Road Trip Dad - Behind the Scenes
with the 2020 Legends of Lake Placid
Dan Witmer | October 5, 2020
Good news/bad news…

Bad news: What should have been the 31st annual Lake Placid Summit Classic lacrosse tournament – along with most every item on my calendar as well as yours – was cancelled this past summer. No eight days in one of my favorite places on earth; no weeklong smile working side by side with my sons, who live in Prague and Denver otherwise; no 500+ games among more than 250 teams on as many as 14 fields; no Olympic ski jumps, Whiteface, or Marcy in the backdrop of every panoramic view; and no reunions with friends, teammates, former players, sons of former teammates and players, etc…

Good news: I still got to help with the announcement of the Class of 2020 Legends of Lake Placid inductees.

In case you missed it, we added ten new members to the tournament’s own “hall of fame” this summer, and having a hand in the process proved to be one of the few highlights of this crazy new life spent in semi-quarantine. Here’s my inside look at the experience…

My employers at Summit Lacrosse Ventures and I have been re-defining my job title and description pretty much since I started working at the tournament, which was sometime around 2007, I believe. Of course, back then, there was no SLV; I worked for the LP Summit Classic at first, run by George Leveille. Getting to know him at the short-lived but awesomely awesome Lake Placid Lacrosse Camp (approx. 2000-2002?) proved to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. In a few short years I went from a score table worker to Tournament Competition Manager. Over the past 14 years, I’ve filled in scores on laminated divisional schedules, scratched out tie-breakers, and tried to answer every question about scheduling, playoffs, seeding, and just about everything else. I spent one summer inputting game scores on the new on-line tournament-managing program. I’ve strung goals, re-chalked goal creases between quarters, and presented championship T-shirts. SLV CEO Ashley Gersuk Murphy once called me the “Swiss Army Knife.”

So, the duties have continued to evolve over the past few years; my 2020 contract alone listed the following titles: Legend of Lake Placid Lacrosse Director, Summit Society Ambassador, Championship and Awards Manager, and Competition Ambassador. That’s the story of my life – I always seem to wear a lot of different hats.

The Legend of LP Lacrosse Director was really the only job I got to do this year; it’s a role that I’ve really enjoyed and embraced over the past few years. I’ve been on a couple similar committees – the Wall of Fame at Hannibal Central Schools, the Athletic Hall of Fame at Oswego State, etc – so this is familiar territory for me.

The Lake Placid Awards started way back in 2004, ten years before the birth of the LP Legends, back before I was on the staff. The Dan Spillett Award, the Larry Piatelli Award, and the Jim Muhlfelder Award were memorials to a player, an official, and an organizer who had played significant roles in the LPSC. In 2010, two more awards were created – the Travis Solomon Award and the Tom Pillsworth Award.

Then in 2014, to help celebrate the tournament’s 25th year, Men’s and Women’s Silver Anniversary All-Star Teams were announced, five teams with storied LP histories were dubbed Teams of Distinction, and 16 individuals were singled out as Legends of Lake Placid. It was a long ceremony, but it was the first of its kind, and it took place in the village park on Main Street, with a packed crowd in attendance.

In 2018 we added a Lax All-Stars GROW THE GAME Award, which went to the Queener Family and then the Tri-Lakes Lacrosse Association in 2019, and in 2020, we decided to add the Paul Rose Award.

Since 2014, though, the induction of a new class of Legends was the only constant. The LP Awards were awarded sporadically, with the Piatelli Award being presented most often. The Legends ceremony moved to the main site of competition, the North Elba Athletic Fields, usually in a vendor’s tent, at the end of the day’s game schedule.

From 2015 through 2019, Legends inductions were limited to just two or three recipients – the Kim Brothers and Mark Snyder in 2015; Bill Bergan, Andi O’Connor, and Brent Riley in 2016; Greg Gephardt and Anthony Ortolano in 2017; Dom Starsia and Team Long Island in 2018; and Phil Kessler, Paul Rose, and Roy Simmons, Jr. in 2019 – but this year we decided to combine the Legends with the Lake Placid Awards. There were so many players, organizers, officials, and key contributors who deserved recognition, and we found ourselves debating whether someone on the Silver Anniversary Team or who received the Dan Spillett Award needed to be nominated to be a Legend, and was an LP Award somehow a lesser recognition than a Legend designation?

Working directly with Kevin Leveille and indirectly with his father, George, we planned to increase the number of inductees and merge the Legends with the LP Awards. We found ourselves asking, “So, if we induct so-and-so, under which category does he best fit?”

