Road Trip Dad - "Long may you run"
Dan Witmer | February 15, 2021
“We've been through / Some things together
With trunks of memories / Still to come
We found things to do / In stormy weather
Long may you run.”

- “Long may you run” Neil Young, 1976

A recent Facebook comment from one of my former Oswego State players prompted this collection of favorite and infamous memories. If it had been written before I published my Best of Road Trip Dad – The Laker Lacrosse Collection compilation in 2018, it definitely would have been included.

This past week, Kris Clement ’10 simply wrote, “I think it’s time for a second edition to be written!”

The first section of that first book was entitled History and Traditions, and one particular tradition I experienced, first as a player, and then upheld for years as head coach, was having the team go for long runs. By long, I mean anywhere from 3-7 miles.

My coach at Oswego State was Dr. John Spring, who was a Cortland grad with a Master’s degree from SU and a doctorate from the University of Michigan. He didn’t have a long lacrosse resume, but he knew conditioning. He was also the men’s swimming and diving coach and had coached track and field, too. In addition to distance running, he also introduced me to free weights, Universal gyms, and interval training. I probably never took the time to thank him (from all of us… Thanks, Coachman!).

The default run was simply known as “campus,” a loop around the perimeter of the SUNY Oswego grounds. We’d start and finish at Laker Hall, almost always run in a clockwise direction, and finish coming up the long hill from the President’s “Shady Shores” home to Route 104. The final quarter mile was a gentle downhill sprint back to Laker. Technically, the distance is only 2.8 miles, so we added the dreaded “Culkin loop,” which brought the total to 3.1 miles – a perfect 5-K.

Sometimes the team ran campus to start off a practice. Sometimes, due to facility restrictions and availability, a campus run was practice. Generally speaking, there was no real rhyme or reason as to when or how often we’d run, though there was a year or two when my players noticed a pattern developing in February/March pre-season practices when, on Fridays, it seemed we were always getting bounced from our Laker Hall gym practices, usually due to home basketball games or wrestling matches. My practice-planning got creative, and the guys started joking about “Freaky Fridays.” They knew to expect the unexpected. Sometimes we used the squash or racquetball courts, sometimes we ran the hallways and stairs, sometimes we ran outside, and usually – once a year – we’d jump into the pool and play our own version of water polo.

In my playing years, I also remember Coach Spring having us do stick drills in the hallways of Laker Hall. In full gear, we’d use the back stretch of the basement horseshoe to work on dodging more than anything else, which came pretty naturally in the narrow corridors. It was either dodge or get introduced to the concrete walls… hence the full pads.

But the campus run was our go-to. The weather was usually less than ideal, and it was fun to watch players dress like they were going on a month-long polar expedition. Socks on hands, ski masks, towels wrapped around necks and faces, sweats tucked into socks, work boots, even shorts over sweats (!!!). This was before God created UnderArmour, and everyone did their best hone their survival skills.

Coachman would give us our route, and then cruise the course in his blue Jeep to keep an eye on us. During my tenure, I often ran with the team (I learned quickly how that cut down on the team’s complaining about the weather… “Oh – you’re going with us?”).

Over the years, popular alternate courses included “Fallbrook” (4.1 miles), “Doc’s house” (4.0 miles) and several one-hit wonders that no one ever took the time to measure – or name.

Fallbrook was another clockwise loop that took the team out away from Laker, and away from campus. Freshmen and other newbies had no idea where they were going when they ran in this unfamiliar direction, and had no idea where they were, until the last half mile, when the view of the iconic Oswego smokestacks (aka Big Dick and Little Dick) suddenly came into view.

Of course, if there’s a long run, then there are shortcuts. It took me about seven or eight years of coaching, but I eventually learned that there was a shortcut for Fallbrook. The laziest and most desperate guys would cut through yards and swamps and cut the run down to about a mile and a half. On campus runs, players allegedly hopped the campus shuttle bus, hid in their dorms, or brazenly cut across campus. Honestly, I never caught anyone doing that but, over time, I’ve heard many confessions from the guilty.

The only time I “caught” cheaters myself was late in my career, when I had the team running campus twice a week in the mornings. I’d meet them at 6:30 at Culkin Hall, send them on the run, and then channel Coach Spring and drive around the loop before heading off to teach at Hannibal HS at 7:15. I didn’t run with them, but I probably should have. One morning I sent out a group of about 35 players, and decided to park in the health center parking lot on the back side of campus and watch them as they passed by. Well, by the time the team got to me, I counted just 20 runners. I waited for stragglers, but there weren’t any. I checked my anger, drove out to Hannibal, and then ripped into our captains and players when we met for practice later that afternoon.

Besides cheating, there were other, much better memories associated with our distance runs.

“It all started in the fall” Affirmation came one year when one of our captains told me at the conclusion of a successful spring season that, in his mind, he knew it was going to be a good year, all because of a fall ball Fallbrook run. He said the weather was horrible, the remnants of a hurricane, and there was plenty of grumbling, but the team ran it anyway and, in his mind and perhaps others’, it helped galvanize the team. I could say that that was what I had planned, of course, but I’d be lying.

