Road Trip Dad – “We stand on the shoulders of giants…”
The 2019 Upstate Lacrosse Foundation’s Hall of Fame Inductions
Dan Witmer | October 29, 2019
I love going to Hall of Fame inductions. I love hearing the stories. I love learning about people I didn’t know before. I love the celebration, probably one of the ultimate levels of achievement and recognition.

Sunday night I attended the 2019 Upstate Lacrosse Foundation’s Hall of Fame induction dinner. No less than ten new members were inducted this year. “Too many!” a cynic would say. “You’ll be there all night.”

Well, that naysayer would be wrong. Cocktail hour started at 5 o’clock, and dinner followed at 6. The introductions and speeches started at 7 PM – and I was home before 9:15.

You shoulda been there.

Here are this year’s inductees, some notes on their accomplishments, and some highlights from their acceptance speeches:

Josh Coffman
A two-time All-American at Carthage HS, Josh went on to be a four-time All-American at Syracuse University, where he played in – get this – four NCAA national championship games (winning twice). He played on the US National Team in the 2002 FIL World Games and was the 2002 #1 draft pick in the MLL. Today Josh teaches 6th grade social studies in the Lowville Central School District, where he also coaches varsity football.

In his acceptance speech, Josh described how his Hall of Fame induction now validates his athletic success in the eyes of his children. He told how his son Levi asked him, “You’re going into the Hall of Fame?”

“Yes,” he replied.

“Why?” his son answered.

If his sons don’t get it now, it won’t be long until they do. Congrats, Josh!

Ron Fraser
Ron started his lacrosse career in his junior year at West Genesee, when there were only five high school teams in all of Upstate New York (WG, Baldwinsville, Irondequoit, Geneva, and Watertown; Lafayette added a team in his senior year). He went from West Genny to Syracuse University, where he had the honor of playing for both Roy Simmons Sr. and Roy Simmons Jr. Summers were spent playing with the Syracuse Lacrosse Club, with teammates Walt Munze, Larry Abbott, Tom Hall, and Clark Mercer, among others. He played on the US National Team in 1974 and played for the Long Island Lacrosse Club and the Brine Lacrosse Club. Ron is now a member of four Halls of Fame.

Ron thanked his brother and sister, his wife Kathlene, and their children Randy, Chris, and Colin, for their years of support. Today Ron lives in New England and helps his son Chris coach lacrosse at Hopkinton High School in Massachusetts. Congratulations, Ron!

Sarah Kellner
After her All-American high school career finished at Fayetteville-Manlius High School, Sarah continued playing at Cornell University, where she also earned A-A honors and played on the US National Team. After graduation, she then returned to F-M where she served as assistant coach for the Hornets’ teams that went to three straight NY State Championships, winning twice. Sarah then took over the D-II women’s program at Regis University in Denver, CO, where she has guided the Rangers to an overall record of 141-65 over 13 seasons, making it to the NCAA semi-finals in both 2018 and 2019.

Sarah laughed as she recalled her first lacrosse stick, a second-hand purchase from Play It Again Sports. The head was dyed red and white and featured “J-D” and someone else’s initials. She also thanked Kathy Taylor and Doug Rowe for playing important roles in her life, and then gave an appreciative nod to her Mom, who is retiring this week. Congrats, Sarah!

Jeff Klodzen
Jeff’s senior year at West Genesee High School was highlighted by a perfect 23-0 W-L record and another state championship. He then continued his lacrosse and education at Cortland State, where he was a three-time All-American. After graduation, he played for the Mount Washington Lacrosse Club and then spent ten years playing in the NLL for the Baltimore Thunder, Pittsburgh Bulls, and Syracuse Smash.

In his acceptance speech, Jeff made a point of mentioning former WG coaches Tom and Kevin Donahue, Mike Messere, and Bob Deegan, and he thanked his wife, children, mother-in-law, and mother, who were all in attendance – and it just happened to be his Mother’s birthday last night, so congrats to Jeff, and Happy Birthday, Mrs. Klodzen!

Kenny Nims
Kenny was an All-American high school attackman at Watertown HS, where he played varsity lacrosse for four years and accumulated an amazing 360 career points. He then played lacrosse at Syracuse University, where he earned All-American honors twice and helped the Orange win two NCAA championships in 2008 and 2009. Kenny was the MLL’s #1 draft pick in 2009, and went on to play for the Chicago Machine. Today he helps coach the Thousand Islands modified lacrosse team.

Kenny added how it’s an honor to join his father, Tom Nims, in the Upstate Hall of Fame. He said that when he graduated from high school, his goals were to wear #10 like his father did (his father’s full name was Thomas Elliot Nims – or TEN), play at Syracuse, and win… “and I did.” Congrats, Kenny!

Matt Riter
Following his All-American senior year a Homer Central School, Matt also attended Syracuse University, where he helped the Orange win two NCAA championships in 1990 and 1993. Other highlights were being named USILA All-American, visiting the White House after the 1990 NCAA title, scoring the game-winning goal with just eight seconds remaining in the 1993 championship game, and receiving the Jack Turnbull Award as the nation’s top attackman. Matt went on to play professionally for the Rochester Knighthawks in the NLL.

In his acceptance speech, Matt also mentioned how lacrosse has enabled him to go places like Vail, Lake Placid, and Lockerbie, Scotland. He also thanked his many former coaches, including Rich Cecconi, Jim Luchsinger and Tom Korrie, Barry Powless and Paul Day, John Desko and Kevin Donahue, and especially SU head coach Roy Simmons, Jr. “My father passed away the day I was supposed to do my recruiting visit to Syracuse, and from that day on, Coach took me under his wing and let me know that everything was going to be OK.” Congrats, Matt!

