Road Trip Dad –
Oh, the places you'll go!
Dan Witmer |April 3, 2019
Other teams might have dipped their toes into the 2019 season, one hesitant foot at a time.

Oswego? We started it off with a cannonball, but with very little splash.

Forget the fact that we played four games in eight days, and that we gave up 65 goals and are currently 0-4. Looking back on the past six days, this past week had so many highlights…

Sure, I’d rather be 4-0 than 0-4, but we all know there’s more to this wonderful wide world than winning all the time (…right?). What made last week so incredibly satisfying was the amazing array of great lacrosse people I ran into.

Want the list? Try to keep up with me as I drop names at record speed…

On Tuesday we opened the 2019 season at Jamesville-Dewitt (“thank you, Mr/Mrs Shedule-Person; may I have another?”). The Red Rams were too much for us, but I enjoyed saying hello and shaking hands with head coach Jamie Archer and assistant coach Sol Bliss – two of the very best players/coaches, and people there are – anywhere. And our referees that night were Kevin Dougherty and Charlie Aumiller. Kevin’s one of the “younger” former-local-star-turned-high-school-officials in our area, despite starring for Syracuse University way back in 2004. And Charlie? He’s one of my favorites. For about three or four years when my boys were going through high school, I coached their winter teams that played at the Hopkins Road indoor facility – and Charlie was a constant fixture there every year. Our kids didn’t always appreciate the other refs who worked there, but we always considered Charlie “the good ref.” Since those days we’ve all worked together at Lake Placid, and Charlie holds the rare distinction as one of the few officials who works both boys’ and girls’ lacrosse games.

We had just one practice day between J-D and our next game – up at Watertown on Thursday – so I dashed out of practice quickly on Wednesday to catch the Central Square-at-ES-M game, eager to take advantage of the two-for-one scouting opportunity. Who would I bump into that night? How about Chuck Wilbur, right there in the parking lot. I hadn’t seen the 17 year veteran coach at OCC – and winner of 11 JUCO national championships – since he stepped down from his role this past summer, so we compared notes about new-found freedoms and simple pleasures, and then we headed our separate ways. After the game I headed up to the press box to say hello to Adam Stuper, who does the announcing for all Spartans’ home games. Adam used to teach Social Studies at Hannibal HS when I was there, and it’s always fun to run into him every time I stop in at ES-M.

March 28th in Watertown for a 7 PM game… brrrr! Who scheduled that one? While we were warming up, an unfamiliar (but friendly!) face came over to me and introduced himself. Mark Lavarnway and I have exchanged emails since I started writing RTD and worked for 3dLacrosse back in 2012, and here he was in person to say hello. Turns out his son Marcus, who I profiled back in those days, is now a senior at Clarkson, and now Mark’s younger son Vincent was playing for the Cyclones. It’s always fun to run into my RTD followers! Thanks for saying hi, Mark!

I wish I knew the names of that game’s officials, as I thought they did a great job, but there I was, questioning a call in the first half, when I got an answer to my rules question from the score table:

“Play stops immediately on a loose ball personal foul.” I turned to see the source of this wisdom and realized that Spike Decker was standing about 15 feet away from me! If you don’t know Spike, you should. He played at RIT in the early ‘80s and has been reffing lacrosse since – high school, college, even internationally. In lacrosse officiating circles, he’s ranks up there pretty high.

So I turned to him and asked, “and what would you know about it?” – and then immediately went over and gave him a big hug and handshake. It’s a wonderful world!

Then on Friday, after our team practice, I made the long, arduous trip down to Fulton (I’m kidding – it’s a seven-mile trip from my house) to scout the Cortland Purple Tigers as they were hosted by the Raiders. I chose to sit close to the 50-yard line, and there was a convenient, inviting gap between the Cortland supporters and the Fulton fans near the top of the bleachers – that is, except for one person.

It was none other than Karen Tarr, mother of former Auburn and then LeMoyne standout Travis Tarr; she faithfully videotapes Auburn’s opponents for the Maroons’ coaching staff. I said hello, as we had met before, and she told me that she’s still taping games even though Travis isn’t even coaching this year. Talk about commitment! She said she had been to J-D the previous Tuesday night, and then said she’d be at Oswego on Saturday to record our game against Central Square. I hope the people in Auburn appreciate Mrs. Tarr’s time and dedication – and knowing a little about those people, they do. What a story!

As I was heading out to the parking lot after the game, I bumped into Shawn Riley, business manager for Graph-Tex and Geared-2-Sports; turns out his son Owen is a sophomore attackman for Cortland HS. We made a comment or two about how Lake Placid couldn’t get here soon enough, and I told him I’d see him in a few days when we came down to play the Purple Tigers.

