Road Trip Dad - Can We Really Have
a November Without a Tully Cornfield Classic?
Dan Witmer | November 2, 2020
I suppose I could ask the same question and fill in Lake Placid, or the 1812 Shootout, or any number of annual lacrosse tournaments we’ve all come to know and love, but the Tully Cornfield Classic, which began in 2005, has established itself as THE must-see/must-play/must-be-there high school lacrosse tournament in Upstate New York.

Think about it – 30 or 40 high school teams, with virtually no club or travel teams – just hundreds of kids playing for their own high school colors and their own high school coaches. No win/loss records, no championships, no MVPs or all-star teams. Just my school against your school, for perhaps the only day of lacrosse all fall. Fall sport athletes are mostly done with their seasons, and winter sport athletes often start formal basketball, hockey, or wrestling practices two days after the Tully games.

The calendar placement seems to be perfect; NCAA coaches are done with fall ball and show up from every corner of the college map. Clocks will soon fall back and we lose another hour of precious afternoon daylight, so we’ve gotten accustomed to the Tully Tournament ushering us into the long, dark, Upstate winters.

I’ve written about the Cornfield Classic as recently as 2017. Since starting this RTD business back in 2012, the Tully Tournament has become sort of an RTD tradition as well. When new material is in short supply after the fall lacrosse season, Tully has consistently given me at least one more week of good, solid, content.

Here is an excerpt from that November 2017 RTD blog:

You remember this exchange in Kevin Costner’s 1989 classic  Field of Dreams, right? (if you don’t, you need to see the movie again):

John Kincella: “Is this heaven?”

Ray Kincella: “No, this is Iowa.”

Well, on Saturday afternoon I knew I was in Tully, NY for the 13th annual Cornfield Classic, but that didn’t stop me from thinking about Field of Dreams. For this old-school, veteran coach, player, parent, writer, and referee, the fields at Tully High School were about as good as it gets.

It’s easy to spread superlatives all around – Lake Placid, Nova Scotia, Six Nations, the Onondaga Reservation (and that’s just since August) – but there’s something distinctly special about 12 fields filled with (mostly) high school teams from Albany to Buffalo, the Pennsylvania border to Canada. The first games faced-off at 8 AM; the last ones started at 4 PM.

I won’t rant about club or travel teams vs. high school teams. Suffice it to say that the fields at Tully were packed with high school coaches coaching their own high school teams.

Like I said, old-school.

This was the 13th edition of the Cornfield Classic. My memory isn’t perfect, but I know I’ve attended most of them. I think I had perfect attendance while I was coaching at Oswego State, which would have covered Classics 2005-2009. In ’10 and ’11 I might have helped Oswego HS head coach Doc Nelson coach the Bucs, but I’m not certain. In 2012, I think, the event was a casualty of Super Storm Sandy, as rain-soaked fields were deemed unplayable. In ’13 and ’14, I might have helped Doc out again, but in 2015 I know I missed because I was on my memorable trip to Australia. I was there last year, so now I’ve got a two-year attendance streak to my name… The weather, you ask? Absolutely perfect! There have been numerous years when cold temps and frost or snow greeted us as we got of our vehicles. This year, I didn’t even put on my sweatshirt. Or gloves. Or long-johns. Or winter hat. That’s how nice the weather was!

(Although, I gotta be honest – a number of our Oswego players were complaining about how cold it was. Many of them wore hoodies under their pinnies, which we try to discourage every chance we get. Lots wore “leggings,” or whatever you call those things that everyone wears these days but we never did. I even saw kids using rubber surgical gloves to keep their hands warm… Pardon my French, but I called our kids “wussies” – and I meant it. “Are you cold when you play hockey?” I asked them. “Yes,” they replied. “Then that proves my point – you’re wussies! I play ice hockey wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and I’m never cold. I’ve never played hockey in a rink that was so cold I didn’t sweat.” The kids looked at me like I was some sort of super-human, or maybe sub-human, freak).

Sigh.

Parking might have been worse than ever; having our first game at 1 PM probably was a factor, but we ended up parking out on the street on the far side of Tully Elementary School. I suppose we could have created our own parking space, as many others seemed to be doing, but Doc took the high road and found a good spot about 54,000 steps away from our destination. Good thing we got there early!

Having three high school referees on every field was awesome! I mean, the majority of Section III boys’ varsity games don’t even have three officials! Sure, we had a few odd calls, like being told to keep the ball in the offensive box for the final two minutes – of the first half! – but that official admitted his mistake and was sincerely apologetic. No problem here; it’s November, and few officials – or players or coaches, for that matter – can be expected to be in spring mode. Overall, the officiating was great.

And to borrow another line from  Field of Dreams… “if you build it, they will come.” Cornfield Classic Tournament Director Bill Hardy has built an iconic fall tournament, and college coaches have recognized its quality since its very first year. The tournament website lists more than 110 college coaches in attendance this year, and I’m certain there were more than that. I don’t know if coaches are looking at freshmen, sophomores, juniors, or seniors, but the prospects were all there, playing together with their high school teammates, regardless of graduation year, probably playing roles they will be playing come spring. There’s a rare beauty in that… Field of Dreams, Either way you look at the Tully Tournament – as the end, or as a beginning, it’s a great day, a great experience for everyone involved. Hats off to Bill for another classic Classic – we’ll see you again next year!

Since 2005, in characteristic, man-of-many-hats RTD fashion, I’ve gone to the Tully Tournament as a college coach, a parent, and a high school coach, and I’ve never been disappointed.

As a college coach, having all 12 fields on the same site is uncommon and greatly appreciated. With minimal advance work, it’s not difficult to see dozens of particular players over the course of the day. Since later games aren’t dependent on wins or losses, coaches can map out their day and know that the schedule isn’t going to change. And seeing kids playing with their high school teams, and for their high school coaches, gives a more accurate picture of a player’s role(s), skills, and personality.

As a lacrosse parent (which overlapped the same years as being a college coach), I was able to watch my sons play with the same teammates they would be competing with the following spring, for the same coaches. And I’ll be honest – I could also look at prospects on the other sideline, too. Two birds, one stone. It was no coincidence that the Oswego State roster had more representatives from Oswego High School’s league rivals than the other Section III conferences. As a high school coach (and in the past ten years or so, I’ve been a volunteer assistant, head JV, and assistant varsity coach), this was, as I stated above, both the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end – the end of the summer practices and tournaments, and the beginning of the spring season that would begin once the snow cleared.

Look, in the past week alone we have lost Jerry Jeff Walker, Sean Connery, Travis Roy, and Spencer Davis. We survived Halloween, the blue moon, the clocks falling back an hour, another NY Jets debacle, and even – dare I say it – a Presidential campaign like no other, so I guess, yes, we can make it through a November without the Tully Cornfield Classic.

It just doesn’t feel the same.

Drive carefully, everyone. Stay safe, stay smart, and stay kind – and if you haven’t done so already… please vote.

Thanks for reading.

- 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.