Road Trip Dad – Lacrosse and
St. Baldrick's - and a Challenge
for the 585
Dan Witmer | February 17, 2020
I was introduced to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation by one of my former Oswego State players.

The first group of people I raised money for life-saving childhood cancer research with was the 2007 Laker Lacrosse team. The captains had listened to the alum’s presentation and agreed to get behind the cause. They did most of the planning, and a few months later, approximately 30 heads were shaved in the back room of the VFW, and the team raised just over $11,000. We were pretty proud of ourselves.

Since then, we’ve changed the venue – twice – to accommodate a bigger crowd. We’ve been supported by a group of “hockey moms” who have taken our efforts to another level. Local first responders, like the Oswego County Sheriffs, the New York State Police, both Oswego and Fulton firefighters, and the Fulton Police, have not only participated, but have often been some of our top fundraisers. We went from $11,000 to $17,000, to $24,000, to $29,000, to $72,000. Then we had three years of $90,000+. All told, over 13 years, we’ve raised more than $770,000.

And so here I am today, making plans for the 14th Annual St. Baldrick’s Day in Oswego County fundraiser, set for Sunday, March 29… and one of the common threads running through all our years has been the help and support from the lacrosse community.

You know it as well as I do – lacrosse people are good people. They’re loyal, and they’re committed. “And that,” as Robert Frost tells us, “has made all the difference.”

The first four years of our event, the Laker lacrosse team did most of the work. Each year, more and more of the team shaved (it was never mandatory), and each year they raised more and more money. As cliché as it might sound, it was an excellent team-builder and, for the team captains especially, a great resume-builder.

When a new head coach took over in 2011, most of the team opted out. Still, I was gratified to see some of the upper-classmen continue to shave. That’s what I mean about good people – those guys were loyal and committed.

In a curious turn of events, when the NCAA Lakers withdrew their team efforts, suddenly the club team at Oswego State stepped up. I’m not sure I even knew any of those guys, but they were all in and helped us increase our fundraising totals.

See what I mean? Lacrosse people are the best; it doesn’t matter if they’re D-III or club-level players.

After a few years, the club team dropped out. One of their own alums was battling cancer himself, and the team wanted to raise money for his specific cause. I couldn’t think of a better reason to no longer participate in our St. Baldrick’s event.

When Drew Bezek was hired as the new head coach in the winter of 2014-2015, he heard about our annual event and pledged the team’s support once again. Doing what good leaders do, he signed up as a shavee himself, and the Lakers were back. And they’ve stayed the course; this spring will be their sixth year shaving and raising money. Last year their fundraising team – including three coaches – raised over $6,300. On their own, the team has also arranged “St. Baldrick’s Nights” at Oswego’s Fajita Grill (owned by a lacrosse guy, coincidentally) and YoBerry, and the team also volunteers to assist at the event itself.

See what I mean?

But I’m just getting started…

Jason Hawthorne was a four-time all-league midfielder for us, graduating in 2002. He also played in the North/South Game and is still Oswego State’s lone USILA Scholar All-American. He left Oswego five years before anyone had heard of St. Baldrick’s…

And yet today he is a social studies teacher in the ES-M school district, leading a group of students in their own local St. Baldrick’s fundraiser. Instead of jumping through all the hoops that go with event registration, Team ES-M simply registers as a fundraising team for our event. They often raise about $1,000, which is awesome – lots of great lessons being taught in the process.

But something special is happening at ES-M this year. In just two weeks, they’ve got more involvement than usual and their total is already $1500 – and we’re still six weeks away from the event! Oh, and lacrosse? I recognize some of the individual participants as varsity lacrosse players.

Am I surprised? Hardly. Am I grateful? You bet! Go Spartans!

And last year, Laker alums circa 1991-1992 joined our event – they left campus 15 years before the first St. Baldrick’s shave. But one of them was battling cancer himself, and he was told his treatment protocol was one derived from childhood cancer research, so he pledged his support. In a matter of hours, his former teammates rallied around him, and together they raised over $10,000.

Then there was the ’89 Laker alum – his youngest son was battling cancer, but he still reached out and offered to raise money for our event. For the past two years, his individual and team totals have been among our highest. Sure enough, he has registered his Team #22 group for this year’s event. While his own son is in and out of school, in and out of the hospital, he and his family, teammates, friends, and neighbors continue to support the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.

