Road Trip Dad - A short list of good things that happened in 2020
Dan Witmer | December 28, 2020
“I've got a feeling twenty-one
Is going to be a good year
Especially if you and me
See it in together…”

“1921” by Pete Townsend

I think I can honestly say that these lyrics from The Who’s 1969 rock opera Tommy just popped into my head suddenly this past week, but I’m not going to say I was the first to make the obvious connection. A quick internet search shows that Rolling Stone already ran a brief article, and marketers are hawking apparel with these lyrics – everything from T-shirts to (what else?) face masks.

Yes, the use of these words might be a bit of a reach (the rock opera is referring to 1921, not 2021), but if we consider just these four lines, we can make it fit…. because I too have a feeling that 2021 is gonna be a good year...

For some reason, I have little interest in seeing the broad variety of “end-of-the-year” stories that seem to be everywhere at this time every year – “Top stories of the year”, “celebrities we lost this year,” “best movies/concerts/books/albums/TV shows of the year” etcetera, etcetera. And quite honestly, it might be even tougher getting excited about this year’s lists.

I mean, 2020 stunk.

Still, for some reason, I thought I’d contradict myself and popular public opinion and present the counter-argument – a short list of good things that happened in the past 12 months.

Again, I got this idea a few weeks ago, and I penciled it into the last-RTD-of-the-year slot. Since then, I’ve see similar stories and FB posts, so maybe this isn’t as clever or original as I had thought it might be a few weeks ago. But, this list is mine – my take on the subject, and, as usual, some are lacrosse-related, and others are not.

Fear not – I’ll try to keep it brief. Here we go…

1. Hey, Upstate lacrosse fans – both Syracuse and Cornell went undefeated in 2020 (remember, I’m a glass-is-half-full kind of guy). OK, so the season got canceled when the Big Red and the Orange were each 5-0, and everyone was looking forward to not only their head-to-head showdown, but also the post-season. The teams were ranked #1 and #2 in the final USIAL poll of the year. Worth smiling about…

2. Despite a dearth of pro, college, HS, and especially youth sports, we still managed somehow to see a World Series, Super Bowl, NBA title, and Stanley Cup champion crowned. All things considered, that’s kind of remarkable.

3. Similarly, we also saw abbreviated PLL and MLL 2020 seasons and championships – with pretty complete TV coverage, nonetheless. Yes, the “bubbled” seasons were short, and yes, the MLL’s final weekend fell apart unmercifully, but we got to see pro lacrosse nonetheless. That’s a win.

4. Now, in the final days of 2020, we learn that the inevitable “merger” of the two leagues has taken place. Looks like the PLL is holding all the cards, but hopefully good decisions await. Seems a shame that programs like the Chesapeake Bayhawks, New York Lizards, and Denver Outlaws (among others) may cease to exist, but hey – I’m still hoping for them to re-surface someday in the new league.

5. Let’s skip to the bigger picture for a few moments. How about a “thumbs up” and/or an “attaboy” for all the front-line workers, the doctors and nurses, paramedics and first responders, the police and firefighters, even military personnel who have sacrificed all they have to sacrifice? One result of the 9/11 tragedy was a newfound appreciation for police and firefighters; I’d like to think that 2020 has renewed and added to that kind of respect and appreciation for all those who serve to help others.

6. And while I try to avoid politics, how about recognizing the fact that, according to numerous sources, we turned out in record numbers to vote in November; good for us! 2020’s turnout of 66.5% is the highest since 1900, when it somehow reached 73.7% (FYI: according to the Washington Post, between 1840-1896, 12 out of 15 consecutive presidential elections had turnout rates over 75%, but that was before women, Asian-Americans, and many Native Americans were eligible to vote. According to the Bloomberg website, approximately 161 million votes were cast this year, the most ever (and that’s in the middle of this stinkin’ pandemic!). Good job, America!

