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: