Road Trip Dad – Cortland Celebrates Success
Dan Witmer | September 23, 2019
My junior high, JV, and varsity lacrosse coaches were all Cortland State alums; so was my college coach. The odds of you having a former Red Dragon as one of your coaches are pretty darn good, too.

I first heard SUNY Cortland being referred to as the “The Cradle of Lacrosse Coaches” years ago, and if you think about it, the reputation is not only well-deserved, but probably just as legitimate today as it was a decade or two ago.

Think about it:

Tierney, Wehrum, and Urick…

Well, in a couple of weeks, Cortland State is hosting a weekend celebrating some of their very finest, as well as the deep lacrosse tradition that seems entrenched in the Crown City. Yes, there will be an alumni game, and yes, there will be a golf outing, but everyone hosts those events every fall. This – this is going to be a bit different.

“Our hope is to make Cortland the center of the lacrosse universe for these three days in October,” says one of the weekend’s planners, Rich Cecconi ‘74. “This all started when it was made known that the 1973 and 1975 National Championship teams did not receive championship rings. I had a meeting last August with the athletic director, Mike Urtz, and Rich Coyne, who is in institutional advancement. They gave their blessing to pursue the idea of starting to look for ways to get our lacrosse alums back together with the idea of doing something annually besides a golf get together and steak dinner. Bruce Casagrande ‘76 picked up the ball from there, put a committee together, and ran with it. My role as a member of the Cortland College Alumni Board was to act as a liaison between the college and the C-LAX Legends group. The core committee of Bruce, Jud Smith, Peter Graham, and myself started to meet regularly last fall and we expanded the group to include Coach Beville and a number of other valuable lacrosse alums.”

Messere, Speckmann, and Cuozzo…

And what did they come up with?

C-LAX LEGENDS WEEKEND (October 4-6) will include the traditional alumni vs. varsity games and a day of golf, but it will also feature a fallball scrimmage between the Red Dragon varsity and D-II powerhouse New York Tech (coached by C State alum Bill Dunn ’80). That’s Friday night. On Saturday, the Syracuse University men’s team travels down to Cortland’s Stadium Complex to play the Denver Pioneers, coached by former Red Dragon and HOF’er Bill Tierney ’73. If I’m not mistaken, the two NCAA heavyweights haven’t met since 2013, when SU edged the Pioneers 9-8 in the NCAA semifinals at Lincoln Financial Field. With all due respect to Cornell, Hobart, Colgate, LeMoyne, RIT – and even Cortland – that’s got to be the fall scrimmage of the year in CNY.

But like they say on TV, “But wait – there’s more!”

Organizers like Cecconi and Casagrande wanted to make a bigger splash, so they’ve created the C-LAX Legends, Cortland State’s own lacrosse hall of fame. The College already has its prestigious C Club, but that encompasses all sports. C-LAX Legends will honor its many great lacrosse coaches and contributors.

Hoppey, Amen, Hall, Ventiquattro…

Back in the days when the lines between D I, D II, and D III were blurred, Cortland routinely played the likes of Syracuse, Hobart, and Cornell every year. And Navy. And Virginia. And they won.

NOTE: Even in my first five years at SUNY Oswego (1983-1987), the distinction between NCAA divisions was tough to define. We played Colgate, LeMoyne, Stony Brook, CW Post, St. John’s, and Dowling…

And on those Cortland teams back in the 60s and 70s were players who would go on and achieve significant success as coaches of the game. The C-LAX Legends will induct its very first class this year at a dinner on Saturday evening, as Bill Tierney ’73, Mike Messere ’66, Dave Urick ’71, Paul Wehrum ’72, Rich Speckmann ’67, and Joe Cuozzo ’59 are celebrated for their many coaching accomplishments.

Featured keynote speaker at the dinner will be Jack Emmer, who is not a Cortland grad, but rather coached the Red Dragons – and many of its greatest coaches – from 1970-1972. In those three years, his first stint as a head coach, his teams went 32-6.

Six of Cortland’s greatest make it in this year. Who else could be waiting in the wings? The committee has no shortage of future candidates.

