Friday, September 27, 2013

Race and Our Game

Navy Coach Rick Sowell Leading the Midshipmen, Photo by Phill Hoffman
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 na├»ve 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.

Rick Sowell Stories:

Rick Sowell, Winning Beyond the Game:

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My First Stick

The STX Barney which was similar my first stick, the STX 76er 


Like your first kiss, any fanatical lacrosse player remembers his or her first stick. Mine was a red STX 76er with a traditional pocket, and by today’s standard, a heavy round white shaft. The head was the size and shape of STX barney accept it had three wide stripes at the top of the head similar to the 1978 STX Sam-which by the way made a lot of money for STX. I ordered the 76er through Varsity Lacrosse Coach Nick Padula. This was the summer of 1976. Pack in those days, coaches in small villages in places like Croton-on-Hudson served as the middle men between local players and the three lacrosse companies of that time: Brine, STX, and Warrior. Truth be told, the Warrior Company of that era is a shadow of the company on steroids today which is sponsoring the U. S. Men’s National team. Coach would put the word out that he would be putting in a mail order for sticks in hope of getting enough orders to merit a discount on the entire order. That’s how it was in those days. My town, which always had thriving youth sports, never had a sporting goods store. In fact, I dad had to take me to nearby Peekskill to purchase me first baseball glove and rubber spikes to play minor league. Lacrosse sticks in those days were like really high quality imported olives—most stores not only did not carry them—they never heard of them before; more on lacrosse commerce in the 1970s tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Aaron Jones, My Cornell Years

Aaron Jones, a Cornell lacrosse Alum, clearing the ball in a game at Yale University, circa 1987
During my Cornell playing years, I experienced racial challenges on the field and off but with the strength I gained from my background was able to meet those antagonists head-on. Because of those experiences, I share a bond with so many other great African American lacrosse players. Players I came across during my Cornell playing days include Fred Opie (Syracuse), Rickey Sowell (Washington College), Keith Owens & Rodney Dumpson (Syracuse), Raymond “Tiny” Crawford (Hobart), as well as high school teammates, John Williams & Brian Duncan (Adelphi) and Danny Williams (West Point). Our shared lacrosse playing experiences at the collegiate level have created an indelible bond with these players and people. One notable moment in those memories came in 1989 when Fred Opie, Danny Williams and I drove together to try-out for the 1990 US. National (or World) Team. That try-out was a once in a lifetime opportunity shared by 3 guys from almost identical backgrounds and lacrosse experiences. Fred was selected for the team and Danny and I felt like we made the team along with him. The common bond continues today. I am linked in with all the African American players that forged through the circumstance of being a pioneer in a fantastic sport.

Cornell Lacrosse Stories:

Monday, September 23, 2013

Lacrosse Cool Then and Now, the 1970s

Photo: 1976, Cornell Hall of Famer Eamon McEneaney against an unknown Hopkins defender
The other day I started sharing about the purchase of my first lacrosse stick in 1976 and the conundrum of traditional pockets when you know nothing about stringing and adjusting them. In 1976 mesh pockets did exist, but they were nothing like the one I used my senior year at Syracuse or what players today are using. In 76 a mesh pocket was hard to break in and soft mesh, as far I remember, did not exist. Only goalies used them. In addition mesh did not give you the “cool styling and profiling points” that a traditional pocket gave you back then. Almost all the studs I followed growing up on Army lacrosse played with traditional. That was also the case for one of my favorite players back then, Hall of Famer Eamon McEneaney (Sewanhaka, Cornell). I first saw this All-American attackman score a punch of goals in route to a championship victory over John Hopkins on ABC’s wide world of sports. The game came on TV a week after the actual had been played. Today the definition of cool as changed and mesh is in and traditional is out—accept for in the women’s game. Can someone school me on why mesh is not used in the women’s game?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Hempstead's Lacrosse Legacy

Aaron Jones clearing the ball in a game at Yale University, circa 1987
Hempstead, New York, is a predominately African American suburban community with a urban feel to it. It had a successful program under Coach Al Londy which for some unknown reason went defunct but not before sending attackman James Ford onto Rutgers where he earned All American honors. After Londy, Coach Al Hodish jumped started the program in 1975 introducing it to me and a bunch of junior high classmates. That nucleus of players in my community developed a bond with each other and passion for lacrosse. By 1980 we had advanced to high school, added players like Danny Williams (Army), Brian Duncan, Tim Pratt, and John Williams (all three played at Adelphi), and we had become a dominate program used to competing at the highest level of lacrosse without regard to region or resume of our opponents. We played legendary teams from Concord, Massachusetts, Carlisle, Pennsylvania; Ottawa, Canada; Baltimore, Maryland; and throughout Long Island. By the end of my senior year in high school (1983), guys on the team had earned All league, All County, All Long Island, and invitations to play in the National High School North – South All Star game. Many of us went on to play collegiate lacrosse and earn All American honors and invitations to play in the college North South All Star game. For me, Hempstead lacrosse was a springboard to Cornell University and a chance to play for legendary coach and Hall of Famer, Richie Moran. Today when I think back to my roots, I am grateful for the springboard to a division 1 lacrosse program and a prestigious academic atmosphere, however, I am more thankful for the foundation that community provided me. At Cornell things were tremendously different. Socially I, like all my high school teammates, transitioned from a uniform background where we were all black and working class to an elite Ivy League environment with an almost exclusively upper class white student body and faculty, with a few black faculty and some blacks working as staff around campus. Our love for the game was the only tangible commonality between me and a great majority of my white teammates at Cornell. Through it all, Cornell lacrosse was a phenomenal period in my life. On the field we were fortunate to resurrect the winning prowess that lacrosse program had established throughout most of its history; more tomorrow.

Hempstead Lacrosse History:

Cornell Lacrosse Stories: