Every lacrosse coach, every player, and every referee started somewhere.
My first lacrosse experience was with the Lynbrook Titans, a youth program in my home town on Long Island that also offered football and cheerleading in the fall.
I’m guessing I started playing lacrosse when I was about 10 or 11 years old. While my best friends had already been playing Little League for a few years, I was slower to sign up for anything. Only a few neighbors had taken the lacrosse route.
My first stick was a wooden one (wow – I feel older now than I did a few moments ago). Shoulder pads, gloves, arm pads, and a helmet were all provided. I have no idea what registration cost back in 1970 or ‘71, but it couldn’t have been much.
To help me remember these experiences, I emailed four teammates from way back when, and asked them to share their memories. I think they each started playing before I did, and got a lot more playing time than me when we were growing up. In fact, I can’t really remember any playing time in my two or three years of Titans lacrosse; I can’t say with any certainty what position I played (but I think I was a midfielder, though).
Matt Rainis was our varsity quarterback, one of our top (club) ice hockey players, and an excellent attackman who went on to start for the University of Virginia, playing for legendary coach Jim “Ace” Adams. I think he played in one or two national championships for the Cavaliers. Today he’s a lawyer on Long Island.
Pace Kessenich also played football (I think he was the back-up quarterback, among other roles), was an excellent wrestler, and might have been the original “Swiss Army Knife” utility lacrosse player. He used to bring three sticks to every varsity practice – a goalie stick, a long stick, and a short stick. He was our back-up goalie, our fourth or fifth (man-down) defenseman, and our third or fourth attackman. He went on to play lacrosse at the Naval Academy, and he even served as head coach at Colgate from 1992-1995. Today he is the Director of and a coach for Charm City Youth Lacrosse, based in the Baltimore area.
Kevin Murphy played football, wrestled, and played lacrosse, too. He went on to U-Mass and wrestled instead of playing lacrosse. According to the book jacket on his recently-published The Three Rooms, he “is a former Wall Street managing director, high school and collegiate wrestling champion, community activist, speaker, coach, and author… Additionally, he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2009 and has spearheaded a campaign to raise awareness of the opioid and drug epidemic that is sweeping the country.”
Rob Brulet played soccer and lacrosse, and he lived across the street from our local elementary school, where we played years and years of street and roller hockey. He went to Cornell after graduation in 1978, and I’d pretty much lost track of him over all these years. The email he sent me this week was the most I’ve heard from him in most of 40 years.
Coincidentally, all four of these Titans teammates had brothers – Matt had three, Pace had two, and Kevin had two, and every one of them played lacrosse. Like so many other lacrosse families, if you played lacrosse, your whole family played lacrosse. Rob had two older brothers, I believe, but I don’t think they played lacrosse; I guess they were the exception.
In 2008, Lynbrook Lacrosse celebrated its 50th year of existence. I drove down to Long Island for the February event, and we had a great time. Pace impressed us all by showing up in an old jersey that no one else would be able to wear. That night we honored another famous Lynbrook lacrosse name – John Cannella, aka “The Father of Lynbrook Lacrosse.” True to form, John was the father of no fewer than five sons who all played the game.
I asked my friends what they recalled –
Coaches - Mr. Frank Gordon, Mr. Nargi, Joel Tepper, Sal Coppolino, Danny Berra, - others? Any help on credentials? Had any of these people played lacrosse anywhere? Any insight would be helpful.
Opponents? Huntington, Port Washington... others?
Schedule? How often did we practice; how many games/weekends did we play?
Other - what am I forgetting, besides the door-to-door candy sales?
The memories and highlights that Pace, Matt, Kevin, and Rob emailed to me this week were entertaining, if not necessarily fact-based. I mean, after all these years, who knows?
Nonetheless, here are some excerpts of their answers…
Great idea, Dan! Here’s what I remember (or maybe it is what I made up):
1. Titans lacrosse started spring of 1969 with Fred MacFarlane as the director and head coach. I believe he was originally from the Baltimore area (and he eventually returned there) where he must have learned the game. Frank Gordon was another coach, along with his sons Jerry and Tim. Other early coaches not already named included Gene Von Dunn; I don’t remember Mr. Nargi’s first name. As far as I know, the most experience any of our coaches had was playing lax in HS (they volunteered to coach – what more credentials do you need?).
