Friday, December 26, 2014

Making the Cut, My Professional Lacrosse Experience

Professor box/indoor lacrosse played in a hockey rink with astro turf. Lacrosse is the national sport of Canada and the Canadians play largely box lacrosse
In 1988 I earned a spot on the newly created box/indoor lacrosse team the New York Saints of the also new Major Indoor Professional Lacrosse League. We played our home games at the Nassau Coliseum home of the New York Islanders too. The team consisted largely of Long Island Lacrosse club players and a few players from the recently established New York Athletic Club Team (NYAC) out of Manhattan.This served as my first experience in professional sports. It did allot more for my ego than it did for my billfold. More importantly the experience of going through a rigorous trying out went a long way in preparing me for the tryouts for the 1990 U. S. National Team. 

The Gait’s Canadian Box Lacrosse Roots:

How Many Goals Did the Gaits Score Right-Handed?: [Watch 8 min 24 sec]

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Winter Workouts Part 2

Photo: Walter Payton running “the hill” in Arlington Heights, Illinois

What drove me to run in the cold, lift weights, and work on my stick skills as a Syracuse lacrosse player over winter break were stories of athletes like Larry Bird and Walter Payton. Bird, the story goes, would be out on the court in Indiana heat waves shooting jumpers for hours alone. Similarly during the off season with the Chicago Bears, Walter Payton ran steep hills religiously near his Illinois home about 20 times a day wearing specially made training shoes. So as I said in part one of this series yesterday, in January when I was playing college lacrosse, I would be working my butt off right now and eating wisely in hopes of earning a starting position when I returned to campus. I figured if I worked harder than my teammates and opponents I would have the edge. I continue the habit of working out four times a week but now it’s with weights and biking, and it’s for one hour instead of two. My habits have also stood me well as a prof, author, and blogger. The English writer Charles Reade said, “Sow a thought, and you reap an act; Sow an act, and you reap a habit; Sow a habit, and you reap a character; Sow a character, and you reap a destiny” 

How to Improve Your Stick Skills: [Watch 4 min 2 sec]

Winter Workouts

Mike Woicik ran the strength and conditioning program at Syracuse when I was there as a lacrosse player in the 80s. Mike told me how he has run into former SU athletes and NFL players that he worked with during his career and that they were so out of shape that he did not recognize them. I’ve had similar experiences with former teammates. Mike explained, “It’s about changing your lifestyle.” Is comment made me reflect on what I would be doing in the winter off season when I was a college player. I got up in below freezing New York weather and went for training runs. At that time few understood the rigors of playing a Division I sport. I would coordinate with the basketball coach at my high school to get access to the weight room and a place to do wall ball. 

Lacrosse Wall Ball Routines:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Metro Lacrosse's Faceoff at Fenway Park

Metro Lacrosse, a Boston based NGO using lacrosse to teach life skills to boys and girls. To learn more, check out this video.

November 18, 2014 Faceoff at Fenway Tickets:

Jim Brown Lacrosse Stories:

Fred Opie's Story About the 1990s US Men's U. S. National Lacrosse Team Tryouts:

Jim Brown and SU at Yale in 1957:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Coaching Stories

Hempstead varsity lacrosse team photo circa 1986: Kenny Moore, Kevin McClure, Sinclair Basnight, Donald Jones, Egon Robertson, John Williams, Derek Payne, Danny Williams, Gerald Cordova, Charles Edge, Aaron Jones, Jerry McCarter, Caesar Lara, William Humphrey, Milton Warker, Norris Taylor, Robin Taylor
I taught and coached football and lacrosse at Hempstead High School during the 1988-89 academic year. The district had failed to pass it budget and operated on an austerity budget—restricted funding for sports with funds only for coach’s salaries, insurance, buses etc. The student body had been over 95% black and remainder lower class Latinos and whites. In the 1960s the school had gained national recognition for its academic and athletic achievements. The High School began a decline with the close of Mitchel Air Force Base in 1961, an important source of jobs for the community and the beginning of capital and white flight from the school district. Regan era cut backs led to further problems along with the coming of the crack cocaine epidemic. Despite these hardships, a group of dedicated teachers and coaches insured that Hempstead grads continued to attend some of the finest schools in the country. In the team photo above one fines Metro Lacrosse CEO Aaron Jones who played collegiality at Cornel University and Army officer Dan Williams who earned All American honors at West Point.  

