Road Trip Dad – Culture Changes
Dan Witmer | November 11, 2019
First of all, Happy Veterans’ Day to all those who have served, or are currently serving, in our Armed Forces… and to the very special family members of them, too.

I published a Veterans’ Day-themed RTD article back in 2012. I thought about re-cycling it as this week’s column, but I also had another topic to write about, so we’ll just make this week a special, RTD two-for-one deal. Enjoy – and thanks again to the many who have served, or are serving, our country.

This past week was not just another week for me. In fact, I traveled the longest distance – since I was 12 years old – for reasons completely unconnected to the game of lacrosse…

Two of my three brothers, younger brother John and older brother David, competed in the 2019 Hobie Cat 16’ World Championships, held this time around at Captiva Island, Florida. When they committed to the trip last winter, I said I’d join them – not to sail, mind you, but to hang out on the beach and help shuttle them and our parents back and forth between Captiva Island and Lakeland, FL, almost four hours apart.

For six days I wore the random lacrosse polo, t-shirt, or shorts, and got absolutely no smile of recognition or utterance of small talk. None. I sported Oswego State, Oswego HS, Brockport, Lake Placid, Achy Bones, and Clydesider swag, and never got a nibble. Talk about being out of one’s element…

The 2019 World Championships featured 252 teams, comprised of 504 sailors from 25 countries and 6 continents. The 2016 World Championships were held in China, and the US hadn’t hosted the event since 1984… so this was kind of a big deal if you are into 16’ Hobie Cats.

There are numerous classes, and the Open division is just beginning to take shape as you read this. The Open championships run through Saturday, and you can check up on results and actually watch live coverage at www.hobieworlds.com

Team Witmer sailed in the Grand Masters (55+) division, with races on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. They had plenty of familiar faces joining them, as more than 30 members of Fleet 204 from Oneida Shores made the trip south. Unlike the regional “continental” championships, at the Worlds you get to use brand new Hobies, and every day of racing you are assigned a different boat. Participants don’t have to worry about the expense and burden of having to trailer their own boat to the site of competition, and they are offered a special promotional price if they want to buy one of the new Hobies.

So, while my brothers were paying attention to wind direction and speed, protests and A-Markers, and all things port and starboard, I set out to put my feet in the sand, swim in the warm Gulf water, and lose myself in a book.

Mission accomplished.

In fact, I also managed to eat some great seafood, watch dolphins swimming between the shore and the catamarans, see a beautiful sunset over the Gulf, and spend some quality time visiting with our parents.

So, yes, for the record, I was chowing down some 4 Rivers barbeque in 90-degree temps in Tampa while Oswego and much of Upstate NY was getting its first snowfall of the year.

Winner, winner, great brisket dinner!

For the five days spent in this unfamiliar lacrosse black hole, I lost myself in a book I’ve wanted to read for quite a while – James Kerr’s Legacy – What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life. I love books about teams-building, leadership, and the like, and this book definitely lived up to my expectations. After reading about two pages, I decided I would read this 207-page tome only if I had a highlighter in hand… it’s simply that good!

Known world-wide for their pre-match haka, the New Zealand All Blacks have been one of the very best rugby teams in the world, and recognized around the world for their team culture and traditions, their staff, their players, and their commitment to character.

I finished the book on my way home Saturday. I had read it in the airports on the way down, at the beach, at the pool, at my parents’ house, and on my flight between Fort Myers and Charlotte, NC.

Thumbing through the book now, I find highlighted mottos and mantras, quotable gems, and much more. Some are specific to the All Blacks, but others could be found in other books of inspiration, such as:

“Everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the face.” – Mike Tyson

“Races are won by a fraction of a second. National championship games by a single point. That fraction of a second or a single point is the result of relevant details performed along the way.” – John Wooden

“It’s not the mountains ahead that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.” – Muhammad Ali

“For the Strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the Strength of the Wolf is the Pack.” – Rudyard Kipling

“On a good team there are no superstars. There are great players who show they are great players by being able to play with others as a team. They make sacrifices; they do things necessary to help the team win.” – Red Holtzman

“A player who makes the team great is better than a great player.” – John Wooden

“You’re either on the bus or off the bus.” – Ken Kesey

“No matter what you do in life, it’s either reps or mileage.” – Arnold Schwartzenegger

“The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, well before I dance under the lights.” – Muhammad Ali

“There are no crowds lining the extra mile.” – anonymous

And there are plenty more.

