Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rick Sowell on Junior College (JUCO) Rivalries in the 1980s

Guest blooger Rick Sowell going to the hoop against Washington and Lee in 1984 after transfering from Cobleskill to Washington College. Rick at an outstanding career earning both JUCO and Division III All American honors.

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 Flood of 1972 Introduced Me To Lacrosse

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

Stony Brook and US National Team Coach Rick Sowell

Guest Blogger Rick Sowell

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

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Gettysburg Years Part 2

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.

Monday, April 5, 2010

My Year As Head Lacrosse Coach at Hempstead Part 3

A 1975 team photo courtesy of Al Hodish. Photo contains Rutgers University lacrosse All American James Ford. click to enlarge the image.

At my first public school physical education job in Danbury (86-88), I taught classes alone in my own facility. But at Hempstead in 88-89, I team taught with four other teachers all seemed to be looking for the least resistant path to retirement. Here I was trying to instill principals, respect for adults and each other, and discipline. I must have been a pain in the butt carrying on like supper teacher on steroids! It was a big mess and my contempt for them was growing each day. By the spring of 1989 I decided to leave Hempstead and get a graduate degree which was a requirement for a permitting state of New York teacher’s license. I was at a cross roads and I called Hank Janyzck at Gettysburg College (G-burg) who I met through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Lacrosse ministry. He made some calls and to try and secure a graduate assistantship (coaching in exchange for graduate tuition and a stipend) at a notable institution. I had just had a great Club lacrosse year and made the 1990 world team. At the time, I thought about a divinity degree, law school, masters in history, or a job in college coaching. I had recently taken a career exploration course at a public library that showed I should be teaching history at the college level. I had started reading allot of history books on my own and got excited about the opportunity of getting a masters in history and also trying out college coaching.