Hempstead Lacrosse History:

Coaching Stories:

Monday, September 15, 2014

Aaron Jones' Lacrosse Reflections

Photo of guest blogger and Cornell lacrosse alum Aaron Jones throwing a check against a Yale attackman circa 1987.

By the spring of 1975, Coach Al Hodish organized a team to compete throughout long island against other communities. The towns that surround Hempstead were both largely white and lacrosse power houses such as Garden City, Lynbrook, Elmont, Baldwin, Sewanhaka, Levitt Town Division, Manhasset, and many others. In those communities kids began playing lacrosse as early as the age of five. But for Hempstead youngsters like me and others such as John Williams, Brandon James, Albert Walker, James Freeman, Kevin McClure, Egan Robinson, among others had no idea how long or how well the other communities had been involved with the game of lacrosse. We were driven by our love for the game and our will to win. By the end of the season, we were hooked. In those lacrosse communities surrounding Hempstead, white kids began playing lacrosse as early as the age of 5yrs old. But for us black Hempstead kids, ignorance was bliss. We had no idea how long or how well the other communities had been involved with the game of lacrosse. We were driven by our love for the game and our will to win. That nucleus of players bonded around a passion for lacrosse. By 1980 we had advanced to high school and became a dominate team competing at highest level of lacrosse in the region; more on Hempstead lacrosse history tomorrow.

Aaron Jones Related Lacrosse Stories:

Friday, September 12, 2014

Syracuse Lacrosse Swag in the 1980s

Fred Opie following a 1985 home game in the Dome
For me fall ball meant swag! For a lacrosse junkies a new helmet, gloves, and other pads that smelt like the inside of new car was like nirvana! Back then we had refurbished turf shoes and spikes hand me downs from the football program because the lacrosse coaches had not received a shoe deal yet, but I did not care and just knew I was too cool. Today's generation of SU players recieved fabulous swag each fall season because of the programs consistent success and the media coverage that has generated over the years for such a minor sport like lacrosse. I am amazed when I go into stores like Dike's Sporting Goods and see so much Syracuse Lacrosse apparel for sale. Sporting SU lacrosse swag in the fall of 1983 put a little pep in my step as strolled across campus identifying with a wining program during a time when the football program had little to celebrate.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Seeing Something That Others Can't See

Celebrating with Dan Pratt after a goal I scored in the 1985 NCAA Finals which we lost to Hopkins 
I've been talking about fall ball reflecting on my first days on campus at Syracuse University (SU) in 1983. My orientation to SU lacrosse happened organically with a very talented 1983 recruiting class. The class included Neil Alt (Towson, MD) Dan Pratt (Homer, NY) Gordie Mapes (Rush-Henrietta, Rochester), Todd Curry (West Gennee) Pat Donahue (West Gennee), Mike O’Donnell “OD” (Yorktown), Tom Nelson (Yorktown) Matt Holman (Summit, NJ), Mark Brannigan (West Genee, Cobleskill), Chris Bruno (Cobleskill), Matt Cacacciato (Fox Lane, NY, Cobleskill) Rhett Cavanaugh (Fox Lane, NY, Army) and Chris Baduini (Montclair, NJ) Some of us first met at the 83 championship team banquet in the summer following SU's victory over Hopkins. Simmie had us sit together introducing each one to the audience with some brief remarks. Coach made a lofty comment about my ability and that I would be a very special player. The comment put me in an awkward position with the other recruits and championship team members at the event. But early on Simmie saw something in me back then that other coaches didn’t. However what he saw remained hidden until I adapted to a new system and level of play and that’s exactly the role of fall ball for a new recruit. It gives you time to adjust to bigger and faster players who are better than what most players see in high school or in my case junior college.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fall Ball and Battling with Depression Part 2