Then there are the insights into the All Blacks themselves – their customs and traditions, their emphasis on legacies, family, and just being good people. Their Maori roots, their New Zealand origins, and their team culture of excellence. Here are a few examples; many are translations of Maori proverbs:

“The sweet potato does not need to say how sweet he is.”

“The person with a narrow vision sees a narrow horizon; the person with a wide vision sees a wide horizon.”

“Join those who can join the sections of a canoe (look for a leader who can bring people together).”

“Sweep the sheds. Never be too big to do the small things that need to be done.”

“The first stage of learning is silence. The second stage is listening.”

And then, finally, there are quotes from All Black coaches and players:

“The best sports people in the world practice more than they play.” – Sean Fitzpatrick

“Put your hand in a glass of water. Now take it out. That’s how hard it is to replace you.” – Steve Hansen

“It’s everything in a team, to be honest. It’s about thinking about the team’s interest before yourself… if it’s not good for the team, don’t say it and don’t do it.” – Andrew Mehrtens

If you’re like me, and you’ve already read The Energy Bus, The Hard Hat, The Captain Class, and The Winner Within (among many, many other), and you haven’t read Legacy, then I recommend it highly. Again, you can thank me later.

So, as if I was literally stepping out of one world and into another, I returned to the land of the familiar when I got back into town Saturday evening. It was cold, there was snow on the ground, and there was a lacrosse gathering in Camillus… I was home.

On Saturday night the Camillus/West Genesee Sports Hall of Fame inducted seven veteran players, coaches, and legends, the entire 1998 undefeated Wildcat State Championship boys’ lacrosse team, and also recognized two 2019 WG HS grads. When I was told that “doors open at 6:30,” I didn’t realize it meant that if you weren’t among the first in the door, you weren’t going to get a place to sit – the place was packed!

It was an impressive evening. Time limits for both presenters and inductees themselves were thrown by the wayside, and most of the stories and stats were impressive and entertaining. As I’ve stated several times in the past few weeks, I love going to Hall of Fame ceremonies. On Saturday night I heard stories from members of the Camillus (not West Genesee) HS Class of ’54, stories of WG alums who went to on to work for MLB’s Orioles and Rangers, and played AAA baseball for the Cubs and Brewers organizations, and of course, the ’98 Wildcat team pay tribute to their fallen teammates, Sam Griffo and Mike McLaughlin. I could listen to that kind of stuff all night.

But I was there for what I considered the main event… the induction of friend, teammate, housemate, and my first-ever assistant coach, Jim Onacki. HOFer and former coach Mike Messere did Jim’s presenting, and Jim’s acceptance speech was both joyful and poignant. I met two of Jim’s brothers for the first time, names I’d heard forever but had never met. I was joined by fellow Laker alums Mike Krizman ‘80 and Paul Mizer ‘85, and former teammate and housemate Rich Beshlain ‘82 called Jim on my phone to congratulate him after all the speeches were done (in case you missed it, I told a lot of Onacki stories in an RTD piece dated September 30, 2019 – available here.

That’s three for one!

Of course, I also saw former Hannibal students and current WG coaches/teachers Fred Kent and Steve Shoults, old friends Paul Connolly, Dick Pepper, and Gerry Crossett, “Jimmy 13” film director David Sorbello, Class of ‘98er Kevin Burns, as well as Coaches Messere and Bob Deegan. It was a night filled with very familiar names and faces, and like I said, I felt like I was home once again.

So what’s next, you might ask. I don’t have any definite travel plans, but I do have some small projects on my to-do list. One of them is to read the book that arrived last week while I was out of town – I Hope You Will Be Very Happy, Dom Starsia’s newly-released book that is sub-titled “Leadership Lessons from a Lifetime in Lacrosse.” There are also new copies of Inside Lacrosse and Lacrosse Magazine sitting on the end table, so there’s that, too.

Like I said, I’m back in my element.

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.