Road Trip Dad – Marked Safe From … 50-degree Temps In Florida
Dan Witmer | February 10, 2020
Thanks for your concern, readers – but I’m OK. I made it.

You see, while you were inside the temperature-controlled Carrier Dome on Friday, checking out the latest edition of the Syracuse Orange lacrosse team(s), I was outside watching a lacrosse game.

Outside? Like, outdoors? On February 7? To watch a college lacrosse game? Where?

In Lakeland, thankfully.

No, not the strange and mysterious Lakeland that sits off of 690 somewhere near the New York State Fairgrounds (I’ve always wondered about this Lakeland... there’s no Lakeland school district, there are no other signs for Lakeland on any other roads I’ve ever driven, and I don’t think I’ve ever mailed anything to anyone with a Lakeland address… yet there it is – somewhere…)

No, not the Lakeland that’s down in the Westchester County area, either. Lakeland Panas High School is the alma mater of guys like SU’s Ric Beardsley, Jimmy Eagan, Jeff Scheussler, and Sean Lindsay, Nazareth’s Ed Geary and Rich Pierponte, and Oswego State’s own John “Chicken Hawk” Patrey ‘92. But nope, not that Lakeland, either…

And, for the sake of geographical awareness, I also was not in Lakeland, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, or Virginia (hats off to Google!).

No, I was in Lakeland, Florida, as any faithful RTD reader would have figured out by now. It’s February, so I’m on my annual winter trip to visit my parents; I’m sending this your way from the home of the Lakeland HS Dreadnaughts, the winter training site of the Detroit Tigers, and where Publix founder George W. Jenkins started his first grocery store.

Lakeland is also home of Florida Southern College, famous for its buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. FSC is also home of the Mocs – short for Moccasins – and its 22 varsity sports, including men’s and women’s water ski, and women’s beach volleyball. The athletics website also lists club sports – esports, equestrian, and ice hockey.

The Mocs’ men’s lacrosse team is coached by Marty Ward, the first lacrosse player inducted into Corcoran HS’s Athletic Hall of Fame, a member of the 2006, 2010, and 2014 Iroquois National Teams, and more recently, an assistant coach for the Iroquois Nationals. Coach Ward was also a two-time All-American goalie at Limestone College. In most of the ten years I’ve been visiting Lakeland in the month of February, I’ve visited FSC practices, gone to home and away games, and chatted with Coach Ward about Upstate NY, Florida, and most everything in between.

So while the White-Out Triangle (comprised of Fulton, Oswego, and Hannibal, connected by State Route 104, I-481, and State Route 3 – where things also disappear, but are found again when the snow melts in April, or May) had consecutive snow days on Thursday and Friday, much of Oswego County was under a no unnecessary travel advisory, and Oswego State cancelled classes on Friday, I was deciding whether to wear shorts or jeans to my first college lacrosse game of 2020.

There’s something to be said for Florida…

The dashboard read 59 degrees when I made the five-minute drive to the Mocs’ new on-campus stadium (could have made it in four, but I got stuck at the one traffic light between here and there). The Barnett Athletic Complex has a beautiful grass soccer/lacrosse field (that looked like turf), and seating that actually allows fans to watch the game in bleachers that are less than ten yards from the sideline.

The Mocs were opening the 2020 season against the Lions of Molloy College, who were also playing their first game of the season. I grew up just minutes away from Molloy, located in Rockville Centre, on Long Island, but I think it was primarily a nursing school back then; I don’t think they had any athletics back in the ‘70s.

The game presented plenty of contrasts. Molloy had 31 players listed on its roster, every one of its players from Long Island high schools. The Mocs had a roster listing 59 players, from 16 different states, including seven from Long Island and three more from what I’ll call Upstate (West Genesee, Columbia, and Guilderland high schools). Fans were dressed in an array of options – I saw parkas, and I saw shorts and bare midriffs; I saw sandals, and I saw boots. Temperatures dropped slightly during the course of the game, and the concessions stand would have made a killing if they had had hot chocolate on their menu.

The game was entirely lop-sided in the first half. Molloy scored its first goal on a man-up situation in the first quarter to make the score 2-1, but then the Mocs dominated the rest of the half, leading 11-1 after 30 minutes; I don’t think the Lions won a face-off in either quarter.