Fred Opie covering Hobart's Marc Moore, Manhasset High School's Lacrosse Day of Champions 1984
Started talking about my experience as a cocky Junior College recruit from Herkimer showing up at Syracuse University (SU) in the fall of 1983. I was coming off summer surgery on both knees for tendinitis and trying to get back in playing shape. Once I got cleared to play my head remembered the post surgery pain and said, “nothing doing!” I quickly became a Division I coaches worst nightmare—a scholarship player with no game! I was out of shape and had bad habits from playing against lesser competition in junior college.  It felt like my SU teammates and the coaches had serious doubts about my ability to perform and I felt like you do when you are going through a break up that you don’t want to happen. Over the years I’ve seen depression as a player, coach, and professor in folks more focused on their do than their who. It happens when you invest more in what you do then who you are. I’ve also observed that among highly recruited college athletes several things can follow, they overeat, transfer, quit the team, or adapt and thrive. In the fall of 1983 I battled with depression but many people at the time most likely did not know it. It's serious folks but I can tell you from experience that with professional help you can get through it.  

Herkimer, Syracuse, Club, and U. S. Teammates:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fall Ball and Battling Depression

Practice photo from on Coin Field, Syracuse University 1984  
Fall ball in lacrosse parlance is the time in which college players compete for starting position in the spring regular season. In the fall of 1983 I was over confident that I would start as I stepped on the campus of Syracuse University (SU). I was a two time junior college All American and had the playing experience of a big fish in a small pond. I was out of playing shape and over my head.  Today I look in shape to most folks, but playing shape is another level of fitness. Do to knee surgery and overeating I lost my normal quick first step and the footwork essential to defending an offensive player.  After Doc Baker cleared me to play, I returned to the field but during one on one drills guy flew by me like I was a Barak Obama cut out in front of the White House!  In the fall of 1983 I started a battle with depression for several long and dark months which the overcast weather in Syracuse did not help. I doubt however if many people at the time knew it. Depression is serious and I suggest anyone dealing with it seek professional help. It's not something you can just tough it out like athletes are prone to do. 

Syracuse Lacrosse Stories:

Monday, September 8, 2014

Show Up Looking like the Person Who Was Recruited

A unhappy 1983 Herkimer General team photo following yet another defeat to Cobleskill in the regional finals. That's me #7 kneeling in the front row second from the left just months before I transferred to Syracuse University.

Starting a new series today on being a new recruit reminiscing on my experience as new scholarship athlete playing lacrosse at Syracuse University in the fall of 1983. The summer before the start of my first semester at Syracuse I set my mind on earning a starting position as defensemen during fall ball. I somehow got in my head that a division 1 defensemen had to bigger and stronger than I was at the time—6’ 1’’180 pounds (Today I would be small by division one standards where the average defensemen are taller than me and over two hundred pounds and fast!) Without consulting anyone I went on this weight and strength gaining regiment that I had no business designing because I did not have a clue what I was doing. In retrospect, I lifted my fork and spoon more than I lifted weights, ran, or work on my food work which I now know to be critical. That summer I worked for a catering company doing prep work at a Con Ed facility in Tarrytown.  Con Ed workers went out on strike that summer for better wages and benefits and the kitchen staff had to provide three meals a day to Con Ed managers covering for those out on strike. That summer I made lots of money working overtime and I ate like a champ going from 178 to 205! In late August, I had surgery on both knees for tendonitis. Between my kitchen job and surgery, I arrived at Syracuse in the fall of 1983 looking nothing like the player the SU coaching staff had recruited.  Take it from me, if it's in your power, work hard and show up looking like the person who was recruited. That's a valuable lesson on and off the field.

