Road Trip Dad - Least Favorite College Lacrosse Venues in Upstate New York
Dan Witmer | November 16, 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.’”

I opened with these song lyrics last week, and they still apply. From St. Bonaventure and Medaille (and I forgot about games at Buff State, UB, and one of my favorite venues, the University of Rochester’s Fauver Stadium from way back in the day) to Potsdam, Clarkson, Canton, SLU, and Plattsburgh, and then south to Hartwick and Oneonta, and virtually everywhere in between, I’ve been there.

Yes, I’m going to risk making some real enemies this week, but hopefully everyone will remember that these picks are based solely on my personal experiences – wins and losses, good times and bad. I mean, of course RIT is going to be on the list – my 28 Oswego State teams never won there (or at home against the Tigers!). I’m deliberately not calling these sites “the worst” or anything like that – I’m simply saying they’re my least favorite and encouraging readers to think about their own favorites or least favorites.

At first I thought I’d try to use the old “teacher’s sandwich” strategy of saying something nice, then something critical, and then something nice again, so as not to infuriate anyone. But when I was done writing this, I realized that I hadn’t exactly followed that formula (I had trouble with that technique in the classroom, too). But like I just said – if nothing else, I hope these two RTD blogs will make you readers think about your own personal lists – and it’s perfectly OK if Oswego State is included (I’d be surprised if it wasn’t!).

Honorable Mention
A collective thumbs down to the sites I thought of as “steel cage matches” – fields that were enclosed by high fences on all four sides, usually because they were in the middle of campus, traffic, or surrounding neighborhoods. I’m not talking about the 4’ high fences around most stadiums; I’m picturing the enclosures at Hartwick, Elmira, RIT (their Feb/March field, not their April/May field), and even McCooey Field at Hobart/William Smith.

Of course, our W-L record at those sites are admittedly hard to ignore. We seldom (if ever) won at Hartwick , where that cursed group of fans with the big drum would perch right behind our bench; you couldn’t hear yourself think, and there was nothing anyone could do about it! And back in the day, before Oneonta had their own turf, games against the Red Dragons would sometimes get re-scheduled for Hartwick’s field, sometimes at the last minute. We were always grateful to get the games in, but the logistical scrambling was stressful, especially when I had to take time off from work, write lesson plans for subs, etc.

We never won at RIT , although everyone who was there the cold, cold day in March back around 2007 or so still talks about the NFL-grade heaters blasting the lucky guys on the sidelines. I also scouted games there, and watched a few cold and snowy Brockport games, too, and the small sections of icy cold bleachers offered no relief. I usually chose to stand.

We won at Elmira more often than we lost, but there was a frustrating ECAC loss there to Oneonta in 2000 that sticks in my head. And another time when our starting goalie’s thumb got broken in warm-ups (actually, that might have been the same game).

And we went 1-1 at McCooey , with a high-scoring, shootout loss to Alfred in ’04 and then a close nail-biter win over Keuka in ’09 or so. Still, one was played in the cold and the other was played in the rain, so my lasting memories include a shivering cringe or two.

#3 Alfred University
My first-ever trip to AU was to scout an opponent who was playing the Saxons. I checked my map (this was in the ‘80s) and headed out for a 7 o’clock face-off. I drove roads I had never traveled before, and I honestly recall thinking that I would soon see signs for the Ohio border.

With the exception of one memorable road trip to St. Bonaventure in ’93, any games at Alfred constituted our second-longest in-state bus trip (see Plattsburgh, below). We didn’t make the trip often, and maybe that’s why we never found a go-to restaurant or favorite place to feed the team after our games. I remember buying a whole pizza for myself at a Hornell pizzeria on a more recent scouting trip, and after a big ECAC win in ’96, we settled for a celebratory dinner at a Burger King. Yes, these things go into consideration when making this list.

Alfred’s turf had the reputation for years as having “no bounce,” and the consensus among other teams was that no one really liked playing there. Officiating (back in the day, not anytime recent!!!) seemed to be more of a crapshoot than usual, and the trip was just disdained in general.

We lost an ECAC game there in ’95, and we still laugh about the hecklers who taunted pony-tailed Chad Longway all game long. He and his teammates got their vengeance the following year, knocking off the nationally-ranked Saxons in the first round of the ’96 ECAC tournament and eliminating them from consideration for the NCAA tournament.