NOTE: Days later, Owen Riley torched us for five goals and two assists in our fourth loss of the season. We’re still friends, at least until our re-match on April 25…

On Saturday morning I got to the high school early so I could watch most of the JV game before our varsity tilt against the Redhawks. I spent most of the first half talking to two “JV parents” of special note – Dan Bartlett and Susan DiBlasi…

I put quotes around “JV parents” because they are so much more than that. If you’ve been reading RTD for a while, you know who Bart is. He’s a Fulton grad who played for me at Oswego State, set records for midfield scoring, earned All-American honors, played in the USILA North/South Game, and then served as my assistant coach from 1997-2004. He left my staff to join the Oswego HS staff, first at the JV level and then as Doc Nelson’s varsity assistant, where he coached both of my sons, while also teaching fifth and sixth grade at Volney Elementary School in Fulton. He took over the girls’ ice hockey program at OHS and won the Bucs’ only state championship in 2010. Then, when I found myself no longer coaching at Oswego State, he invited me to join his hockey staff, and he and Doc invited me to be a volunteer assistant for the varsity lacrosse team, too. “All my life’s a circle,” sang Harry Chapin, and my relationship with Bart is just another great example of how true that is.

Anyway, Bart’s oldest son Ryan is now a sophomore playing goalie for the JV team, and Saturday was the first time he had a chance to watch his son play. We talked about Oswego State, Oswego HS, my kids, his kids, and his girls’ team at Fulton (oh yeah – Bart now coaches three sports at Fulton: boys’ golf, boys’ ice hockey, and girls’ lacrosse – and is a certified boys’ lacrosse official, like me – but that’s another story!).

And Susan… well, yes, technically she is a JV parent, too. Her son Joe is a sophomore defender (and a 10-time St. Baldrick’s shavee, which is very awesome for anyone, let alone a 10th-grader!). But Susan also has a senior on the varsity; Anthony plays midfield on our first line. They’re a great family who have been a big part of our lacrosse program for years.

But Susan is also one of five Lester sisters I’ve known since I was in college. Her sister Joan married one of my Laker teammates/players/assistant coaches, Sean Kesselring. Another sister, Mary, married Ed Gosek, who has coached ice hockey in Oswego since he graduated from Oswego State, and has been the head coach of the nationally-ranked Lakers team for close to 20 years. Tragically, Mary passed away almost two years ago due to ovarian cancer, and her legacy of Teal Tuesdays, Teal Gates, Teal Walks, and support for the Hope for Heather organization remains throughout our campus and entire city. Two other sisters, Donna and Sara, still live in Oswego with their respective families.

Pat and Bruce Lester, the parents of these five daughters, were icons when I started coaching and teaching back in 1982. By sheer coincidence, Pat was the school psychologist at Hannibal High School, and Bruce was Director of Psychological and Counseling Services at the college. He was also a frequent guest speaker and emcee at various campus and community events, and I still laugh when I think of some of his surprisingly blue jokes he made back in those “less-politically-correct” times.

And I’ll never forget the time Bruce addressed all 450 Laker student-athletes and their coaches and challenged them (us) to challenge ourselves. He asked everyone to stand up, and then he said, “Remain standing if you can run a marathon,” and almost everyone sat down. “How do you know you can’t run a marathon?” he asked. “You haven’t tried!” I don’t know about anyone else, but those words helped motivate me to run not one, but two, marathons – as well as numerous half-marathons – in the coming years.

All this refection, and all these friends and memories, just by getting out to a lacrosse game or two…

On Sunday we had our 13th annual St. Baldrick’s Day in Oswego fundraiser, an event that started with the Laker lacrosse team in 2007 and has raised almost $750,000 since. Coach Bezek’s team was there en force, as volunteers helping out, and as a team of shavees. The coaching staff shaved, too, and together, their fundraising team of 43 is close to $7,000 this year (donations are still coming in). Assistant coach Dan Rogers ’09 was a perfect link between the past and the present, as he was a sophomore on the team that got things started.

The lacrosse roots continue to grow outward. One of my varsity lacrosse players, junior attackman Carson Colucci, shaved for his 11th time, and Joe DiBlasi shaved for his tenth.

And, as I explained two weeks ago, Laker alumni joined forces to create their/our own fundraising team. We only had four team members, but we had donations and support from many of our teammates and friends, and we ended up raising the second-most of the 20 various fundraising teams, currently showing $9,500 on our website. Rich Wagner ’89 joined our event again this year, and helped us immensely, as he won the award for the most money brought in by an individual ($6,050 and counting). Rich’s son is waging his own battles against cancer, and when he learned about Kevin Murphy ’93 and his support for our St. Baldrick’s event, he came back with lots of support from his Jordan-Elbridge family and friends.

All these names, all these friendships, all these memories, smiles, handshakes, and hugs… all the result of a lifetime of lacrosse.

And I believe there’s so much more to come!

Drive safely, everyone. See you down the road.

- 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.