Herkimer, Syracuse, Club, and U. S. Teammates:

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Lacrosse World Cup Competition Then and Now

1990 Lacrosse World Cup Game Schedule, Japan is now in the elite division and a host of other nations in lower divisions.
With the exception of the Canadian team that year with Kevin Alexander and the recently graduated Gait twins and Tom Marechek, Team USA had little competition in the 1990 Lacrosse World Cup. That will not be the case in this year’s World Cup with the US team facing a very tough Canadian team. The tryouts for the 1990 team in my opinion (and receiving so much free cool USA swag), was the pinnacle of my National team experience and my entire athletic career, particularly since I played in two national championships at Syracuse in 84 and 85 and lost both. The field of teams in the Lacrosse World Cup is much larger today than in 1990 However, you can still count on the United States facing off against Canada in this year's World Lacrosse Cup final. Canada won the World Championships four years ago and they have an excellent chance of wining this year because increasingly Canadians can be find on the roster of some of the best college programs in the United States. Field lacrosse is no longer foreign to Canadians who like Native Americans grow of playing largely indoor lacrosse. Team USA you better bring your A game (and a strategy to control face offs), play has a team, and check all egos at the door.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How To Get Better on And off the Field/Court

Hall of Famer Pat McCabe (Elmont, SU) covering Hall of Famer Tim Goldstein (Ward Melville, Cornell). Notice how shallow Goldstein’s pocket is? The quick release it provided is one reason why he was such a great feeder. That's SU All American Matt Palumb in the goal. 
For me the U. S. National team tryouts represented the pinnacle of my lacrosse experience. It’s was like being at a summer lacrosse camp with the best players in the country. One would go to the announcement board and see who was playing with and against each session. You’d look at your goalies, defense, 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 at their positions, and former USA players. Wow what an adrenalin rush! As a professor and author, I get the same rush. Working with the best makes you better on and off the field. 

How to Improve Your Stick Skills: [Watch 4 min 2 sec]

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Following the 1990 Lacrosse World Cup: Meeting Bishop Tutu

Bishop Desmond Tutu
Following the 1990 Lacrosse World Cup, I returned to Gettysburg to continue my several jobs at Gettysburg College (G-burg), and I completed my MA degree in history requirements in time for the December graduation ceremony at Shippensburg University. Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa served as the commencement speaker. Our family had a history with Bishop Tutu that started back in the 1980s at Howard University where my brother Marshall earned his undergraduate degree. Marshall dated and became engaged to one of the Bishop’s daughter which lead to subsequent visit of the bishop and his wife came to our family home in Croton for a meal I was out of town at the time and never met him. Before the graduation ceremony started I managed to get my business card to him. He was gracious enough to invite me into the VIP tent to meet him. He was so surprised to meet me and learn that my parents where in the audience as well. My brother never married the daughter but I will never forget meeting him and wondering how that dinner with my folks went. 

Reducing Stress:

Show Up Looking like the Person Who Was Recruited:

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How To Pick a Good Club Team For My Child?

Summer 2012 FCA boys and girl club teams. The majority of coaching staff are volunteers like me who know the game . 

A parent in a local youth program asked a question via email that I thought made for an informative post. Earlier this summer his child who is going into 4th grade went to a lacrosse camp that a local club team program ran and he enjoyed the experience. The club team is part of full time lacrosse business by the same name that includes for profit teams, tournaments, camps, and a retail store. The child his excited to play this fall and as a result the parents are considering signing the child up for the club team that ran the camp. But before doing so the parent wanted advice on how to select a club program. As the parent states, the “main priority is finding a program that is fun and will allow” his child to play with friends in their community as much as possible. He ends his email with “any insights and advice would be much appreciated.” I responded, I encourage my son to enjoy many different sports. He can specialize in college should he have that option. He has the stick in his hand most of the year because he's a fanatic. But he's now the same way about hockey. It's much the pattern that I had and I didn't start playing lacrosse until 8th grade. I didn't experience burnout until the end of my college career—and perhaps it was frustration after losing in the championship game for the second season in a row to Hopkins and because I felt lacrosse had become too high a priority in my life and I needed to gain some balance.  Below are links to what I've said about this and related topics. More to come.