Even closer to home, I am proud to brag that my own two sons – who are 100% lacrosse people if there ever were – have supported the cause as well. Eric first shaved when he was still in high school. Both went to SUNY Brockport and they started an annual St. Baldrick’s event on that campus. That was back in 2012 and 2013, I believe. These days, with Brian in the Czech Republic and Eric in Denver, they continue their support. Brian’s 2018 shave in between box lacrosse games at the AHM in Radotin collected hundreds, and Eric has participated in a large St. Baldrick’s event in the Mile-High City for the past few years.

I haven’t exactly kept track, but I know that the men’s lacrosse teams at both SUNY Plattsburgh and SUNY Morrisville have participated in St. Baldrick’s fundraisers.

Like I said, lacrosse people… it’s what they do.

So, what’s this about Rochester?

Well, there’s an annual St. Baldrick’s event in Victor, too, but for some reason its organizers don’t seem to get much (if any) love from lacrosse people (that I know of) – and I’d like to try to do something about that.

Lynne and Randy Stiefler have hosted a St. Baldrick’s event at Finn’s Tap Room (formerly Mickey Finn’s) in Victor for the past nine years or so. To my knowledge, it’s the biggest St. Baldrick’s fundraiser in the Rochester area; it’s certainly the longest-running event in the 585 area code.

They get support from the Bills, the Sabres, the Amerks, and the Red Wings – and the Knighthawks (of course!). Mascots from the pro teams make an appearance, as well as other kids’ favorite characters from Grease Paint Alley Clowns, Inc. The Gates Keystone Club Pipes and Drums come and open the day’s event with an impressive show of sound and color.

I’ve attended Lynne and Randy’s event the past two years, even shaved my head a second time and helped raise more funds. But as I looked around Finn’s, I didn’t see a lacrosse presence.

So here’s my proposal:
How about some Section V lacrosse teams get behind this? It could be a youth team, a modified team, JV, or Varsity. The coach could agree to shave if his team raises a certain sum – or maybe an assistant coach, or a team parent. Or maybe the captains of a team shave, and the rest of the team raises money. Or maybe the whole team decides to “Brave the Shave.” Or maybe Webster challenges Penfield, or maybe Brockport vs. Spencerport, or Irondequoit vs. Victor. Travel or club teams could do this, too. Imagine SweetLax vs. 3d. Wow.

Or college teams. St. John Fisher vs. Nazareth, Brockport vs. Geneseo… rivalries could take on a whole new look!

Teams could show up in person to support the Brave the Shave/Rock the Bald at Finn’s Tap Room event on Sunday, April 19 – or they could do like the ES-M team, register as a fundraising team, hold their own private shaving ceremony, and simply forward their proceeds to the event.

Maybe no one needs to even shave his head. The Stieflers have also set up fundraising nights at Rochester-area restaurants. What if the Pittsford Varsity or the Fairport JV decided to go as a team and know that a percentage of their bill was being donated to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation? Good food, good turnout, good times…good cause!

Interested?

Here are some of your dining options:

Buffalo Wild Wings (Greece) – through April
Uno’s Pizzeria & Grill (Henrietta) – week of March 15-21
Uno’s Pizzeria & Grill (Webster) – week of March 22-28
Tully’s Good Times (Henrietta) – March 31

C’mon, Flower City – you’re bigger than Syracuse, and yet the 315 hosts several annual St. Baldrick’s events (the Kitty Hoynes fundraiser in downtown Syracuse is one of the biggest in the world!). And there’s certainly no shortage of good-old, salt-of-the-earth lacrosse people in your neck of the woods, either.

To register, to donate, or for more information on the Victor event at Finn’s Tap Room on April 19, go to https://www.stbaldricks.org/events/RocktheBald2020.

And for my readers in Albany, Buffalo, Binghamton, and even Utah – don’t let geography stop you from getting involved. There are events all over the Capital region (and even more downstate). And if there isn’t, you can still support the cause – start your own event, or become a “satellite” fundraising team for someone else’s event.

I’ve written frequently about the necessities and benefits of community service; in my opinion, any and all athletic teams should do something to give back, to help others. There’s strength in numbers, and you’d be surprised how many cans and bottles can be collected, how many meals can be ordered, how many dollars raised by a group of 20-30 lacrosse players and their families. Athletics help teach life lessons, we all claim, and I can’t think of too many that are more important than service to others. And who doesn’t know a child or family affected by cancer?

Curious? Interested? Please contact me – or the St. Baldrick’s Foundation at www.stbaldricks.org – anytime. The Oswego event is on March 29, and the Victor fundraiser is on April 19, but fundraising happens all year long.

C’mon, 585 – whatcha got? Help us take childhood back from cancer.

Thanks for reading. Please drive carefully.

- 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.