Seaman, Rostan, and Acee…

And there are more (keep reading!). I always felt like Cortland had a decided advantage in the recruiting of New York State high school players, because chances were always so good that their own coaches, or at least all their phys ed teachers, were Cortland alumni, and where else would they recommend their top kids go to college? I know it might sound like sour grapes, but I always felt like the rich just kept getting richer…

Rose, Glenz, and Severns…

But I digress… back to the weekend of October 4-6.

OK, so old-timers have a lot to take in at SUNY Cortland next month – but what about the kids?

Got it. John McNerney ’86 has been busy planning not one, but two youth clinics for the weekend. “John has been instrumental in helping us with the lacrosse clinics. His role as Cortland Youth Bureau director has been very helpful,” said Cecconi. Both clinics are on Saturday morning at Cortland High School.

The first is a TryLax Clinic for boys and girls ages 6-13, sponsored by US Lacrosse. These clinics are for children who have never played lacrosse before, and the clinic provides a stick, ball, and a year’s membership to US Lacrosse – all for just $35! If you’re a parent who has a son or daughter who would like to give the game a try, what better opportunity can you ask for? The clinic runs from 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM, and registration can be completed by using this link: https://cortlandyb.recdesk.com/Community/Program/Detail?programId=222.

The other option is a clinic for boys in grades 7-12, conducted by coaching legend Bill Tierney and members of his Denver Pioneer team, as well as additional Cortland State alums. This clinic is also at Cortland HS, and begins at 11 AM and runs till 1 PM. Cost is also $35, and the first 50 to register will receive a T-shirt, water bottle, and ball. The link for registration is: https://cortlandyb.recdesk.com/Community/Program/Detail?programId=223.

Espey, Diange, and Whipple…

Steve Beville is in his 14th year as head coach of the Red Dragons. In that time, he has led C State to the NCAA championship game four times, winning it all in 2009. I spoke with him on the phone this past week, and he was clearly excited about everything the weekend had to offer. “We even have a theme of ‘Respect the Planet; Save the Earth,’ consistent with the origins of the game, its people, and our environment,” he told me. There will be tents and tables with information about water conservation, solar power, climate change, the Onondaga Lake clean-up project, alternative energy sources, and more. The Iroquois Nation will also be participating, and many of the usual lacrosse vendors will be on hand both evenings, too.

Jamieson, Nevins, Casciani, and Barnes…

Cecconi told me, “We hope this event becomes an annual part of Cortland Lacrosse and to celebrate the rich history of the game we all love. Cortland lacrosse has been very successful over the years and the moniker ‘The Cradle of Lacrosse Coaches’ is one we are proud of. The program has meant a great deal to many of us throughout the years.”

And there doesn’t appear to be any real end in sight. Consider…

Abbott, Vorgang, and Andre... Leuze, Wilcox, and Hen… Hogue, Felice, Schembri, and Ruller…

Now, the likelihood that I omitted a very deserving coach’s name or two in this piece is quite strong. Please forgive my oversight(s). Many thanks to Rich Cecconi, Bruce Casagrande, John McNerney, and Steve Beville for their help with this article – I couldn’t have done it without them.

“Oh, did I forget to mention that we also have a halftime shot contest each night, with the winning prize of $10,000?” - Bruce Casagrande '73

Drive carefully, everyone!

- Dan Witmer daniel.witmer@oswego.edu

Dan Witmer is the author of two books.  The Best of Road Trip Dad – the Laker Lacrosse Collection  is an accumulation of 45 articles written for JustLacrosseUpstate between the years 2012 and 2018, about the history and traditions, the people, and the stories of the Oswego State men’s lacrosse program. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, the SUNY Oswego College Store in the Marano Campus Center, The Sports Outfit on West Genesee Street in Fairmount, and Geared 2 Sports in Cortland.  ...and piles to go before I sleep - The Book of Wit  is his memoir describing his 33 year career teaching HS English and coaching at Hannibal Central School. It is available on Amazon.com and at the river's end bookstore.