For the LP Legends of 2020, Kevin and I started reviewing nominations way back around the first of the year. We confidently matched nominees with specific LP Awards, and found that every one of them seemed to fall into place. If we had two worthy candidates for the same Award, then we simply named two recipients.

A resulting development was that, if we were going to make every LP Award-winner a Legend, we’d need to produce more graphics and text. In the past, SLV produced beautiful banners featuring the likenesses and biographies of each year’s Legends – but didn’t do so for the LP Award winners.

And that’s where I stepped in. Instead of helping with the press releases for two or three Legends inductees, now we were doing bios and photos of ten different awardees. I started to send out congratulatory emails to our 2020 recipients on May 24, asking for a draft of their personal biography and a suitable photo but, for various reasons, I quickly discovered I only had good email addresses for half of them…

From the end of May through early August, I proceeded to exchange emails, texts, and phone calls with our 2020 inductees. It was fun to send the congratulatory news, and then even better to hear their expressions of gratitude... “I am humbled,” “Thank you so much!,” “This recognition means so much to me!”

Each awardee was asked to send me a short Lake Placid bio, and I promised to edit where needed. I asked them to shoot for 150-200 words. Some sent brief outlines; others sent missives of 300 words or more. Still, I enjoyed working with each of them to put the final polish on their Legends bios.

In two cases, I communicated with the widows of 2020 Legends who had recently passed away. In both situations, I was touched by the grace and appreciation of these women.

Jeff Jacques passed away just last September (2019), weeks after working at Summit Classic #30. He was a loyal and tireless, consummate professional, doing whatever needed to be done to ensure a safe and quality playing facility. When I spoke on the phone with his wife Billee, she asked if we could use the photo that appeared on the SLV website. “I like that picture,” she explained. “It’s the only recent photo where he doesn’t look sick,” she told me, then apologized for cutting the phone call short because she was heading off to the cemetery in honor of Father’s Day…

And I didn’t think I knew the late Paul Lamparski, nominated by Phil Hartigan, until his wife Lee sent me his photo; I’m very sure I recognized him from my years of watching and working with the GM, SGM, UGM, and Past Masters men’s divisions. Paul was just 62 years old when he succumbed to cancer in 2018 – just four years older than me – and I learned from Lee that, like me, he had also self-published a memoir, Paul’s Wild Ride, which chronicled his battle with cancer. When I told Lee a few weeks later that I had been unsuccessful trying to buy a copy of the book on Amazon, she graciously sent me not one copy, but two – no charge. The book was an amazing read, and I loved his references to music, lacrosse, and other subjects that we had in common. And reading it this summer was more relevant to me than ever, as I bear witness to a close friend’s own personal battle vs. the cruel tandem of Stage 4 myeloma and MS...

We plan to officially recognize all of our 2020 inductees at our 2021 Summit Classic next August, and I hope I get to meet these two amazing people…

That’s not to say that working with the other recipients was anything less than exciting and enjoyable. Mark Burnam and I talked on the phone for 45 minutes (well, one talked; the other did more listening). I found out that Leslie Frank, representing her family as this year’s winners of the Lax All-Stars GROW THE GAME Award, had coached at Westwood HS (MA) with Oswego State alum Todd Zahurak ‘96. John Keenan and Jeff Coulson asked for my patience while they went through some family issues, but both came through with exactly what I was looking for. Tim Shurr, Dave Brant, Holly Healy and I exchanged more than one draft, working back and forth over a week or two until everyone was happy with the result. If there was an award for the quickest photo and easiest bio written, it might have gone to Bob Young, representing the Connecticut Valley Lacrosse Club (CVLC). Thanks to all, and once again, here’s a heartfelt congratulations to all ten of this year’s Legends of Lake Placid!

The finished bios and photos were all posted on the SLV website over the course of two weeks in the middle of August (go to https://www.summitlacrosseventures.com/legends to see the entire Legends link) – and my job was done! Despite not being able to help make LPSC #31 happen, this spring-and-summer project helped me fill the void. I’m hopeful and confident that #32 will take place as planned from August 2-8, 2021, and our Legends ceremony on Thursday, August 5 is indeed going to be “legendary” as we recognize not one, but two, years’ worth of inductees. It gives me – and all of us – something special to look forward to.

I hope you can join us!

In the meantime, please drive carefully – and stay safe, stay smart, and stay kind.

- 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.