Sorry this has taken a week to share.
This year’s wonderful week in Lake Placid ended differently. Instead of driving home Sunday afternoon, I drove Brian’s van to Rollins Pond State Campground, where I had a reservation for four nights. Besides the van, I had all of its contents – his two-man tent, a dull hatchet, a sleeping bag, and a milk crate of assorted cooking supplies.
Meanwhile, Brian and his “Czech-wife” Jane took my car to Peterborough, Ontario, to attend the World Lacrosse annual meetings. I found out later that Jane was the official delegate of the Czech Republic and, somehow or another, Brian was the delegate for Yugoslavia (I mean, why not, right? There’s probably material for another RTD right there…).
So I re-lived some of my childhood’s fondest memories and camped for about 48 hours all by myself. I went to bed early, got up early, cooked over a campfire, climbed Ampersand Mountain, and enjoyed all of the Adirondacks’ beauty. Brian and Jane joined me Tuesday night, and we spent another 40 hours together, adding paddle-boarding and kayaking to our list of activities.
The days in the woods gave me time to think about all that had transpired at this year’s 30th Lake Placid Summit Classic. Besides time spent with my sons – Brian, who spends most of his days in the Czech Republic, and Eric, who lives in Denver – it was a great week of hugs and handshakes… old friends, new friends, and, for the most part, things working out pretty much as planned. There was just one horn blast clearing the fields due to bad weather – one, in seven days. There were few, if any, protests or controversies. Complaints were rare.
Personally, I was charged with two primary responsibilities. The first was coordinating the Legends ceremony on Thursday night…
It was destined to be a great evening. For the first time, plans were made to hold the event in a weather-proof facility located off-site – the newly finished Intervales Lodge, which sits at the base of the Olympic ski jumps, just across the street from the Horse Show Grounds. It was nice not
worrying about the weather, or the electric cords, etc, and more than one person commented on the nice clean bathrooms, and not
having to do business with Port-a-Johns.
We inducted three new Lake Placid Legends – Coach Roy Simmons, Jr from Syracuse University, Phil Kessler from the tournament’s earlier years, and the late, great Paul Rose – former player, Hall of Fame coach, and LP regular even as he fought cancer. Between speeches by Paul’s wife Jeanne and Coach Simmons, attendees were treated to a memorable roller coaster of emotions.
We also recognized six other recipients of Lake Placid Awards, which for the most part, had not been mentioned since 2014. All the award-winners were tremendously deserving – now we have to decide if we’re going to make them annual awards, or stagger them somehow, or wait until another five years pass.
Finally, we also presented the Lax All Stars “Grow The Game Award” to the Tri-Lakes Youth Lacrosse program. In just its second year, this one is one of my favorites because it’s always a surprise to see what Justin Skaggs (of Wood Lacrosse) has designed each year. Last year we gave the Queener family a slab of wood that stood almost three feet high; this year Tri-Lakes received what looked like an old railroad tie – I can’t wait to see what Justin has in store for next year’s awardee!
All of the award-winners received a beautiful customized mini lacrosse head on a stand, designed and built by Cullen Zdunek of Sky Lacrosse. Unbeknownst to tournament-founder George Leveille, we ordered one extra and, as the evening’s last presentation, his son Kevin presented him with a well-deserved 30-year momento.
Attendance was through the roof, people came more dressed for the occasion, and I think everyone was in agreement that the event was a resounding success. Unconfirmed reports were that we took in approximately $1500 in donations, as opposed to the past few years when we’ve collected $500. These donations will continue to support organizations such as HEADstrong, Project Lead the Way, various first responder units, and youth lacrosse development.
The second role I played was presenting all 26 divisional championships, which were (thankfully!) spread out over four days – Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I had SUNY Brockport junior Jonny Bernhardt helping me, which allowed us to be prepared before and after every championship game. I first met Jonny in Israel last summer at the FIL World Games, where he was one of many American college student interns. We quickly hired him (and a few other FIL interns) last August to round out our SLV “Neon Army,” as Eric likes to call them, so this was Jonny’s second stint in Lake Placid. He’s a dual major at Brockport – Sports Management and Athletic Training, and his resume is certainly going to stand out among his peers’.
On Tuesday, the second day of the seven-day event, we counted out championship T-shirts for the 26 divisions, labeling each bag so we’d have them when we needed them. Then I made out 3x5 interview cards for each division’s MVP and Sportsmanship award winners.
Sometimes we had three or even four championships ending at about the same time, so things got crazy at times. Each winning team assembled on a set of bleachers we set up, and 3d’s Casey Vock would take a team photo. Then I made a speech about the three tenets of The Summit Lacrosse Society (“Competition, Camaraderie, and Respect”), presented MVP medallions (also made by Justin Skaggs of Wood Lacrosse), and handed out bags of championship T-shirts.