7. On the personal side, I was introduced to technology that I had never used before. I can proudly say that, in the past year, I have conquered Face-Time and Zoom options (or, at least, survived), and I have learned how to make conference calls on my cell phone. I have also learned how to record audio and listen to podcasts. Finally, I’m now a Spotify subscriber and huge fan – and none of these statements would be very likely if it hadn’t been for COVID. So, there that.

8. I think we’re all appreciative that the NCAA been pretty generous with eligibility for its athletes – D-I through D-III – from last spring through this year. My heart goes out to college athletes and coaches – and all students and teachers in general – but at least the college student-athletes don’t have to worry about their eligibility clocks running out on them.

9. As a lacrosse Dad, I was delighted that the 2020 Menschner Cup took place back in early September. Things had pretty well stabilized in Europe by late summer, so a smaller field of teams from a half-dozen European countries gathered in Radotin, Czech Republic for this year’s iteration. I got to watch my son Brian play for the first time since last September. Even if it was on a computer screen, live-streamed, I got to see my kid play. Big highlight right there!

10. Without planning to do so, my quarantine reading list included some pretty good lacrosse books, and I’m not so sure I would have read as many different books if I didn’t have so much time on my hands. Paul Lamparski’s Paul’s Wild Ride, Dom Starsia’s I Hope You’ll Be Very Happy<, John Sardella’s A Journey Without A Map, Ron Fletcher and Tom Calder’s Lacrosse: The Ancient Game, and Thomas Vennum’s American Indian Lacrosse: Little Brother of War made for a pretty nice stew…

11. Also, while we all mourn losses both close and otherwise, I am encouraged and reassured when I see all the Facebook posts from former Hannibal students, former Oswego State Lakers and Oswego HS Bucs, friends, and relatives announcing engagements, marriages, pregnancies, and births. These are dark days, and there is plenty of pain and sorrow everywhere we look – but if we see beyond all that, there are, in fact, sunny days, beautiful sunsets, rainbows, puppies, and smiles, too. People are doing great things for others, and we should remind ourselves of that all the time.

12. Finally, maybe the best story of the year – and certainly the best lacrosse headline of 2020 – was the announcement made by Ireland Lacrosse, yielding their slot in the 2022 World Games to the Iroquois Nationals. For their act of altruism and simply “doing the right thing” (my words), Ireland Lacrosse was recently presented the annual Musial Award, which is “meant to encourage kindness, integrity and civility. Ireland will be in good company. Previous award recipients include Arnold Palmer, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Cal Ripken Jr. The Irish are the first lacrosse players to ever receive the honor” (Jeremy Redmon, US Lacrosse Magazine). Hats off and glasses raised to Mike Kennedy on behalf of Ireland Lacrosse!

We all know that it’s pretty small-minded to look at the world’s plight only as it applies to the game of lacrosse, but at the same time, you’re probably on this site because you are a lacrosse lifer – whether that means a player, a parent, a coach, or a referee. We all know that it’s “a big old goofy world” out there (a nod to John Prine), and that the health and well-being of our home town, our state, and even our country is so much more important than whether we might get to watch, play, coach, or ref our next lacrosse game.

In 2021, we can do better; we can take better care of friends, family, and even strangers.

In closing, I keep thinking about a passage I just read in Christopher McDougall’s Natural Born Heroes. The book is an interesting and eclectic combination of history, anatomy and physiology, Greek mythology, health and nutrition, and sports and exercise science, and even though I still have another 50 pages to go before I finish it, it’s been hard to get this paragraph out of my mind:

“’Be fit to be useful.’ It was brilliant, really. In those final two words, Hebert came up with a complete philosophy of life. No matter who you are, no matter what you’re seeking or hope to leave behind after your time on the planet – is there any better approach than simply be useful? ‘Here is the great duty of man to himself, his family, his homeland and to humanity,’ Hebert wrote. ‘Only the strong will prove useful in difficult circumstances of life.’”

In other words, we are here to help others.

Best wishes for a Happy and Healthy New Year. Drive carefully, of course, but stay safe, stay smart, and stay kind, too.

- 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.