Monday, March 12, 2012

Club Lacrosse Then and Professional Lacrosse Now Part 2

 Perth, Australia 1990: Left to right, Steve Mitchell (St Paul’s, Hopkins), Fred Opie (Croton Harmon, Syracuse), George McGeeney (Towson HS, UMBC), Sal LoCascio (UMass), Zack Colburn (Penn), Mike Morrill (Hopkins).  

During my first two seasons with Long Island Lacrosse Club in 1987 and 1988, I did some serious commuting driving fifty miles one way to Danbury to work Monday through Friday and an hour, depending on traffic, to Hempstead where Hofstra University is located on Thursday for practices and on Sundays for games. Moreover, way games would take me as far as Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore in my car. Jimmy Burke moved to Tarrytown my second year with the club and he we split the cost of the commute. In short, playing club ball back then was a time consuming and expensive endeavor not including providing your own equipment and paying team fees and all travel and lodging expenses. But I loved every minute of it because it was unbelievable lacrosse! I was fortunate that my second year on the team, the first attempt to have a pro-outdoor league started. It was very controversial because many of us feared that signing a pro-out door contract would disqualify one from playing on the US National team. I received an offer to play for the New York team but I turned it town. But defensemen Bobby Vencak left our club to play for the Long Island Sachems in the pro league. As a result Coach Tom Postel moved me down to close defense which made me very happy (no more sprinting on and off the field as a long stick middie!). I also played next to DeTo on close D and learned a great deal from him and Larry Quinn in the process. The physical strength and savvy veteran club players in their twenties and thirties is far superior to that of the majority of college players. That’s one reason few undergrads make the US National team. For instance, the year I made it in 1990 we had only one collegiate player—Andy Krause (Garden City and Virginia). I believe my decision to play club ball down on the Island instead of the Pepsi sponsored team in my native Hudson Valley region may have rubbed the Westchester folks wrong like I was snubbing them. I made the decision based on my experience of playing summer league both in Westchester and in the old Freeport League during my collegiate days. The competition on the Island proved far superior to Westchester and I simply wanted to play with and against the best at that time. Certainly the quality of lacrosse in the Hudson Valley as improved, but the game on the Island in my opinion is still bigger, the same hold true in Baltimore. Yes bigger is not always better, but I think the final results showed that I made the right choice in deciding to commute and play for Long Island Lacrosse Club. As in jazz, if you have the chops, playing with the best, makes you better. This also true when comes to being a husband, father, professor, and author; learn from people who are passionate about getting better every day.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My Years With Long Island Lacrosse Club, the Late 1980s

Kevin Sheehan (Baldwinsville (Syracuse suburb), , Pat Donahue (West Genesee), and Me, in the 85 Championship game. Pat’s older brothers Kevin and Tom were SU All Americans midfielders who played with John Desko both in high school and at Cuse. Kevin Donahue is John’s first assistant at Cuse and he’s been on the SU coaching staff for more than ten years now which is another reason why the team has been so success over the years.

In Danbury, Connecticut I taught grades k-7 for two years and coached boys JV soccer and middle school boys basketball (1986-1988). The teaching and coaching experience were tremendous and I loved the experience. But Danbury had no lacrosse program back then and my goal had been a position where I would teach and coach a varsity lacrosse team in a predominately black school district. A teaching and coaching position in Hempstead, Aaron Jones,’ hometown, opened up and he and Buddy Krumenacker helped me get an interview. Buddy was the Dean of Students and Head Varsity Football coach at Hempstead at the time. He’s a Farmingdale, Long Island native and the older brother of the late Hopkins All American midfielder John Krumenacker who died in 1998. As SU player had would at times cover John and thus Buddy knew of me from the Hopkins Syracuse rivalry. With the help of Aaron, his mother (a retired Hempstead High English teacher) and Buddy I received an interview. Hempstead school district hired me and I started teaching physical education and coaching at the high school in fall of 1989. Folks, the lacrosse world is small and it doesn’t pay to do be a jerk on or off the field; everybody is so interconnected in our sport. I was familiar with Hempstead because I started playing for the Long Island Lacrosse Club in the Spring of 1987 and made the commute to Hofstra University in Hempstead every Thursday evening for practice from 8-10 pm and again on Sundays for 1pm games. I made this commute because I instinctively knew that I had play at the highest level of competition to gain an invitation to 90 US National team tryouts. Playing for the club helped my game tremendously because of head coach Tom Postel and my teammates many of which had played on one or more US National teams when I joined the club in 87 and many were outstanding college coaches at local universities. Allot of these guys and the coaching staff are now members of the National Hall of Fame. I will be mixing in reflections on Hempstead and my club experiences over the next couple of days.