2. For the first month or so of that first season, we did not have enough equipment (including sticks) for all the players. One of our drills was playing wall ball against the pavilion at Greis Park (handball courts). There were about five lines of players facing the wall. The first in line would play catch off the wall three times; then he would pass the ball and stick to the next person in line and move to the end of the line. The others in line (without sticks) would back up the guy with the stick, who could neither throw nor catch, and balls were bouncing everywhere.
3. The only kid who could play was John Piazza, who moved to Long Beach shortly after that 1969 season and eventually played lacrosse at Yale. He had his own stick and could throw, catch, and scoop with ease.
4. I think that there was only a single team that first year (all grades), but we split into two teams thereafter (the “juniors” and “seniors”). Juniors were grades 2-4; seniors were in grades 5-7.
5. I guess 1969 was the first year of organized youth lax on LI, since, despite our inexperience, we somehow won the LI championship that year. The Senior team tied for the championship (with Huntington?) in 1972 when the referees called the game because players were exhausted after multiple sudden death overtime periods without a score (it was very hot outside). We had pizza and a pool party at Steve Lucas’ house after the game. We threw the coaches in the pool.
6. Sal Coppolino would often send us on long runs around the perimeter of Greis Park at practice (he called these runs a “scenic”, as in a scenic tour – “OK guys, take a scenic”).
1969 - We went 6-3 and won the championship against Port Washington 3-2. We were down at half as I remember Coach MacFarlane's half time speech consisted of him banging his stick on the ground; he was just mad we were not winning. The league consisted of 4 teams: Huntington, Port Washington Orange, and Port Washington Black. Port Washington had two really good players (Outerbridge and Ryland Hughes [sp?]). I remember all of us in cold weather wearing our jeans under our red shorts. Somehow I ran into a car on my bicycle and was in a cast, and I played one game against Port where I was just hobbling because I could not run. Obviously we all had wooden sticks. I remember mine was broken so many times that my Dad taped it with all colors of EB tape; it probably weighed five pounds. In the years before the Titans, I remember a bunch of us would play in my backyard, as my Dad had a bunch of crappy sticks with warped guts and the game consisted of 30-minute ground balls and eventually one lucky guy would pick it up and chuck it down to the other end of my backyard. Bobby Crooks was the best of us, but he never ended up playing Titans. I think Mr. Buckley helped coach the older group that year. I was #19, for what that is worth.
1972 – Murph has some articles about our championship game. I think it was like six overtimes and it was called because we couldn't run anymore; the game was at Freeport. I remember Sal Cappolina and Joel Tepper being the coaches. I remember our offense – the three attackmen would run laps around the crease non-stop. As Matt said, we would run a scenic if we did not run around the crease. David Guill, Matt, the Cannellas, the Murphs, Steven Lucas, and Larry Jones were on the team. I think there is a photo of that team floating around as I brought it to our 50th lacrosse reunion, and I remember Matt remembering every guy on the team. We tied Huntington in the finals of the LI championship. Years later, when I was coaching at Colgate, one of our top donors to the lacrosse program was Rick Riccardi, who was the coach for the Huntington team and his son Richard was on the team; Matt played with Richard at UVA. I am still in contact with Rick to this date.
Dan – Here are two pictures and two articles from the 1972 season. The only thing I really remember from the 1969 Championship season is that we all sucked except Pace. I know my brother Greg and I could barely throw and catch with the wooden sticks that were more like tennis rackets. Bobby Barra actually played some good goalie, too.
But I remember a lot about the 1972 Championship season. UVA starting attackman Matt Rainis playing crease defense, David Guill running all over the field, and of course the Cannella brothers who wreaked havoc on opposing teams. We were all starting to come into our own. After winning the Nassau County Championship in the pouring rain against Freeport, the Long Island Championship game was epic. My three most vivid memories were:
1. After screaming about how much we stunk, Sal Coppolino walked away from us at halftime while we were down 7-2. Soft-spoken Mr. Gordon had to step in and get us ready for the 2nd half (Sal did come back to coach us in the 2nd half, though!).
2. After Bob Brulet scored the tying goal late in the game to make it 9-9, the entire team jumped on top of him, and it took a while to stop Bob from hysterically crying after nearly being suffocated.
3. When the refs finally yelled that the game was over after the two sudden-deaths and six overtime periods, it wasn’t so much that the players were exhausted as it was that the parents were brutally yelling trash at the refs and they finally had enough of it!
