This quarantine thing has its benefits.
Weeks ago I was going down the rabbit hole of clicking on this link and then that, and I somehow managed to find a Syracuse Post-Standard
photo and a preview of the 1974 high school lacrosse season, written by Neil Kerr. I recognized some names and faces from the photo, and as I read the article, I was amazed at the number of additional names of people I knew.
Please keep in mind that I was 14 years old at the time of that article, growing up in Lynbrook, NY, a small suburban community on the south shore of Long Island – and it was right about the time I was introduced to the game of lacrosse.
That’s right – 1974. Nixon was President. Gas cost 53 cents a gallon, and there were just 10 high school teams in the Onondaga Lacrosse League.
As I read the season preview, I shook my head as I recognized not only people I’ve come to know over the years, but also the many recognizable “lacrosse names” that jumped off the screen. From F-M there were Tom Abbott, Greg Norris, and Roy Simmons III, and from Baldwinsville there were Pete Fiorini, Mike McCarrick, and Bruce Quimby. From Lafayette, there was Rick McCormack, but there were also familiar last names like Bucktooth, Storrier, Tarbell, and Doctor. From West Genesee, I knew Dan Spillett, but then there were more of those “lacrosse names” like O’Hara, Lundblad, and Menapace (forgive me for leaving out others; don’t want to venture too deep down the hole!).
Neil’s preview was dated April 11, the day of the league’s five opening games. He anointed Lafayette, West Genesee, and F-M as “The Big Three” – as those three schools were the only ones to ever claim a league title in the league’s 10-year existence – and predicted that one of them would reign supreme again in 1974, although he threw East Syracuse and Baldwinsville into the preview as programs that might “possibly challenge.”
He had pre-season quotes from the head coaches of The Big Three, too – Gordie Ohstrom from Lafayette, Bill Wormuth from West Genesee, and Tom Hall from F-M. Oddly enough, he pointed out that all three coaches could conceivably earn their 100th varsity victory that spring; Ohstrom was 98-14, Wormuth was 88-29, and Hall was 95-50-1.
Coach Ohstrom passed away in 1977 at the age of 43, and I don’t think I ever met Coach Wormuth – but I’ve known Coach Hall since I started coaching at Oswego State in the fall of ’82. He went on to coach at F-M until 1999, stepping down after 36 years and 454 career wins.
Intrigued by my ignorance of what it was like in the earliest days of Section III lacrosse, I decided to chat with Coach Hall, ask some questions, and hope that he’d share some stories.
He didn’t disappoint.
I spoke to him in early December just after he’d celebrated his 80th birthday. He rattled off answers to most every question I threw his way…
Who were the first Section III schools to offer boys’ lacrosse?
West Genesee and Baldwinsville started in 1957, and then Lafayette and Watertown got going in 1959. Walt Munze started the program at East Syracuse in 1960, and the Manlius Military School started up in 1961. In 1961, the Onondaga Lacrosse League consisted of West Genesee, Baldwinsville, East Syracuse, and Lafayette, while the Upstate Interscholastic Lacrosse League included those teams in addition to Irondequoit, Geneva, and Watertown.
And what was your lacrosse background?
I played football, basketball, and baseball at F-M, and graduated in 1958. Baseball was my favorite sport, and I went to Cortland State planning to play college baseball. But they wanted home run hitters, and that wasn’t me. Instead, I met some lacrosse players (including Walt Munze) and picked up a stick for the first time. I made the team my sophomore year, didn’t play my junior year, but went back and played my senior year. I played midfield with guys like Fred Acee, Don King, and Mike Warwick. I also played for the Syracuse Lacrosse Club from 1961-1972, which also proved to be a Who’s Who of CNY lacrosse coaches, referees, and leaders. Mike Messere was a freshman at Cortland my senior year, and he played with the Syracuse LC, too, after he graduated. We played all the major college teams – Syracuse, Hobart, Cornell, Colgate, Army – as well as a few other clubs.
After some additional email exchanges with Tom and his son Geoff, I received a partial list of Coach Hall’s teammates from both Cortland and the Syracuse Lacrosse Club, as follows…
Fred Acee, Don King, Mike Warwick, Sid Jamieson, Tony Hemmer, Walt Munze, John Morgan, Craig Pratt, Rusty Ferris, Mike Messere, Jim Amen, and Joe Cuozzo
Syracuse Lacrosse Club:
Jake Curran, Pat Corcoran, Roy Simmons, Jr, Eli Cornelius, Bob Durland, Ron Fraser, Clark mercer, Mike Messere, Tony Hemmer, Larry Abbott, Bob “Puffy” Sayer, Rusty Ferris, Walt Munze, Terry Cullen, Larry Hart, Oren Lyons, and ball boy Tom Abbott.
So how did you come to be the first varsity lacrosse coach at F-M?
F-M’s principal came and watched me when I was student teaching; he recruited me. My old baseball coach thought I’d be the perfect choice to take over the baseball program, but the school district had other plans – the Superintendent of Schools at F-M was Ray Van Geisen, who had been an All-American goalie at Hobart, and he wanted me to start up a lacrosse program and teach social studies, so that’s what I did. My first year was the Hornets’ first season…1964.
Any special memories from those early years?
Lafayette was the powerhouse back then, more than anyone else. In 1966 they went undefeated until they lost to Irondequoit in their final game. In 1967, we beat Irondequoit at their place – their first home loss. The Lafayette team that year (1967) was probably the best team I ever saw. They had Travis Cook and four other players who went on to be college captains and All-Americans – they were so good! It wasn’t until 1969 that we managed to defeat them.
Any other memorable stories?
After all the years, it’s really the players and the relationships, not the games, or the scores, or the win-loss records. I used to recruit football players; Tom Meyers played for me and then went on to play for the New Orleans Saints. He didn’t stay at F-M for the 1968 season; his senior year, his family moved to Connecticut. Tom Rafferty came through a few years later, graduating from F-M in 1972. He went on to play football at Penn State; Coach Paterno wouldn’t let him play lacrosse in the spring. After college, he played for the Dallas Cowboys.
Any memorable encounters with parents or problems with your players?
In all my years, I remember two incidents. That’s all. Around 1980, a Dad was upset that his son was benched for breaking team rules, and he was waiting for me as we got on the bus for an away game. Luckily the Athletic Director was there and simply headed the Dad off, saying, “This isn’t happening now.” The other occasion was the 1993 State Championship at Cortland State. Turns out the prom was the night before the game; we told the players they could go, but they needed to leave before it got too late so they’d be rested for the game. Well, that’s not how it played out. We ran out of gas and lost to Sachem.
In addition to the 36 seasons and 454 wins, Coach Hall was inducted into Cortland State’s prestigious C Club in 2006. According to his biography in their archives, he and his F-M teams “won six conference titles, four Section III championships, and two Upstate finals. Hall coached 350 Fayetteville-Manlius players who went on to play collegiate lacrosse, including 17 high school and 25 college All-Americans.
Elected the first president of the National Interscholastic Lacrosse Association, he served from 1978-88. He also served on the first National Federation of High School Boys’ Lacrosse Rules Committee from 1999-2002. He has been the New York State Lacrosse Chair since 1986 and the Section III Lacrosse Chair since 1976. He was president of the Central New York Lacrosse Association for 13 years and chair of the Onondaga High School League for 26 years.
A co-founder of the Upstate Summer Lacrosse League in 1964, Hall is a charter member of the Upstate New York Chapter of the Lacrosse Foundation and has chaired its annual banquet since 1998.
The first Empire State Games lacrosse chair from 1983-93, he coached the 1985 Central Team. He also coached the 1986 North Team in the North-South High School All-Star Game. More recently, he has coordinated the North Team and helped select coaches for the U.S. Lacrosse National High School Senior Showcase Games.
Within his community, he coordinated Fayetteville recreational basketball from 1965-81 and the Town of Manlius youth lacrosse since 1992. He has served on the Trinity Episcopal Church Building and Grounds Committee for 40 years.
A Greater Syracuse Hall of Fame and a U.S. Lacrosse Upstate New York Chapter Hall of Fame member, Hall has been named U.S. Lacrosse Coaches Association Coach of the Year five times and New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s Section III Man of the Year three times. He was the National Federation of Interscholastic Coaches Association Boys Lacrosse Coach of the Year in 2000 and received the national Gerald J. Carroll Exemplary Coaching Award in 1997. He has been honored by numerous groups for his contributions to the sport of lacrosse.
Hall continues to be recognized for his accomplishments. In 2001, he was awarded the Section III of NYSPHSAA “Special Service Award”. In 2003, he was inducted into the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame and in 2006 he was inducted in to the NYSPHSAA Hall of Fame. In February of 2009, he was awarded the Blind Men & Criers of CNY, “Edward J. Kearney” Memorial Award, “For Outstanding Accomplishments in the Field of Athletics”. In 2011, he was acknowledged with three awards consisting of the “Distinguished Service Award” from the New York State Athletic Administrators, the “Golden Whistle Award” from the Central New York Officials Association, and the National Interscholastic Lacrosse Coaches Association’s National “Man of the Year” award.
Hall has volunteered his service as the North Team coordinator for the National High School Senior Showcase Games from 2000 to 2010. He was the coaches’ coordinator for the USLacrosse National Showcase Games from 2004 to 2010. He then went on to create and coordinate the 2009 New York Shootout as a replacement for the Empire State Games Lacrosse. In 2010, he created and coordinated the Upstate Rising Lacrosse tournament for elite lacrosse players selected from 9th and 10th grade from Sections 3, 4, 5, and 6.
Hall and his wife, Sally Hoffmann Hall, have four children: Christine, Stephanie, Geoffrey and Sarah.”
In 2019, Coach Hall was one of just 11 coaches inducted into the inaugural National Interscholastic Lacrosse Coaches Hall of Fame, and the Class D NYSPHSAA state championship trophy is named in his honor.
In summary, then, Coach Hall has been inducted into the Upstate Chapter of US Lacrosse’s Hall of Fame (1992), The Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame (2003), the Cortland C Club (2006), the F-M Hall of Fame (2016), and the National Interscholastic Lacrosse Coaches’ Association’s Hall of Fame (2019).
Not too shabby for a local guy who planned on playing baseball in college.
Thanks, Tom – from all of us in Upstate New York. A belated Happy Birthday, and here’s to a safe, happy, and healthy New Year!
New for 2021! RTD Trivia:
What was the first Upstate team to win a NYSPHSAA state championship?
Look for the answer next week.
In the meantime, please drive carefully, everyone – and stay safe, stay smart, and stay 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.