"Take the long way home…" Sometime around 2003, we had a Friday practice (of course!) that started with a 4.1-mile Fallbrook run and was followed by offense/defense classroom meetings. Two players – Rob Tramontozzi ‘07 and Travis Hon ‘05 – told me they were going to be late because of class, so I left directions on the locker room bulletin board so they’d know the course. Well, practice came and went, and as we were saying good-bye to the last of the players, these two poor souls dragged themselves into the locker room – more than two hours after practice had started! Turns out they missed the first turn and, as a result, got lost, stopped at a gas station and asked how to get back to campus, and ended up running more than seven miles! I hadn’t even realized they were missing; I felt horrible! They took it better than most, and we managed to laugh it off. Then I went up to my office before heading home and saw that I had a phone message from Rob’s mom. I figured I was about to get an earful, and I was filled with guilt once again. Fortunately, it was just a coincidence. She hadn’t even heard about her son’s travails at all; she merely had a question about an upcoming game. Whew!

“The smoking captain” I’ve told Carlos Rodriguez ‘94 stories for years, but I couldn’t talk about campus runs without telling this one… Carlos was a smoker, and no one was ever going to convince him to stop. But despite that, he was also one of the very best team captains I ever worked with. When the team ran campus, he always finished first, and when anyone gave him any gruff about his smoking, he’d simply tell them, “When any of you non-smokers can beat me in a campus run, I’ll quit.” Pretty strong words, but he backed them up. I believe he went unbeaten during senior year.

“The PR” Todd Zahurak ’96 was two years younger than Carlos, and – no disrespect to Carlos – but I’m guessing Todd was just deferring to his elder captain, because, in his junior and senior years, Z was simply uncatchable. He not only finished ahead of every teammate, he also timed his every run, and finishing first was never good enough for him. He didn’t run against the rest of the team; he ran against himself, and he kept track of his personal record. Of course, this is the same guy who also ran Laker hallway sprints on his own time – with “kangaroo shoes” and a parachute…

“Special treatment” Kevin Scanlon ’00 had a killer academic schedule and stressed over missed practices. One Saturday we had a Fallbrook run scheduled but Kevin needed to go home for a family event, and he felt horrible about missing the run… so he told me he’d run the route Friday after practice – on his own. I was beyond impressed. Most others would do anything to get out of the run, but Kevin was willing to do it on his own time – in the dark. So I ran with him. More than 20 years later, I remember just the two of us headed out for the run. We talked about family, teaching, pretty much anything but lacrosse. It’s a special memory. Today Kevin teaches and coaches in the Corning Painted Post Area School District, and I hope he remembers that run the same way I do.

“3X Campus” Perhaps thanks to Coach Spring’s influence, I started running 5-K Turkey Trots when I was in college, and after graduation, I became a weekend (weakened?) warrior, running in road races ranging from 3.1 miles to, yes, 26.2. I was in my – ahem – prime around 2000, when I ran my first marathon. So maybe the craziest or most ambitious thing I did at a practice was one particular Friday when I split the team up into three groups, and they rotated through 30-45 minute stations. One group did a core workout in the squash courts, another ran stairs and sprints in Laker’s basement, and the third ran campus. Double-dipping my own marathon training with my supervisory responsibilities, I had one assistant coach stay in the squash courts, another stay in the hallways, and then I ran campus with each group! 9.3 miles! Not sure what I was thinking, but that happened once.

“The beginning of the end” By the end of my coaching years at Oswego State, I had slowed considerably. The team assisted with the inaugural Sarah’s Walk/Run in the fall of 2004, and we managed to screw up with our course management and accidentally sent runners on the wrong route. Minor chaos ensued, so the next year the team participated as runners. The team continued to run every fall through 2009, my final fall. In one of those final years, I decided to join the team as a runner, and I slogged my way through the 5-K course. About a half-mile from the finish line, two of my less-fast players passed by me, and I laughed and cursed to myself as they fist-bumped one another as they ran by. I guess they really wanted to finish ahead of their coach.

“The Legend of Jimmy Onacki” Again, I’ve told Jim Onacki stories for years, as have others, but one of Jimmy’s legacies at both West Genesee HS and Oswego State was his determination to run every inch that the entire team ran. He would get advance word on the route, and he’d start ahead of everyone else so he’d finish around the same time as the team. Again, few teammates complained about the run, the distance, the weather, the frequency, etc. once they saw Onack head out on his own to get his run in.

“The Blizzard” Back around ’80 or ’81, Coach Spring sent us out on a dreary winter day. It was a new course, and I paid no attention to the names of the streets or key turns. I figured only the leaders needed to know that stuff, and I was not one of them. So we left. In less than a mile, it started to rain. In less than another mile, the rain changed to snow. Before long, I was relying on following the footprints in front of me as the team got thinned out and the leaders were no longer in sight. Then it started to really snow. Well, to make a long story short, the leaders missed their turns, everyone followed the leaders, and the entire team ran more than twice the intended distance (again, about seven miles!). Guys were suffering from minor cases of frostbite by the time we got back.

So many of these memories came back to me a week or so ago when I ran the Fallbrook course for the first time in years. No one told me to do it; I did it on my own. It’s still a full mile longer than the campus run, and it’s still a relatively flat, scenic route. So many memories flooded my head as I reminisced the past 40+ years…

“We've been through / Some things together
With trunks of memories / Still to come
We found things to do / In stormy weather
Long may you run.”

Drive carefully, everyone. Stay safe, stay smart, and stay kind.

- Dan Witmer daniel.witmer@oswego.edu

Dan Witmer is the author of three 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. His third book, The Best of RTD – A Lacrosse Coach’s Handbook, has just been released at Amazon.com. It contains more than 55 weekly Road Trip Dad blogs spanning 2012-2020, featuring Xs and Os, highs and lows, and even some Dos and Don'ts, and plenty of advice for coaches of all levels.