Road Trip Dad - Favorite College Lacrosse Venues in Upstate New York
Dan Witmer | November 9, 2020
“And I said, ‘Listen, I've traveled every road in this here land…
I've been everywhere, man; I've been everywhere, man…
Of travel I've had my share, man; I've been everywhere.’”

Apparently man cannot live on Bruce Springsteen alone, so thank you, Johnny Cash, for helping me to introduce this week’s RTD journey (although, according to minimal internet research, “I’ve Been Everywhere” was written in 1959 by Australian songwriter Geoff Mack using Australian place names, and it was later adapted using North and South American place names by Hank Snow in 1962. His version hit number one on the country music charts, and the song has since been recorded by many artists, including Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson).

From Binghamton to Albany, and all points north and west (Olean to Plattsburgh!), I brainstormed a list of some 44 four-year colleges and universities that sponsor NCAA men’s lacrosse – and you know what? I estimate I’ve coached or watched lacrosse at 34 of those campuses.

I had to skip over some of the “I’ve Been Everywhere” lyrics – to get to these stadiums and fields, I didn’t have to “cross any deserts” and I didn’t really “breathe the mountain air” en route (we took Rt. 3 through the Adirondacks to Plattsburgh once by bus, and never tried that again). But I have watched or coached at Wells, Canisius, St. Bonaventure, Medaille, Canton, and just about all the other sites you could name.

And now, navigating down Memory Lane remotely from Lakeland, Florida, I’m sorting through my personal favorites. These rankings are mine and mine alone; I’m just telling you about my experiences pulled from the thick and often quirky catalogue of my memories and impressions.

Now, I’ve spent almost a whole day thinking about these rankings, so you’re probably not going to be able to change my mind about this. There might be those who will find some sort of fault in my logic and disagree based on their own criteria and experiences, but that’s OK.

Here goes…

Honorable Mention:
Let’s start with the first two runners-up…

One would be Hobart’s Boswell Field. I’ve watched numerous high school and Hobart games at “the Boz” – including the streak-ending, dramatic OT game when Nazareth beat Hobart in the ‘92 NCAA D-III playoffs en route to their first national championship. Yup, I’ll remember that one.

And of course, a nod to Brockport’s Bob Boozer Field at Eunice Kennedy Shriver Stadium. I coached on the grass version and then was fortunate enough to watch my sons play on the long-awaited turf. They let me sit in the press box when I went to scout there, and for so many other reasons, I always enjoyed every trip out Rt. 104 to watch – or coach – a game there.

#10 Union
I don’t think I ever saw Union’s lacrosse field until the mid-‘90s, and I haven’t seen a game there since 2004 or so, but here’s what I remember: a beautiful bright green field with plenty of seating and that iconic fraternity house sitting on the hill at the midfield line. On a warmer, sunny day, Union students would be out in full force, with the best seats in the house.

#9 St. Lawrence
I coached at both the old, grass field inside the track as well as the newer, turfed North Country Field, and although we only won on the road at SLU once during my coaching tenure, I loved their facilities. Coach Don Leet and his successor Mike Mahoney were always gracious hosts, and in odd years when our March home games were in jeopardy of not being played, it wasn’t uncommon for St. Lawrence to offer to pay for our bus to go up and play on their field. I served as an NCAA Site Supervisor once or twice up there, too – nothing but classy and helpful people!

#8 Colgate
We didn’t play Colgate for long when I started coaching, but it was a fun – and fairly even – series while it lasted. Sometimes we played in Andy Kerr Stadium, and other years we played on the grass fields surrounding it. We lined up against the late Paul Rose’s Raiders for some intense games, and I’m pretty sure we won there back in 1982, too – my senior year, when I was sidelined with mono and got my feet wet as an assistant coach. Head Coach John Spring had a conflict the day of the game, so Oswego State’s head basketball coach Mike Deane (Siena, Marquette, Lamar, and Wagner) stepped up to supervise the Lakers and me that day. And we won!

#7 RPI
We played three ECAC games at RPI in ’94, ’96, and ’97 and went 2-1 over that span, which was arguably the best four years in Oswego State lacrosse history. We won an overtime thriller on a grass field surrounded by academic buildings or dorms the first year, and then we won our only ECAC championship on their new turf in ’96. We returned for the title game again in ’97, but came up short. Head coach Jim Townsend and I became good friends over those years, and he invited us back to Troy every fall for their annual Harkness Invitational day of scrimmages.