My Earliest Exposure to Lacrosse:

Lacrosse in My Home Town of Croton on Hudson and Boarding and Yorktown:

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Iroquois National Team and Self Determination

Iroquois National team players including Syracuse alum on the first row left to right, Chief Oren Lyons (Lacrosse Hall of Fame) who was a goalie on the same undefeated SU team with Jim Brown (Lacrosse Hall of Fame) next to him Mark "Red Man" Burham 27 and Emmett Printup 4.

The Iroquois National team declined to travel to England on any other passport but Iroquois Federation passports to compete in the 2010 Lacrosse World Cup. I say kudos to them for taking a stand as a sovereign nation. I played on the 1990 US National team that faced off against the Iroquois in their first ever Lacrosse World Cup in Australia. I recall meeting with Oren Lyons, Traditional Chief of the Iroquois Confederacy, who like me is a Syracuse University Lacrosse alum, in his hotel room in Australia. He pulled out his Iroquois Federation pass port and proudly asked me with a smile on this face, if I understood what it was. He then went on to explain that competing in the Lacrosse World Cup meant more than fun and games for the Iroquois players (some of whom were my college teammates at SU), it represented the Federation’s declaration of the right to self determination and sovereignty within the borders of the United States and Canada (and my guess, possibly a bid for a sit in the United Nations). That was an eye opener for me as graduate student in history then and now as a professor of history and blogger.

Related Links:

 1990 World Games:

Traveling with Eli:

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sankofa Lacrosse Interviews Part 6

Fred Opie interviewing members of the SanKofa Lacrosse Team on October 25, 2013 on the campus of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Coach How Is Your Home Team Doing?

Related Links Below
Inside Out Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives by Joe Ehrmann, Gregory Jordan and Paula 
Ehrmann: [Watch 4 min 7 sec]
Book: Inside Out Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives by Joe Ehrmann, Gregory Jordan and Paula Ehrmann

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Playoff Time Injuries Part 2

Me my Sophomore year of high school . It seems like I always had a stick  in my hand 

During my freshmen year in high school I came home from football practice with a severe foot injury; Nick Padula served as the freshmen football Coach in the fall and the varsity lacrosse coach in the spring. Unknown to me, my father became enraged and went to the school where he accused the coach of negligence in caring for my injury. Shouting erupted between the two men and almost a physical altercation.  I believe the incident marked me as toxic in the coaches view thereafter.  Here's the back story learned after my playing career at Syracuse University had ended: In the 1950s, my father's youngest sibling Earl died from a head injury while playing high school football. I suspect my dad never got over the guilt and hurt that he felt because he had not been able help little brother. His pain came to the surface with my football injury. It's amazing how some injuries stay with us; the disappointment of not being brought up to varsity during playoffs as a sophomore remained with me a long time. My father died with out us talking about those injuries.

Parents and Athletic Series:

Monday, May 5, 2014

Playoff Time Injuries Part 1

Adam West (left) and me on the right, The old Croton Point Dump field, 1980. Today it's a RV Park
I can remember a lacrosse related emotional hurt I experienced my sophomore year in high school in 1979. It was the end of my Junior Varsity (JV) season and tradition had it that the varsity coach would promote the best JV players if the varsity made into the post season sectional playoffs. You would practice with the varsity and dress for the playoff games. For me—and suppose any athlete passionate about his or her sport, this was a big deal! While coach Nick Padula, that’s right I am calling you out coach (smile)! I remember going to see Croton play at Yorktown in the playoffs and seeing my JV teammates John Purdy, Andy Morehouse, and Joe Vasta dressed in their varsity jerseys on the sideline. I was crushed. It seemed clear to me that I was one of the better JV players on that team or perhaps I was a really late bloomer.Years later I learned that my dad had a run in with the varsity coach and I became the victim of collateral damage. 

