Road Trip Dad –
More Cause for Concern
Dan Witmer |April 29, 2019
Last week might have come close to the RTD record for most hits, and I got an interesting array of responses, so I’m going to continue this conversation for another week…

For those who might have missed it, I wrote about the decreasing numbers of lacrosse players and lacrosse teams in the CNY area. School districts have dropped their varsity and/or JV boys’ lacrosse programs, and teams that are playing seem to have fewer and fewer players on the sidelines.

Is this a trend, or it just a phase we’re going through? Is this a really “cause for concern”?

I offered some various possible explanations. Maybe it’s kids these days. Maybe it’s more of a societal thing. Maybe our population is dropping. I even suggested that it’s the fault of club and travel teams (I also blame them for rising gasoline prices and the Rangers not making the Stanley Cup Playoffs). In all likelihood, it’s not any one of these factors; it’s much more possible that it’s a combination of all of these, and maybe others.

I asked for feedback, and this time I got a lot. No one expressly said I could (or couldn’t) use their names, so I’ll play it safe and keep everyone anonymous, but I heard from readers in lacrosse communities near and far – from Watertown, Fulton, Skaneateles, and Irondequoit, to PA, TN, TX, MA, FL (I think), and UT (man, I can’t get enough of that Utah love!)…

Responses varied as much as the readers’ home towns.

On the idea of declining population, that’s hard to deny. One reader stated that, according to recent reports, two-thirds of New York State’s Upstate counties are experiencing declines in population – and I saw later that the April 21st edition of the Syracuse Sunday paper had similar findings. Another reader said that Skaneateles, for example, graduated about 240 seniors in the 70’s, but today graduates just 130 or so. In Section 3 lacrosse this year, Fayetteville-Manlius has dropped to Class B, while East Syracuse-Minoa and Watertown have dropped from Class B to Class C. There’s no denying that our youth population is declining.

But I still reject the notion that smaller class sizes is the sole reason why I saw a total of 26 players at a JV game between Oswego and Cortland this week. Twenty-six! 12 on one team and 14 on the other! (remember – I counted 117 on the sideline of the Tampa vs. Florida Southern game back in February).

A solution proposed by one reader – consolidation – might be the one last hope. But even a merger between Bishop Ludden and Bishop Grimes failed to produce a varsity team this spring. And who would have thought that, in the glory days of the Abbott brothers playing at Nottingham, the Rommel boys playing at Henninger, and the Cathers and Eccles boys playing at Corcoran, that one day all three schools would need to combine just to form one varsity team?

If declining enrollments was the only reason for these JV and varsity programs being canceled, I think we’d see even more of it, across all sports. But I haven’t seen basketball, soccer, softball/baseball, or track and field programs experiencing similar cuts. Yes, football seems to be taking a hit in some areas, but maybe safety and concussion concerns have something to do with that phenomenon.

Lacrosse and football have traditionally been big roster sports, and maybe that’s part of the problem. This speaks to the mindset of being a teammate, perhaps not being a starter, or playing a less-glamorous role on the team.

One reader replied, “…I think social media has hurt numbers, for sure. Specifically, in my opinion, the proverbial third midfield line, the 5th attackman or defenseman, etc. don’t seem to be around anymore… Back in our day, you were on the team because it was part of the social network; the locker room was where social interaction went down, where plans for the Friday night party were developed, and where we got the latest scoop of the day. Not playing on game day wasn’t necessarily preferable, but you put up with it because of the other social aspects – to be part of a team, be in the group, be in the know, etc. Today, kids don’t need that aspect to be part of the group, to stay in touch, or be in the know – it’s all right there on their phones! Why go to practice, stand in the cold and rain, and do all the other stuff, and then not play – when they can get so much from their own phone?

I’m not saying my generation was better, or tougher, or anything like that – but being on the team was part of our social fabric; we enjoyed the bus rides, the practices, the friendships, the laughs, and the stories. Sadly, I’m not sure the kids these days need all that because they can get it so many other places.”