6 LeMoyne
We played home and home games with the Dolphins from the first early days of their program until 1996, and we always loved playing at their place. Their grass field in back of their field house had character, and we had a healthy, heated rivalry under the watches of head coaches Tom Diehl and Rob Didio, who also invited me to join their staff at their annual summer camps. The Lakers won there in our final tilt in ’96, but my most recent visit to that field was as an NCAA Site Supervisor in a 2008 playoff game between the Dolphins and Bryant.

5 Cortland
Laker alumni are asking themselves “What? Has Coach lost his mind?!?!” as they see this, but let me explain. We played on at least three different fields at Cortland – their old grass football field, their grass soccer field, and their turf field… never won a game on any of them... barely had a close game on any of them... got blown off the field on all three. So how does Cortland make the list? Easy. Their facilities were always top-notch. Locker rooms, athletic trainers (for years we didn’t travel with our own), SIDs, game management, etc. – tough to beat the Red Dragons in any of these categories. But the deciding factor, above all the rest? Serving as an NCAA Site Supervisor for playoffs and standing next to College President Erik J. Bitterbaum during the games, and talking with him and listening to him cheer for the home team, and calling out players by first name. That made quite an impression on me – and it happened more than once.

4 Geneseo
See above. The rivalry is real (or a least, it was, for a long, long time). Don’t want to concede anything to the Knights, but their old, old field – the one that is now a parking lot in the middle of campus – was one of the best settings for a lacrosse game I can remember. This was back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (the field they used up until their recent turf addition was one of the very few that rivaled ours as far as being unplayable for most of the spring). But that old field, with the hill filled with students on a sunny Saturday afternoon, just a few feet from the far sideline, was a memorable setting for some great lacrosse. Geneseo lacrosse icons like Dave and Pete Fiorini, Paul Rose, Don Litzelman, and Mac Diange headline those memories…

3 Ithaca
I’ve watched just one game at Ithaca’s new turf field, but that game didn’t figure into this ranking. I’m talking about the Bombers’ old Upper Terrace Field, the site of one of Oswego State’s greatest and most memorable wins. In April 1996, a very good Oswego State team upset nationally-ranked IC on a day when snow started falling during pre-game warm-ups and only got worse as the game unfolded. Eventually, the field was covered in snow, visibility was a serious challenge, and our players… well, they enjoyed every second of it. Coach Jeff Long was gracious afterwards and assured me that his squad didn’t lose because of the weather; they lost because we were the better team. I’ll never forget that day, that game, or his words.

2 SU’s Carrier Dome
Unless the weather outside is miserable (and admittedly, it often is), I don’t think the Carrier Dome is an especially great lacrosse venue (remember the hot, sweaty NCAA championships in ‘88 and ‘91?). However, I’ve got to admit that if you have ever had the opportunity to coach or watch from the sidelines, it’s pretty impressive. Oswego State actually had a closed pre-season scrimmage against SU in either ‘89 or ‘90, and that gave me my first taste of Dome lacrosse – but then LeMoyne and Oswego managed to schedule two doubleheader games with SU and Rutgers, in ‘93 and again in ‘95, and those official games were amazing. We lost to Rob Didio’s Dolphins in OT in ‘93, and then avenged that loss with a win in regulation two years later. It felt great to not worry about dressing for the weather; I could get spoiled there real quick!

1 Cornell’s Schoellkopf Field
I’ve watched high school championships, NCAA playoffs, The Empire State Games (I think), and Big Red home games at “the crescent,” and I was fortunate enough to work at Richie Moran’s lacrosse camps for about ten years, too, when we used Schoellkopf as home base for each week of instruction. It’s a beautiful field, with iconic architecture, and the view from up there is hard to beat. And I coached the Lakers there a few ties, too. Back in the early ‘90s, we used to scrimmage Cornell’s B-squad to prepare for our spring season, and the games were usually pretty competitive. The highlight was when, in one particularly close scrimmage, I was stunned to see Coach Moran appear on the Cornell sideline late in the game – he wasn’t a spectator; he was rolling his sleeves up and going to work! Certainly a career highlight! Throw in associated road trip stories – the infamous missed left-hand turn that brought us back near Auburn, Butch’s car catching fire on its way to Ithaca, and others, and this one easily deserves its #1 spot.

I’m sure ten different lacrosse fans/parents/coaches/players would have ten different favorites of their own, so take this with a grain of salt. If anything, whether you agree with any of my picks or not, I hope this week’s trip down Memory Lane made you think a bit…

What would your top ten list look like?

Whoa – keep your eyes on the road while you reminisce. Drive safely everyone, 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.