We lost at Alfred again in ’08, I believe, when the flu hit our team hard and we only had about 16 players cleared to play. And I didn’t exactly enjoy my Road Trip Dad excursions driving down there each March only to watch my sons’ team lose to AU in their traditional season-opener (I think Brockport went 0-4 while Eric was playing, and one of those years he had to sit out, suspended for one game, delegated to filming the game instead of suiting up. Not exactly great lax-dad or RTD material… but there is a great story behind susension!).

#2 Plattsburgh
I think the drive to Plattsburgh is even longer than the one to Olean, and unlike most of the other SUNYAC teams, our AD denied our requests for an overnight. I think it’s a five-hour trip. The very first time we went, we made the mistake of taking Rt. 3 from Watertown, which is great during the summer, but not so much in March or April. On our return trip, we got stuck behind a snowplow during a snowstorm, and we got back to campus in the middle of the night. Then we started taking Rt.11 “over the top of New York,” as I used to describe it. With that route, you get to see Malone and Dannemora, which is pretty exciting. In 2010, my last year coaching (coincidentally?), we snuck an overnight trip into our budget; it was our last game of the year, and we were coming off a big home win against the Cards in 2009, so I wanted to give the Lakers their best shot. Unfortunately, our bus driver insisted we take the Thruway to Albany and then the Northway up to Platty; we didn’t get into our hotel rooms till after midnight, and lost miserably the next day.

Since we started playing on Plattsburgh’s turf field (2003?), we lost every game up there. The trip was generally dreaded by all. Their fans were loud and, well, let’s just say, rather “unsportsmanlike,” and they were right behind our bench – I mean, mere feet away. Someone will probably smile proudly when I admit that we didn’t like to play there.

We never settled into a favorite post-game meal site, and in the final years we resorted to having pizzas delivered to the bus so we could get back on the road.

#1 Oneonta
Like Plattsburgh, we never won a game on Oneonta’s All College Field and Track. We won frequently on their old grass field, which was one of the few fields that rivaled Oswego’s as being the worst in the Northern Hemisphere. How bad was it? Its corners had puddles of standing water filled with rotting leaves from the previous fall, which made for some memorably entertaining ground ball battles.

But that “new” turf field – we just couldn’t win there. We blew a late lead and lost in OT. Another year, our all-conference F-O guy believed he couldn’t win draws on that field. Another time, our goalie asked me to ask their coach and SID if they could leave the scoreboard blank where it read “saves.” They were in our head, and it showed.

My in-laws lived down in that direction, so I always invited them to our Hartwick and Oneonta games. We seldom won, and there ultimately came a year when my players asked me not to tell them about our games. They thought the in-laws were bringing us bad luck, but it wasn’t the in-laws…

Oneonta is home to Brooks BBQ, of course, one of Upstate NY’s finest. Laker teams knew that, win or lose, they were always going to get one of the best road trip post-game meals of the year. But in one of my last years coaching, even that became a problem – Oswego players actually complained about the food, about the time we’d spend there, and came the closest to mutiny I’d ever experienced. That might have been the same year we had a bus with no A/C and no working video system, on an 80-degree day…

The old locker room we were assigned to – on the right side of the road as you drove into campus – was one of my least favorites. There was no space big enough to address the whole team (I do remember having everyone meet in the showers), and it was never secured during the game, so we had to take all our belongings back to the vans, bus, or sideline.

Finally, and I guess a common theme here is distance, but there’s just no easy, fast way to get from Oswego to Oneonta. I had my back-road route I used to take to get to the in-laws, but bus drivers preferred going down I-81 all the way to Binghamton and then come back up I-88. In one of the earlier years, before we used charter coaches, we drove three 15-passenger vans (with two vans driven by student-athletes) and got separated before we hit Syracuse. No maps, no cell phones, no GPS – and for some reason, we didn’t even break out the CB radios that day – and the three vans got there at three different times (one just minutes before face-off). We discovered later that we had taken three completely different routes. Scary stuff, especially considering all the things that could have gone wrong.

So there you have it; hope I didn’t make any (new) enemies out there. Again – this is my list of bad memories and experiences; please consider making your own (and be sure to spell Oswego correctly, lest you anger the good, innocent people of Owego, Otsego, Otego, or Oswegatchie).

Finally, I got some feedback from Laker alumni about last week’s “Favorites” list, and it was fun to read their memories and highlights. I’d be disappointed if I didn’t hear more after this week’s.

In the meantime, drive safely, stay safe, stay smart, and stay kind. Thanks.

- 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.