“People don’t take trips . . . trips take people.” – John Steinbeck
Pretty profound, eh? I searched the internet to try to find a quote I had read describing how traveling is the answer to intolerance. I couldn’t find it by Googling pieces of the quote, but instead I found two websites that helped fill the gap – The Ultimate List of (117) Inspirational Travel Quotes
, and 50 Most Inspiring Travel Quotes of All Time
. I was delighted to find that most of the quotes I liked best were from some of my favorite writers… Twain, Steinbeck, Conroy, and Frost. I’ll sprinkle them in throughout this week’s account of my recent trip to the Czech Republic, Belgium, and the Netherlands…
I wrote a few weeks ago about my ultimate RTD experience – kicking it up a notch from journeys to NCAA lacrosse games at Upstate NY colleges and field and box lacrosse tournaments all over the country to… well, Prague, the Czech Republic – or more specifically, Radotin, a small city on the outskirts of Prague.
My son Brian had recruited players from all over North America and Europe to fill the rosters of two teams in this year’s Frank Menschner Cup, an outdoor box tournament featuring 11 teams this year. His Glasgow Clydesiders team featured 17 players from 8 different nations (Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Netherlands, USA, Austria, Poland, and Scotland), and his NOAFE team (which originally stood for Non-Olympic Athletes From Everywhere, but has since been advertised as Non-Orbital Astronauts From Earth, and this year seemed to stand for No One Asked For Ebola) had 15 team members from 8 countries (Wales, England, Czech Republic, USA, Finland, Israel, Germany, and Netherlands). Some had played for the teams before, while others were brand new to the experience.
And let me tell you, being associated with these two teams was an experience!
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
Brian and I arrived in Prague Tuesday morning, and got picked up at the airport by Ondrej Mika, who manages every detail for not only the FM Cup, but also the bigger and older Ales Hrbesky Memorial Cup every April. Ondrej drove us to the apartment Brian shares with his girlfriend Jane in Radotin, and after showers and a change of clothes, we walked over to the outdoor box field operated by the LCC Radotin. Like scenes I’ve witnessed before, there were handshakes and hugs every few minutes, as players arrived from – literally – all around the world. I’d watched the video stream of games for the past five years, but to see the facility in person was amazing.
A few hours later there were about eight of us at dinner at the Restaurace Portlandu, the sponsoring pub/restaurant of the two teams (located very conveniently between Brian’s apartment maybe 200 yards up the street, and my lodging, less than 100 yards away). Maybe it was rude of me, but I took out my phone and started texting notes for myself…
“Old and new friends from Budapest, Moose Jaw, New York City, Wales, Westchester County, Prague, and Oswego… telling stories about their exploits in tournaments ranging from Las Vegas, Montreal, the Onondaga Nation, Netanya, Poland, and more… Lots of laughs!”
On Wednesday, a group of seven of us hopped on a train and went in to see some of Prague. I’m no historian – especially when it comes to Europe – but I was so impressed with the old architecture. Everywhere you looked, you saw buildings that have been standing for 100 years or more. With my limited world traveling (basically, trips to Australia and Israel three years apart), I made some comparisons between Jerusalem and Prague – in many ways, what you saw was what millions have seen for centuries… old cobblestone sidewalks; winding, narrow streets; and café after café. We admired the John Lennon Wall, walked to the Vltava River, crossed the iconic Charles Bridge (built in 1357!), and then wandered down to the Old Town Square, where we saw the Astronomical Clock and the Jan Hus Memorial (unveiled in 1915 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the reformer’s martyrdom). We could see the Prague Castle (dating back to 870!), but we didn’t make it up the hill that day (we made another trip after the tournament was over – amazing!). What history!
That evening, the Clydesiders and NOAFE had a scheduled practice on the field – about 30 minutes at their own ends, then some “our defense against your offense” and vice versa for another 30 minutes, and then some live, two-way scrimmaging for another 30 minutes. I tried to learn as many players’ names as possible, and when I introduced myself to everyone as “Brian Witmer’s Dad,” that seemed to bring smiles to everyone I met.
On Thursday, games began at 12 PM. NOAFE had just one game, while the Clyde had two. NOAFE faced TJ Malesice in their opener, and got man-handled by the team that would end up finishing second overall. Meanwhile, the Clyde also came up short against the Toronto Tigers, losing 8-3. In their nightcap, the Clyde gutted out a gritty 8-5 win over the Old Dogs, and all was good with the world…
Except that, right from the start of the Clyde’s first game, Brian’s back was giving him all sorts of problems. It’s been a chronic concern, and he told his team after their first game that he was done for the tournament. It hurt me to see him in so much pain, and knowing how much he wanted to play. When the Clyde won that night, he joked that the team was obviously better off without him.