Delusions of Graduate School Grandeur

We recently relocated to Boston and in the process of cleaning out files I came across my GRE scores when I was applying to graduate programs (see yesterdays post) in 1991. This was when I had completed my master's in history at Shippensburg University and working as an interim dean at Gettysburg College as well as an assistant lacrosse coach at the college. This GRE document revealed an extremely low verbal score (380) yet a list of elite institution I hoped to attend; I had no contact with reality and allot of delusions of graduate school grandeur. As a prof now, I've seen undergrads who I work with make similar mistakes and overestimation of their academic record. The second time I applied to graduate programs I considered both PhD programs in history and theology with hopes of entering full time Christian ministry equipped with a knowledge of African American history and Christian theology. Back then I aspired to be a Christian version of Malcolm X. Like Malcolm I always had a book or two on hand to read and I was constantly consuming National Public Radio keeping up to date on world events (Malcolm read papers but people like me with ADD do allot better with an oratory consumption of the news). My list of graduate schools in the fall of 1991 included Union Theological, Yale Divinity and history programs at Columbia, Princeton, Berkley, Duke, Howard, Maryland, and Syracuse. In reflection, all these graduate programs were grand cannon reaches for my academic record—I just didn’t know it then. During my second time trying to get into PhD programs I had learned the importance of communicating with potential advisors. One does so because they will serve as your advocate and intellectual personal training for the next five to seven years of your life. You need to know early on in the process if there is flow or not between you and a potential advisor; more tomorrow.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Club Lacrosse Then and Professional Lacrosse Now

Long Island and USA teammate Norm Engelke and me at a practice in Perth, Australia, 1990

My first season with Long Island Lacrosse Club in 1987 was a great learning experience and confidence builder for me as a young player. Our team included lots of veteran US team players. They included Matt Crowley “snapper” for his quick and overpowering shot (Cornell, 2x USA), Ed Hughes (Adelphi), Tom Sweeney (Rutgers), Frank Tashman (Sewanhaka, Nassau, Adelphi), Steve (CW Post) and Vinnie (Hofstra 4x USA) Sombrotto, John DeTommaso “DeTo” (Farmingdale, Hopkins, 3x USA), Randy Natoli “Harpo” (Sewanhaka, UVA, 2x USA), Bobby Vencak (Farmingdale, Rutgers, USA), Larry Quinn (Levitt Town Division, Hopkins 3x USA), Jim Burke (Huntington, Cortland, 3x USA), Bob Beroza (Hempstead, Roanoke 2x USA), and Norman Engelke (Sewanhaka, Cornell 3x USA), Others also played important roles in the team’s success including coach Tom Postel (CW Post 2x USA) and team manager John Philips (Cornell (3x USA manager). One of the keys to my success on and off the field is that I am like a sponge soaking up as much essential information from whoever I can. I learned a great deal from practicing against my teammates and playing in games with them. In my opinion, playing with DeTo and Larry Quinn made me a much better player because both guys are real students of the game. DeTo reminded me of what I’ve learned about Lebron James from his peers—he was a fierce competitor, great guy, and a court jester who loved the game and being around his teammates. Larry taught me how to stay cool under pressure on the field and how to make all things look easy—which drives opponents crazy. I played long stick middie my first year, a position I never liked. Why, because you spend more time running on and off the field than you do running up and down the field. However on such a talented team, I was glad to get playing time. Long Island Lacrosse Club was one of the elite teams in Club ball and the top 6 teams back then were as competitive as any of the professional teams today the only difference is we didn't get paid. However, our championship games did get televised and the best among us filled the majority of the spots on US National teams. I would argue that most of older guy are very happy to see pro the league today and exited for the few players who can call playing lacrosse (along with endorsements and camps) their full time gig.