Saturday was quite a day.
The Oswego Bucs played a non-league, out-of-Section game versus Horseheads – at Penn Yan High School. We played one another last year, too, but at Cortland HS. The head coaches and ADs did the scheduling; I just prepared for another great day of lacrosse…
You see, Horseheads is coached by Jason Neubauer, Oswego State Class of ’08. Coach Neubauer played for me and then joined my coaching staff for my final years of coaching the Lakers. He even joined me at Hannibal High School, teaching social studies after he completed his student teaching down the hall from my classroom. By coincidence, the year I stepped aside from the Lakers, Jason applied for and got a teaching position at Horseheads – his alma mater. By my count, this is his ninth year coaching in the Blue Raiders’ program; he worked his way from head JV coach, to assistant varsity, to head varsity coach.
In the past nine years Jason has gotten married, started a family, and put down his roots. We’ve seen one another at clinics and conventions, tournaments, and we’ve kept in touch with Facebook and emails.
In case you cannot tell, I’m very proud of Coach Neubauer. He’s done quite well since his years at Oswego, and I’d like to think I had at least a little something to do with that. As a teacher and coach, you tend to want your favorites to follow your footsteps in some way or another, and Jason has done just that – and more.
The Horseheads roster features 30 players; Oswego is down to 18. Depth, discipline, and flat-out coaching were much more evident on their side of the ball, and they beat us by an 18-6 score. Jason and I talked before and after the game, and I gave him the latest on Brian and Eric and Sue, and he told me about his three-month-old daughter and how his season is going. Those conversations with old friends, players, and coaches never get old…
Like the brief chats I shared with Penn Yan head coach Brian Hobart and his assistant, Harry Queener, before the game. I got to know them during the ten years or so I worked at the Hobart Lacrosse Camp, from the early ‘90s through 2003 or so. I’ve written at length about the tremendous experience, knowledge, and friendships gained by working instructional camps, and Brian and Harry are two great examples. Now, years later, I’m talking to Brian about the US National Indoor Lacrosse Team (he’s an assistant coach for this year’s FIL World Championships in British Columbia in September), and I’m presenting Harry and his entire family the first-ever LaxAllStars “Grow the Game Award” at Lake Placid last summer.
You just never know.
As I was saying farewell to Jason after the game, he told me that the dad of one of his Horseheads players had grown up in Fulton, and he said that he knew Doc Nelson and me. I asked, “What’s his name?”
“Bill Thorpe,” he answered.
Wow. Nostalgia overload. Back in the ‘80s, Billy Thorpe had been an excellent lacrosse and ice hockey player at Fulton. He was one of the very best players in the legendary Fulton Indoor League, another one of the formative experiences of my early years coaching at Oswego State. I spent summer evenings refereeing in the league run by Fulton coach Jim Werbeck, along with fellow officials (and certified refs) Kenny Peterson, Terry MacNabb, and Jeff Akin. Oswego State players who were in town for the summer played in that league, along with some of Oswego’s firsts scholastic lacrosse players. A Hannibal team played, along with college stars from UNC, Ithaca, St. Lawrence, Cortland, Syracuse, VMI, and more.
Bill had gone to SUNY Geneseo, where he played both ice hockey and lacrosse. I don’t think I’ve seen or heard of him since. And now his son is playing for Coach Neubauer, and is planning to play soccer at Keuka College next fall. Doc and I both spent a few minutes catching up with Bill, smiling in wonderment.
On our way home, I texted another former Laker, Dan Wilcox ’10. He had told me he might be in town for the big Oswego vs. Plattsburgh game that afternoon. If he was still in town, I told him, I was going to be back around 7 PM. Could we meet up somewhere?
No such luck, he answered. He’s coaching with the Frontier HS varsity lacrosse team – out near Buffalo (his alma mater) – and a game had been re-scheduled for that day.
I was disappointed, of course, but not deterred.
You see, earlier that day I had received another text – another Laker alumnus was also in town for the Laker/Cardinal showdown. Sgt. Carlos Rodriguez ‘94, of the Tampa Police Department – my go-to guy in Florida – had flown up to Oswego for the first time since 2009 or so to wax nostalgic in and around Oswego. He went to the Sub Shop; he went to Wade’s. He took pictures of Cayuga Hall, where he lived on campus, and he drove past the house on Oneida Street where he had lived with three teammates and four female college students during his senior year. He took a look at the new (2006) Marano Campus Center and its showcase hockey rink for the first time, and he loaded up on Oswego State merchandise at the College Store.
Then he went to the game, the first time he’d seen Laker Turf Field. And when we caught up later Saturday night, he said his voice was still raw from yelling and screaming throughout the game. The Lakers had lost, unfortunately, 7-6 in three overtimes, but he had a ball. He said he connected with Oswego goalie Kevin O’Donnell’s father while cheering in the stands. He told me about the crowds, the overheard comments in the bleachers, and the “kids” who were wearing the numbers of so many great friends and teammates. Of course, by sheer coincidence, the Laker wearing his old number, #21, was Nate Schultzkie, the only Oswego HS alum on the Laker team this year. Carlos said he was paying particular attention to his game…
Carlos and I met for dinner at Vona’s on West Utica Street, and the place was packed when we sat down around 7:30. We talked about our day together in Florida back in February, his Tampa PD protégé Marcus Peworchik ’11, his Yorktown days, my Lynbrook past, Tony Seaman and his coaching career, Laker teammates and friends from the past, and so much more. Old memories didn’t seem so old. By the time we left, we were the last ones in the place, and they looked like they were getting ready to close at 9.
We shook hands, hugged one another, and said our good-byes. Our cars were the only two in the parking lot, just two spaces apart. We continued talking, not wanting the conversation or our reunion to end. Finally, he got in his car and headed down to Syracuse to catch up with some friends, and we parted ways.
The “lifetime” reference in the title is a bit of an overstatement; heck, I’m only 59, and I hope there are lots more days like this past Saturday awaiting me down the road. But just as Bruce Springsteen said at the end of each show during The River
Tour in 2016, “The subtext to The River
was time… time slipping away... and once you enter that adult world, the clock starts ticking… and you’ve got a limited amount of time to do your work… to raise your family… and to try and do something good.”
And no lie – when I got in my car at the end of the night, E Street Radio was playing Springsteen’s “Glory Days.”
Yes, they sure were.
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.