From that game on, I was invited to join him on the coaching bench, and together we had a ball. He certainly knows the box game so much better than I do, but I still felt like I had relevant observations and exhortations to contribute. Most of the amazing shutterlax.com photos I shared on Facebook are of the two of us trying to coax and coach our two teams. In case you couldn’t tell from any of those photos, I had a blast!
“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends… The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy
Friday’s schedule had NOAFE playing three games and the Clyde playing two, so that made for a long, hot day (temps were probably around 90, with lots of sun and very little wind). NOAFE started the day off with a hard-fought 8-6 loss to the KAC (pretty much the Austrian National Indoor Team), and then the Clyde dominated the Caps, Fries & Cocks team, which was a combination of players from England, Belgium, and France, by a 6-1 score (highlighted by a goal scored by our goalie, from full field, as the opposing goalie came out of the net to call for a whistle because he wasn’t feeling well – just when you thought you’d seen everything!). Then the NOAFE boys got lit up by the Old Dogs, 19-8, as injuries and fatigue started to become an issue. The Clyde also ate their own helping of humble pie, losing 17-2 to the eventual tournament champions, the LCC Wolves. The day ended with another NOAFE loss, 9-2 to the Skalica Chiefs. After two days, the Clyde were 2-2 and NOAFE was 0-4…
On Friday night, after everyone had played four contests, all 11 teams were re-seeded for Saturday’s placement games – the bottom three teams would play a two-game round robin for places 9-11, the middle four teams would play for 5th through 8th place, and the top four teams would play for the top four slots. The Clyde were seeded 7th and ended up there with a tough 6-5 loss to KAC followed by a convincing 11-2 win over the Caps, Fries and Cocks. NOAFE managed a controversial tie (“There are no ties in lacrosse!”) against the Polish Eagles and then battled hard against the GSI Grizzlies, losing 6-4 in their final game. However, the tie-breaker between the Eagles and NOAFE went our way, so we finished 10th, not 11th, which made everyone feel just a little bit better about the entire weekend.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain
Closing ceremonies were a lot of fun, as all 11 teams were invited out onto the floor to receive commemorative photos and one last round of applause. Teams were introduced from last place finish to first, and when it appeared that no one from the last-place Polish Eagles was on hand to receive their gift, Brian pushed his token 14-year old Czech member of the Clyde, Adam, out to accept it. Sure enough, Adam went forward and received the Eagles’ team photo, shook hands with all the organizers and referees, and received a tremendous ovation. NOTE: Brian had a local youngster on each of the two teams, and their role was supposed to be minimal. He sent them to the penalty box to serve too-many-men penalties, and on occasion asked them to work the doors. But eventually, depth became a concern and Adam (Clydesiders) and Jarda (NOAFE) were needed on the floor to spell their exhausted, older teammates, and they never shrank from the chance to play. Jarda earned an assist in one game, and both were given chances to score on penalty shots (scripted by mutual agreements to have too many players on the floor in the final minute). Adam was 0-for-2, while Jarda went 1-2. I can’t begin to describe the smiles on their faces all weekend.
So the NOAFE boys finished 10th and the Clyde finished 7th. Awards were handed out to Best Offensive Player, Best Defensive Player, Best Goalie, and Best Transition Player, as well as Highest Goal-scorer, and Highest Point-scorer. The hometown LCC Wolves won it all, and took away much of the hardware. The box/rink/field was filled with people for hours afterwards, including children playing lacrosse, and even after they shut off the lights, the kids remained on the floor. It was all very cool.
The thirty different members of the Clyde and NOAFE had about 30 different departure plans, but we all managed to gather one last time at the Restaurace Portlandu for one final round of celebration. Some would be gone by morning, many others during the day on Sunday. Let me tell you; I will never tire of the handshakes and hugs.
“…and I – I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost
I made a lot of new friends that week, but one especially deserves mention… There was an American on the NOAFE team named Dan Leyden. As soon as I saw his last name, I started wondering… My Lynbrook High School Principal was Pete Leyden, and I knew that his sons had played lacrosse – one at Cortland. Two years ago, at Lake Placid, I spoke with one of the Leyden boys playing for the 60+ Cortland alumni team… could this be a third generation Leyden standing here in front of me – in Prague, no less?
I asked him, “Are you from Long Island?”
My heart sank; I tried again, “Did your father or uncles play at Cortland?”
“Yeah, my uncle did!” He looked at me suspiciously.
“Was your grandfather Peter Leyden?”
“Yeah! How did you know?”
So we did some catching up. My Dad was on the School Board when I graduated, so both my Dad and his grandfather were present that June day back in 1978. And here we are, meeting one another in Prague some 41+ years later… Crazy, right?
I’ll see some of these NOAFEs and Clydesiders in Syracuse next month at the LAXNAI Invitational at the Onondaga Nation. Others I may never see again, though I certainly hope that’s not the case… I have a suspicion I’ll see all of them again someday or another, somewhere along the road.
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.