There were some first-game-of-the-season glitches – I swear I saw the shot clock re-set to 90 a few times (instead of 80), and the three officials seemed to get together to confer on far too many calls. The one problem with the shot clock is who the operator is – is it a student who’s never seen a lacrosse game trying to learn how to do it for the first time, or it a game-day intern who knows the game and does that job all season long? On one occasion, the shot clock read 70-something, and the refs told the operator to set it at 5. Maybe it was the only way to do so, but the operator ran the clock down for over a minute to set it at 5; when the refs put the ball in play, the offensive team threw the ball into the corner to avoid the violation.

“We waited a minute for that?” asked a parent standing nearby.

To the Lions’ credit, they made some adjustments in the second half, had a pole or two take face-offs, and the visitors won the third quarter 2-1. The fourth quarter was a little more entertaining, as both teams went toe-to-toe and exchanged goals. Final score: 18-8.

On Saturday, while the Hobart Statesmen were kicking off their 2020 season in their new indoor facility, the forecast down here was for warmer weather, so I wavered between wearing jeans or shorts. I went with shorts, but took the jeans with me – just in case. Tampa was kicking off its season with a home game against Queens University of Charlotte (NC). Queens was already 1-0 after beating Lynn the weekend before. Rankings-wise, it was the #5 Spartans hosting the #14 Royals…

I’ve written about Tampa home games before, and it seems like they always have something new and clever with their game-day ops. This year they played the Dragnet theme as opponents headed to the penalty box, and as the PA announcer stated the actual foul, the distinctive “doink-doink” sound effect from Law and Order (also referred to as the “dun dun sound” in a Google search) was timed perfectly. The whole crowd laughed. Very cute.

This game suffered none of the maladies of Friday night’s game; the shot clock seemed accurate, the officials did a better job, and the game was fairly close most of the way. Unfortunately for the visitors, however, it seemed like every time they got close – within three or four goals – Tampa would score again in response. An 8-5 Tampa halftime lead stretched to 12-5, I believe, but Queens hung in there and battled till the end. The final score was 14-10.

Looking through the Queens roster (43 players), I saw just four New Yorkers, all of them from Upstate high schools – East Syracuse-Minoa, Cicero-North Syracuse, Rome Free Academy, and Maine-Endwell. But it was an assistant coach’s name that jumped off the page…

Tyler Hall played high school lacrosse at Central Square, then college ball at LeMoyne, and then served as an assistant coach at Oswego State for a few years, including last year. This year he wasn’t there in the fall, and I had forgotten where Coach Bezek said he went. But there I was looking at the names of the Queens assistants, and the last name listed was Tyler Hall…

Could it be?

I went over to the railing closest to the Queens bench as the teams warmed up, and sure enough, there was Coach Hall, warming up his starting goalie. I waited till he was finished, and called out to him. He turned, looked up to see who was yelling his name, and the look on his face when he saw me was, well, entertaining, to say the least. We chatted for just a minute or two, I wished him good luck, and I settled in to watch the game, smiling and shaking my head. How many times have we all commented about the lacrosse community being a small world, after all?

For the record, Tampa had 63 players on its varsity roster, with 14 Empire State natives. With Head Coach Rory Whipple hailing from the Irondequoit HS and Cortland State – and after collegiate coaching stints at Clarkson and Hartwick – it came as no surprise that Upstate NY was very well represented, with Canisius, Pittsford, Webster-Thomas, Fairport, Liverpool, Westhill, and Jamesville-Dewitt grads outnumbering the Long Island guys.

Two games in less than 24 hours. Two wins by the Florida home teams. Two great days of February weather in Florida (although Friday was uncharacteristically chilly, and Saturday was warm and sunny enough that I got a little too much sun).

But I’m not complaining; I survived. Thanks for the concern.

For the record, not everyone had the luxury of playing indoors or down in the Sunshine State this past weekend. Marquette (in Milwaukee, WI) hosted an outdoor game with a high of 35. UMass-Lowell and Boston University were home with highs of 37. Army hosted in 36-degree weather. Michigan had a high of 31. But the coldest game played on Saturday? I think it took place in our own Upstate New York, of course – Siena won in 24-degree temperatures. And poor Vermont – their game at Jacksonville was postponed; I’m guessing they couldn’t get out of Burlington…

Next week’s itinerary – Tampa hosts Young Harris on Saturday, and I plan to re-visit Discovery HS’s team (after writing about their inaugural season last winter) as they open their season next Monday night – so I guess my next RTD won’t be out till Tuesday next week.

Until then – 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.