I also remember most of what the other guys have said pretty much the same way (somehow, I remember being hysterical, but not the bawling part ;)…
1. These were probably the highlight of my entire lacrosse career. I still have both the ’69 and ’72 trophies in a box, along with my “Titans” shoulder patch from our red windbreaker jackets (just like Joel’s in the picture).
2. I think we had one more coach in ’69. Was Arnie Argento one of the lacrosse coaches with Fred McFarlane? I think he was one of the Titans football coaches. Our sticks were all “hand me downs” and we couldn’t even cut them down because they weren’t ours. The gut walls were cracked, broken, and put back together with a lot of adhesive and electrical tape. Most of us had hockey gloves because you couldn’t get lacrosse gloves that small – Franklin hockey gloves with the hard shell thumb, black cuffs and red backs.
3. I remember Sal and Joel being in high school with my older brothers. Those coaches couldn’t have been more than big teenagers at that time.
4. I can still picture Mike Cannella heaving the ball from behind the midfield line on a side out play to me for that goal. I was kinda just playing possum and wound up behind all of the defense when the play started. Nobody thought a kid could throw a ball that far, that accurately, at that age, more amazed that I actually caught it. Huntington had a short goalie and the shot went between his helmet and the cross bar.
5. For some reason, I think we actually practiced with the junior high team once or twice. Mr. Canella was their coach and we actually held our own (no contact, I think; they sure seemed big at that time!).
6. I remember Huntington taking a shot during overtime that hung up in the outside of the net and everyone groaning thinking it had gone it, but Mike Maxwell was waving his stick and his arms around making sure everyone knew it was on the of the outside the net.
7. I’m amazed that Murph remembers Mark Outerbridge’s name. I actually had some college friends from Port Washington that knew him.
8. I can also remember Quint Kessenich and Greg Canella constantly being at practices (Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, and Saturday mornings at 9:30 at Greis Park; we all rode our bikes to practice), and I swear the sticks they were carrying were taller than they were at that time. I’m always proud that I was able to play with and be coached by so many future “big time” players through Titans and high school. Lynbrook was a great place to be for a lacrosse player!
9. I also ran into Peter Rainis (I think it was Peter and not Joe) at UMASS one summer when both of our kids were enrolled at Greg Canella’s summer lacrosse camp. Peter pointed out Tim Canella’s son to me who was also attending. I ran into Quint K. when he was commentating one of the NCAA championships that Cornell played at Gillette a number of years back. It was like no time had passed at all – always a teammate!
10. The one thing that strikes me is how different my experience was as a youth coach in my town than the way I remember it from the other side as a player. I can’t remember parents being all over coaches the way they are now, the amount of “organization” that has to be around it. Seems a shame that the kids get parented instead of coached through sports.
remember of my two or three years with the Titans were actually painful memories. We had to sell candy bars and peanut brittle every year (maybe we did that instead of paying for registration). I hated selling door to door, but I did it. Another memory is doing two-vs-one ground ball drills – for what seemed like hours at a time. I think I was always stuck in the middle line – I was the one going against the two, and in those days, I was among the smallest kids on the team. I used to get crunched!
I remember the “scenics” that Pace and Murph described above, and I also recall the “poke-slap-punch” defensive drills that Coach Tepper put us through. We attacked the fenced baseball backstop with dogged determination and great confidence!
I vaguely remember a marathon game being declared a tie, and I guess that’s the 1972 game all my teammates seem to remember so well. I remember there being a Huntington Black and a Huntington Orange, and my parents’ astonishment that we played teams so far away.
Despite the not-so-fond memories of door-to-door sales, getting crushed in ground ball drills, and the fact that I really don’t remember ever playing in a game, I still look back on that experience with nothing but smiles. Titans Lacrosse was the only organized youth sport I played; that uniform was the first one I ever wore. I got my first taste of the game and developed stick skills so that, in 1975, when I was in 9th grade, I bought my first plastic-headed stick and finally tried out for the junior high team. That led to a year of JV in 10th grade, and then two years of varsity lacrosse, when we won Lynbrook’s first Nassau County championship in 1978.
The Titans program still exists today. They’ve added wrestling during the winter months, and they’ve changed their colors from red, white, and blue to Lynbrook’s own green and gold, but they’re still offering youth sports, camaraderie, and great memories after all these years.
Thanks for hanging in there, readers – hope you were entertained!
Drive carefully, everyone!
NOTE: By my count, this is RTD blog #400. If I could reach, I’d slap myself on the back. Thanks for joining me for all the miles!
- 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.