will see post he has written. Rick is the only African American Division I coach in the nation and he’s the Assistant Coach on this year’s 2010 U. S. National Team.
Friday, April 9, 2010
I need to back track just a bit and discusses the U. S. National team tryout. The tryouts in the summer of 1989 for 1990 National Team represented the pinnacle of my lacrosse career. It’s was like being at a summer lacrosse camp with the best 280 players in the world. Wow, the thought still makes me pumped today. I would go to the announcement board and see who was playing with and against each session. You’d look at your goalies, defensemen, middies, and attack and say wow, I cannot believe I am playing with these guys! These were players who were legends to me people like Jeff Long (Irondiquot, Navy): 1st team All-Americans, players of the year, players of the year at their positions, and former USA players. Wow what an adrenalin rush, competing respectively does that for me. I’m the same as an academic. I really enjoy presenting my work before top scholars at competitive conferences and exchanging ideas with others who are just as passionate about their research and teaching.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Teammates Bob Henrickson (Manhasset, Cornell 2 x USA), John Detomasso, Larry Quinn, at a US National Team practice in Perth, Australia in 1990.
So in August of 1989 I went to Gettysburg College working as a graduate assistant (GA) for the soccer and lacrosse teams and the Intercultural Advancement Center. I enrolled in the MA program in history at Shippensburg University. My under graduate grades were so low that I had to enter the program on probation. I had to teach myself of to use a computer and how to write my papers. I was serious about my work and I loved history and it took only a semester to gain full acceptance into the program. After practice I’d order a Hawaiian pizza without the ham and eat it on the way to class. I joined a great church in metro DC and I commuted 90 each way on Sunday to attend the Sunday worship service. The drive relaxed me and I made lots of new friends. Following services on Sundays in the spring of 1990, I drove from DC up to Baltimore to play for Maryland Lacrosse Club (MLC). By that time, Larry Quinn had completed Law School and moved back to Maryland to practice law. SU Teammate Brad Kotz had been with the time for several years; he and about 4 other teammates had all earned spots on the 1990 US. National team. MLC also included Frank and his younger brother Brian Kelley (BK). BK had recently graduated from UNC fresh off a national championship season. That MLC team also included Aaron Jones and Ricky Sowell. Ricky worked at the time as Dave Urick’s assistant lacrosse coach at George Town. I enjoyed playing club lacrosse that season and working as Gettysburg. I was unmarried and acted like it going where I wanted and eating what I wanted and returning home when I felt like it. That’s something I tell my students all the time, don’t act like you’re married when you’re not and enjoy your single life now.