Another reader also took today’s kids to task: “Kids at lower levels generally don’t want to work hard to be good. Lacrosse is a game that requires hours and hours of work to hone your skills and be serviceable on the field. More and more young men don’t get that instant gratification, which seems to be a prerequisite for their happiness in 2019. When the season comes around, in modified and JV levels, they see that they aren’t a stud, get frustrated, and give up. On their own, instead of practicing what they’re weak at, they practice what they’re good at. This gives them that instant gratification; however, it doesn’t lead to improvement.”

Surprisingly, one responder rued the growth of lacrosse: “I’d rather see the game growth slow. I do not enjoy MLL, NLL, or the new PLL. Division I is even too good for my liking – lacrosse is a game of mistakes and who has the ability to fight through that.”

A few responses made mention of club and travel teams as at least part of the problem. One reader wrote, “To me, a challenge is that the number of recent college graduates who try to make coaching as a livelihood is obnoxious. Too many young men do it for the wrong reasons and not understanding the difference between a primary income and secondary income – with passion for the game and/or coaching as the driver. This leads to setting bad expectations for kids and coaches…”

Another wrote, “I believe there’s too much emphasis on travel teams. Not enough players stay home to play with their school teammates. I had a player who was not very good miss many practices last summer due to his travel team commitments.”

Only a few responses suggested answers. One said that varsity coaches need to be more involved in the total program, from youth up through the JV team. Another said that youth programs need to supply free loaner equipment for any and all interested in learning how to play. Another wrote about his earlier experiences: “High school kids coached youth players, and college kids coached high school players… and you know how much coaches were paid? You guessed it - $0. I would stay and ref games sometimes, and my pay was a hot dog and an 8-oz soda – we did it for the love of the game.”

Maybe – just maybe – the answer is a simple little three-letter word. F-U-N. As one parent wrote in, “I coached a 5/6 summer team with my son last summer. Our team motto was ‘ground balls, hustle, and fun.’ We told our team that we would play to win, but winning alone would not define us; improvement would. At the end of the summer I had eight players who would be eligible to play modified lacrosse this spring. I recently found out that five of those players are not playing.”

A varsity coach I spoke with recently added that this other “F-word” is part of his everyday philosophy. “You gotta make it fun,” he said. “Dropping a pass is one thing, but winning the ball back – winning the ground ball – that’s fun! Playing defense is fun, playing offense is fun.”

Simple suggestion, but is that alone a real solution to our shrinking rosters?

We won’t know until we try.

All hail the Clydesiders!

The 26th annual Ales Hrebeskey Memorial Box Lacrosse Tournament this past week featured 24 teams from 16 different countries. This was my son Brian’s fifth AHM, his fourth playing with the Glasgow Clydesiders. Brian’s become the unofficial (I think) GM of the Clydesiders, and he’s recruited better and better players and teammates each year. He has also placed Clydesider teams in the Sin City Classic (Las Vegas) and the LASNAI (Onondaga Reservation) tournaments.

Through the magic of the internet, I was able to watch him play most of his six games from Prague, Czech Republic this past week. This year I even got the audio play-by-play from Stephen Stamp and guests; I met Stamper in Philly a few years ago but got to know him a bit better this past summer in Israel at the World Games.

Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s soreness or stiffness, maybe it’s just because he surrounded himself with better talent, but I’ve never seen Brian play fewer minutes than he did this week.

But maybe he knew what he was doing. After losing their first game by a single goal to the Goldstar Tel Aviv team, the Clyde won four straight games to earn a rematch with Tel Aviv in the championship game.

And guess what? The Clydesiders prevailed. If you watch the Day 4 Highlights video on YouTube, you can see Brian at the very end, holding the trophy high above his head, obviously yelling at the top of his lungs. Looked like a lot of fun to me!

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.