Andy Shay
Andy played at Cortland High School and then LeMoyne College, where he earned All-League honors and served as team captain his senior year. His coaching career started at SUNY-Morrisville, and then he joined the staff at the University of Delaware in 1999. From there, Andy worked his way up the ranks and joined the staff at UMass for four years, helping guide the Minutemen to the NCAA semi-finals in 2002 and 2003. The following year, he was named head coach of the Yale Bulldogs, where he has posted a 153-89 (.632) record over the past 16 seasons – and 118-44 (.728) in the past ten. Yale has made it to the NCAA championship game the past two years, winning it all in 2018.

Andy thanked his family, especially his parents for helping finance his early years in the coaching ranks, and his wife, Sheila. He explained that, with her May birthday and Mother’s Day both on the calendar, a successful Bulldog lacrosse season means little time to celebrate her special days, and an unsuccessful season only results in sour dispositions – “so she can’t win,” he observed. He then offered a glimmer of optimism, when he joked that she approached him a few months ago with, “Hey, for our anniversary this year, how about going back to Upstate NY for the Hall of Fame banquet?” Andy concluded by thanking Upstate for his roots in the game, commenting that “It’s like that book, Everything I Really Know I Learned in Kindergarten… Everything I really needed to know about coaching lacrosse, I learned in CNY.” Congrats, Andy!

Greg Tarbell
Greg Tarbell earned All-American honors in lacrosse at Lafayette HS, SUNY Cobleskill, and then at Syracuse University, and he was named MVP of the USILA North/South Game in 1982. He went on to play for the Iroquois National Team in the FIL World Games in England. In addition to the Upstate Lacrosse Foundation’s Hall of Fame, Greg has also been inducted into the Akwesasne HOF, the Junior College HOF, the Ontario Lacrosse HOF, and the Lafayette HS Sports HOF.

Greg passed away in 2018. His daughter Jessica accepted his HOF plaque and gratefully thanked the Upstate Lacrosse Foundation’s selection committee for her father’s award.

If I may, one quick Greg Tarbell story… I was at the Carrier Dome watching SU play someone, and the Orange were winning as the clock ticked down. Greg, who possessed one of the hardest shots in the game, stood at midfield and threw the ball straight up in the air to finish the game. I’m telling you – we watched. We waited. I swear – the ball never came down! Maybe they’ll find it tucked into the folds of the roof as they replace the Dome’s cover this year… Congratulations to the Tarbell family.

Lars Tiffany
Lars played lacrosse, basketball, and football at Lafayette HS and went on to play lacrosse a Brown University, where he was a starter and captain. After finishing his college career playing in the USILA North/South Game in 1990, he moved out to California where he taught high school biology and coached football and lacrosse for four years. Then, as he explained last night, “So, there I was, at F-M High School, playing lacrosse in a summer pick-up game, when I met Shane Lynch…” Shane was the new head coach at LeMoyne, and he invited Lars to be his assistant. Lars accepted the offer, and he caught the coaching bug, moving along to assistant coaching gigs at Dartmouth, Penn State, and Washington & Lee. In 2005, he was hired as the head coach at SUNY Stony Brook, and in 2007, he took over the reins at Brown, his alma mater. Under his guidance, Brown won four Ivy League titles and rose to national prominence. Then, in 2017, Lars was named head coach at the University of Virginia, and in 2019, his Cavaliers won UVA’s first national championship since 2011. He was also an assistant coach for the Iroquois National Team in the 2018 FIL World Games in Netanya, Israel.

I stole the title of this week’s RTD piece from Lars’ acceptance speech (thanks, Coach!). He mentioned how fortunate all of us are for being raised in a community where lacrosse’s tradition runs so deep. “We stand on the shoulders of giants; we’re all here because of the people who came before us.” One quick look around the room, or through the pages listing previous HOF inductees, and that becomes very, very clear. Thanks for reminding all of us, and congrats, Lars!

John Tillman
John Tillman graduated from Corning West HS and then Cornell University, and played professionally afterwards for the Baltimore Thunder and Washington Power of the NLL. He also played for the Toyota Lacrosse Club before starting his coaching career as an assistant coach at Ithaca College in 1992. In 1996, he joined the coaching staff at the US Naval Academy, where he honed his craft for 12 seasons. He was then named head coach at Harvard University, where he helped lead the Crimson for three years. John was then named head coach at the University of Maryland, where he has since led the Terrapins to seven Memorial Day Weekend appearances and five national championship games, winning it all in 2017. John is also committed to community service, and has involved his team with programs including Team IMPACT and the Shootout for Soldiers.

Due to a previous commitment, John was unable to attend the ceremonies last night… something about running in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC yesterday and helping to raise more than $35,000 for cancer research on behalf of one of his former Navy players… Like Lars, said, “…on the shoulders of giants”! Congratulations, and thanks, John!

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Like I said, I love HOF ceremonies. Besides the night’s honorees, I enjoyed seeing so many old friends…

For instance, the “veranda boys” from the Hobart Lacrosse Camp – Bart Guccia, Fred Rothman, Tom Acee, and Don King… were all there, and I made a point of seeking them out and saying hello. Back in the days of working five to seven lacrosse teaching camps every summer, those guys were my idols, and last night it was great just shaking hands and saying hello again.

And then there was the LeMoyne crew – former player and head coach Rob Didio, and former players Chad Lynch and Dan Bullock. It was only a matter of seconds before our mutual disdain for one another came to the surface of our conversations, followed just as quickly by all the laughter. Old rivalries die hard!

If you were there, I hope you enjoyed yourself as much as I did. If you weren’t, please consider attending next year, regardless of who is inducted. I guarantee there will be more of our Upstate “giants” to be celebrated.

In the meantime, please drive carefully, everyone!

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.