While Jonny tried to catch up with the runner-ups’ Sportsmanship recipients, I did all of the MVP interviews. The questions evolved a little bit over the course of the week, but for the most part, they went like this:
Years at Lake Placid
Favorite feature of Lake Placid
Favorite Lacrosse Player
What’s so special about the sport of lacrosse?
I’m still in the process of typing up all the answers and connecting the profiles with the right photos, but soon we’ll have all the Summit Stars up on the SLV website.
The best part of handling all those championships was meeting the many coaches and players. Over the course of the week, I met people I’d never met before – but knew of them – and also reconnected with old friends and teammates. For instance, when I introduced myself to the coach of the BC-committed Eagles girls’ team playing in the Northstar championship, he replied, “Dan Witmer? I’m Mark McWright!”
Mark played a year of lacrosse with me at Oswego State sometime around 1980, and then transferred to Roanoke; I hadn’t seen him since. That’s almost 40 years, and it was fun catching up.
The MVP of the Men’s 50+ division champions – Smokey Joe’s Quakers – was Mike DeMaria. I asked him, “The same Mike DeMaria from Fayetteville-Manlius and Hobart?” He looked at me kind of suspiciously and said yes. What can I say? I remember names of local standouts…
I also got to meet Brian Carcaterra the same way. The former Hopkins All-American was co-MVP of the Black and Blue Jays in the Men’s 35+ group, so I made sure to drop the name of everyone’s favorite Yorktown Cornhusker, Oswego State’s Carlos Rodriguez, one of Tampa PD’s very finest. Brian smiled when he heard Carlos’ name.
Another team MVP was Tony Katagas, Academy Award winning producer of Twelve Years a Slave, former goalie at Western New England College, and star of the Men’s 40+ Motive Pure championship team. I had heard of his many various accomplishments, but had never met him before. He was very humble, very modest.
But the best highlight of this year’s “MVP moments” occurred when the Brown State Men’s 45+ team captain told me that their MVP was John Kanaras.
“John Kanaras?” I asked, incredulously.
QUICK TRIVIA QUIZ – Who is John Kanaras, and why is his name the answer to one of the best lacrosse trivia questions of all time?
John Kanaras was the U Penn goalie, “the other guy” in the famous and iconic “Air Gait” photo – Gary Gait jumping over the back of the goal in the Carrier Dome in the 1988 NCAA semi-finals. I’ve known his name for some 30+ years, but never thought I’d meet him in person. He laughed when I told him I was there in the Carrier Dome that day, that I had always remembered his name, and that I too had played for his head coach at Penn, Tony Seaman.
There were other highlights of the week, like bumping into so many former Oswego State alumni, teammates, players, and former assistant coaches. At the risk of forgetting someone’s name, I’ll give this a shot nonetheless – Mark Serron, Paul Mizer, Bill Dollard, Garrett Clark, Vinny Garrison, Jeff Serge, Dan Bartlett, Tom Dumas, PJ Williams, Vince Lang, Kevin Couse, and Dave Scutella. A photo would be great, but getting everyone together at the same place at the same time would be difficult, if not impossible…
One particularly memorable scene was caught on Casey’s camera – not sure if it’ll make it to social media or not, but it was awesome. We saw two little boys – maybe three years old or so – suited up in helmets, gloves, arm pads, and maybe even shoulder pads (but on their feet were flip-flops). They were going after ground balls like Irlan vs. Baptiste, whacking and grinding out GB after GB, much to the entertainment of everyone around them. Casey, make it go viral! (I don’t really know what that means, but it sounded right).
And here’s a shout out to the Corning Gaffers Boys 20-21 Silver division runner-up. They wore pink uniforms for the week and passed the hat at each of their games. In three days they raised more than $500 for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s
what it’s all about!
I didn’t stay to listen as long as I would have liked, but I did catch Mikey Powell at Delta Blue on both Thursday and Friday nights… another highlight of 2019.
Saturday night nine of us gathered at the Cascade Inn for our annual tradition of prime rib and discussion of our paper plate awards. At Sunday morning’s presentation, there were at least two SLV staff members preserving the ceremony on their various personal devices. As usual, Eric did a great job with the awards.
Speaking of Eric, another highlight was learning that Israel National Coach and “player-on-about-four-teams” Bill Beroza offered him $100 to shave his face clean. Eric had been looking pretty scraggy, and he accepted Bill’s challenge (and cash). Mrs. Witmer and I are very pleased (thanks, Bill!).
Finally, I’ve been called many things over the years, especially over all those years of coaching and teaching, but last week I heard a new one. As one of the girls’ teams sat for their championship photo, speech, and T-shirts, I heard one of them refer to me – respectfully – as “Mr. Lake Placid.”
I’ve certainly been called worse. I’ll take that one anytime.
Drive carefully, everyone!
- Dan Witmer
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.