Croton Lacrosse Stories:

Yorktown Lacrosse Stories:

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dealing With Rejection

Fred Opie (far left) in a Herk vs. Nassau game at Hofstra University 1983  
It’s that time of the year when college coaches are out traveling around the country watching tournaments and checking out prospective players and deciding who they can and should recruit. Soon some players will start receiving email, mail, and phone calls and invitations to visit campuses. Some highly coveted players entering their sophomore and junior years in high school are starting to feel the pressure. Those not   receiving any "love from coaches" are starting to feel low self-esteem.  My story as former scholarship lacrosse player at Syracuse University and U. S. National Team player may surprise you. I did not receive allot of love my junior or senior year. As senior I might have received two letters from Division III coaches  My prospects improved after attending junior college (JUCO) at Herkimer County Community college and playing for now Hall of Fame Coach Paul Wehrum.  I first tearn All American honors my first year at Herkimer but the honor did not help my case much because are team did not advance to the final four teams in the JUCO championships. That was the stage in the game when coaches came to see players like they now do at summer tournaments and thereafter offered opportunities to the players they believed would contribute their programs. Clay Johnson from my hometown played for Maryland and he was my hero. Thus naturally I wanted to play for Maryland one day. The problem was I recruited Maryland harder than they recruited me a guy with little notoriety. University of Maryland coach Dino Mattessich supposedly sent somone to watch me play against Nassau Community College on the island. Nassau was the top rank team in the nation at the time and players from the program regularly earned scholarships to the top lacrosse programs and schools in the country. I played perhaps my best lacrosse ever. However following  the game Maryland continued show little interest no discussion of scholarship money occurred. I sent inquiries’ to the coaches at Carolina and West Point receiving in turn cordial rejection letters. It was during this time I learned the skill of how to spot a rejection letter without opening the envelope. This skill would later serve me well as I tried to get my first books published from 2000 to 2009. Syracuse went on to beat Maryland in the NCAA quarter finals that year in the Career Dome. Coach Dino Mattessich resigned as the Maryland lacrosse coach shortly thereafter and left coaching to become an athletic director. I don’t believe one of my many phone calls to the Maryland lacrosse office ever made it pass the secretaries who screened calls; nor did any of the coaches return my calls. Now that friends and people who I've coach are college coaches, I better understand both the process and just how many contacts they get about prospective players. Most do the best they can returning calls and emails but they are simply understaffed and overworked. Coaches feel terrible when a great player gets overlooked and players feel slighted when coaches show them no love. I certainly learned over the years how to make myself more attractive as I candidate and much of what I learned happened through lacrosse. Perhaps most importantly, I learned how to separate what I do from who I am and the importance of fit when potential employers or publishers say no to me.

My College Recruiting Series: 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What To Do If You Don't Get An Athletic Scholarship Offer?

Me on the right covering Yorktown's Rob Hoynes during the Spring of my senior year at Croton Harmon High School. Rob, a great player and person, went on to be an All-American midfielder in high school and at West Point.  
 Related links  below

My College Recruiting Series:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sankofa Lacrosse Interviews Part 5, Devon and Tre Sherwood

Fred Opie interviews Devon and Tre Sherwood. Devon played goalie at Duke University and Tre midfield at Western Connecticut University. They played high school ball at Baldwin High in Nassau County, Long Island. There father Chuck Sherwood played goalie at Hempstead High and then at Duke in the the early 1970s. They are members of the SanKofa Lacrosse Team on October 25, 2013 on the campus of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Opie played lacrosse at Syracuse University and on the 1990 U. S. National Team. 

Sankofa Lacrosse Interviews:

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sankofa Lacrosse Interviews Part 4, Chazz Woodson

Fred Opie interviews Chazz Woodson co-founder and members of the SanKofa Lacrosse Team. The interview took place in the fall of 2013 on the campus of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Woodson played collegiate lacrosse at Brown and now plays on the LXM tour. Opie played lacrosse at Syracuse University and on the 1990 U. S. National Team. 

Chazz Woodson Lacrosse Highlights:

Chazz Woodson on Twitter: