At first I didn’t want to write about the cancellation of all the things we love about the month of March… NCAA’s March Madness, the NHL’s playoff push, more and more D-I lacrosse on TV, the D-II, D-III, JUCO, and scholastic lacrosse seasons, the pro leagues, and, yes, even the hype and excitement that comes with the approach of MLB’s Opening Day. But it seems like everyone else beat me to the punch, and those stories were already being written, by better writers than me.
To be honest, my initial reaction to those commiserating with the unfortunate and devastated college student-athletes having their senior season taken away from them was almost unsympathetic – there they go again, those privileged kids whining about their lost opportunities to play a sport, a game (“When I
was in college, I missed my
senior year, due to mono… and I
got over it…”) – but as the days passed, I found myself feeling more empathetic… however, I found that I felt for the coaches, more than their team members.
As coaches, we’re supposed to have all the answers. We’re supposed to be leaders, among many other things. College coaches recruit prized prospects, make promises to their players’ parents about taking care of them, and constantly try to sell their philosophy and program to their kids.
I don’t envy their job this past week. Student-athletes who had bought in, committed hours and lifestyle to their sport, put their trust in their coaches, and done all the right things, were denied their just rewards. I’m not talking about league or national championships, or even a starting role on the man-up team. We’re talking about the opportunity to experience the vitality of being part of a team, and to merely practice and play.
How do you explain that to a 20-year old?
I’ve read a number of great articles this past week written by an array of voices – student-athletes, coaches, parents of college athletes, former student-athletes, sports commentators, etc. I don’t know that I have much to add, except this: the cancellation of college lacrosse – and sports in general – this week was not
the worst thing that happened.
No, the real tragedy this past week was the inexplicable loss of some of our teammates, co-workers, teammates, brothers, sisters, and friends.
Overshadowed by the national picture and headlines, the local lacrosse community lost at least five irreplaceable, treasured resources – three college players, a referee who was much more than that, and an iconic sideline support person – all five far too young. Two women’s lacrosse players from Mount Olive were killed in a car accident, a LeMoyne junior from Auburn died suddenly, Ed Bynoe passed away after suffering a stroke, and Cornell athletic trainer Jim Case died after a heart attack on Saturday. I didn’t know the student-athletes, but Ed was my officiating partner in the very first lacrosse game I ever refereed in 2016, and Jimmy and I first met around 1990 when I started working the Cornell Lacrosse Camp, and most recently he served as the head trainer for several Summit Lacrosse Ventures tournaments, including the biggest of them all, the Lake Placid Summit Classic.
Some of the articles about the lost college sports season talked about the importance of appreciating each and every day, and playing and practicing every day like it’s your last. Well, in light of these five deaths this past week, yes, we definitely need to remember – and treasure – the value of life, friendships, and how we treat one another.
Our lacrosse circles spread wider and wider with every year; we meet and re-meet friends, teammates, opponents, coaches, and officials time and time again. And then we learn of tragedies… illnesses, accidents, and other unexpected losses. And we hurt because we loved…
So now what, you might ask? Well if this wonderful healing game has taught us anything, if playing sports has taught us any of the life lessons we all proclaim they do, then there’s really just one path – it’s time for us to step up and be good teammates.
How? Easy – shift into what author Lance Loya describes as The WE Gear
(Cager Haus 2019).
Call a friend. Talk; don’t text.
Visit an elderly neighbor. Offer to shop for them, or cook for them.
Watch a neighbor’s children for an hour while he/she runs some errands, or longer so they don’t have to pay for childcare while they go to work.
Write a letter to a relative.
Support a local charity; volunteer an hour or two at a program like Blessings in a Backpack, which helps feed schoolchildren when their schools are closed.
Yes, we can withdraw and self-quarantine. You could binge watch some series you’ve always wanted to watch. You could read a book or two. I plan to take my dog for more walks than ever and tackle that pile of unread books I’ve been staring at.
But, indeed, like John Donne wrote in 1623, “no man is an island.” We need to help our teammates, and let them help us. The games and practices might have been cancelled, but the team still exists – the literal one, with maybe 30-45 teammates, and the figurative one, with millions.
I worry a little about widespread depression. And anxiety. Maybe even panic. I worry about those having to adapt to distance learning – both the teachers as well as the students. But the answer is right in front of our faces.
There’s no need for panic; we all know what to do. We’ve been preparing for this for a long, long time. Our teachers, our coaches… they taught us the lessons we need to put into practice now. It’s time for us to help others, to follow the health directives coming from our leaders and experts, and most importantly, to always remember the Golden Rule. We’ve all been taught how and when to follow, and how and when to lead.
Young, old, male, female, yes, even Democrat and Republican… we’re all on the same team now. It’s time to come together – maybe in honor and memory of those we lost this past week – but it’s time to show what kind of good teammates we each can be.
Drive carefully. Be safe. Be kind.
- Dan Witmer
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.