Road Trip Dad - Section V Lacrosse – History and Tradition
Dan Witmer | March 1, 2021
I wrote a week ago that, if Syracuse and Section III was my front yard, then Rochester and Section V was my back yard. Sure, I can get to Cazenovia, Skaneateles, South Jeff, or Tully in about an hour, but I can also get to Webster or Geneva in that amount of time, too. Other Section V high schools or Rochester-area colleges take just a few minutes longer.

Growing up down on Long Island, I was familiar with Upstate long before I came up to SUNY Oswego back in 1978. My Mom was born in Lyons, and spent her early years with family in both Rochester and Syracuse. She had cousins in Syracuse, and my Dad’s brother and his family lived in Rochester.

Playing college lacrosse at Oswego, we made annual trips to and through Rochester to compete against RIT, Brockport, Geneseo, and the University of Rochester. In later years, we also played Nazareth and St. John Fisher. When I started coaching back in the early 80’s, we traveled by van, so I quickly learned to navigate my way through the infamous “can of worms.”

My wife-to-be lived with her aunt in Webster way back then, so Route 104 became even more familiar. Jean Cammer was an elementary school teacher Fairport, so I became comfortable making my way around the west side of Monroe County. I made recruiting trips to Webster, Penfield, Fairport, R-H, and occasionally made my way over to Irondequoit.

I also worked at the Hobart Lacrosse Camp for about 15 years, and got to know many Statesmen alumni, players, and coaches, in addition to high school coaches from Section V. Although I often felt like an outsider – being all the way from Oswego, a whole hour away – I was nonetheless made to feel welcome and appreciated, and developed a great many friendships.

So when I started concentrating on writing these “RTD Heritage Project” pieces, I knew I could say plenty about Section V. So much history, so much tradition…

And I must say right up front that Section V has the best scholastic lacrosse website I’ve ever seen. I learned long ago that SportsFive.net was my go-to source for schedules, stats, contact information, and even printable, customized game-day rosters. Paul Wilson, former head coach at Pittsford HS, started the website in 2001, and he, his family, and a few other committed volunteers continue to cover every year, every team, and every game. Individual stats, team stats, photos, and game summaries are updated every night during the scholastic season. In 2019, Paul told me, his website recorded 1.4 million page views… Without sounding like he was bragging, he told me that he has yet to find another website that can rival his, and he says he has offered to sit down with anyone who would like to see just how it’s done; so far – no takers.

For as long as I’ve known Paul’s name, I had never spoken with him until last month. Section V Chairman Mike Simon helped connect us for this piece, and we spoke on the phone and exchanged some emails which enabled all of this to take shape.

Here is what I learned…

Rochester Lacrosse is tradition.
Make no mistake about it; Paul says there are Rochester Democrat & Chronicle articles covering lacrosse games in Rochester as far back as 1884. It was a club sport back then, before the formation of college, scholastic, or pro teams, and contests were played at Rochester’s Exhibition Field; the game back then probably looked like a hybrid between field lacrosse and box lacrosse. And did you know that Rochester city schools had lacrosse teams as early as the 1930s?

Hobart Lacrosse is tradition.
Another D&C article announces the inaugural Hobart College men’s game – on May 26, 1898. The Statesmen played host to a team from the “Toronto University.” Two 20-minute halves were played, with Toronto leading 6-2 at halftime. In the second half, Hobart’s defense played against their own offense on one end, and Toronto’s squad did the same at the other end. According to the newspaper’s summary, Hobart’s two first-half goals were scored by a Professor Leighton.

Interestingly enough, the greater Rochester area was hit by a smallpox epidemic 1902 – and Paul shared several Rochester D&C articles about quarantines at Hobart and how the lacrosse team was faring with limited player availability. One piece even named the five Hobart players who were under quarantine, which is probably why we have today’s HIPAA laws. Another article, dated just one week later, announced that it had been determined by the State Board of Health that the Geneva outbreak was in fact a case of chicken pox, and not smallpox. But again, the piece named the eight students (and two servants) who had been quarantined at the Theta Delta Chi chapter house. The Statesmen managed to defeat the Rochester Rangers that week by a 4-2 score, as College Chaplain Dr. J.A. Leighton filled in for team captain Matthew Bennett…

In 1923, former Hobart standout Dr. J.B. Covert (Class of ’98) was hired as the Statesmen’s new coach. The D&C blurb states that, “With the acceptance of Dr. Covert of the position as coach, comes the end of the professional coach system at Hobart College. The college authorities believe that, with a Hobart alumnus at the head of the lacrosse team, that (sic) the sport will be benefitted in many ways.”

And you thought you knew about Hobart Lacrosse.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll remind readers that, according to Hobart’s athletics website, the Geneva college’s men’s lacrosse program dates back to 1898, and their five head coaches from 1927-2001 are among the most recognizable names in the game – Babe Kraus, Buddy Beardmore, Jerry Schmidt, Dave Urick, and B.J. O’Hara. And, oh yeah, they also won no fewer than 16 national championships between 1972 and 1993.

Geneva Lacrosse is tradition.
As I mentioned in my RTD piece about Joe Corcoran several weeks ago, Geneva was the first high school program in the area to play a full schedule when things started up in 1922 (Rochester’s West High School gave it a shot way back in 1909, but apparently didn’t make it through the season). Dr. J.B. Covert (Geneva HS ‘94), a former player at Hobart, served as the Panthers’ first coach, and became known as “the father of Geneva Lacrosse.” The team shut down during WWII, but in the years following the war, a hometown box lacrosse team filled the Armory with games against Canadian and Native American teams. Geneva HS alum Joe Corcoran re-started the Geneva HS program in 1956. Other iconic GHS alums include the likes of Bill Fitch ’38 (at least five Halls of Fame and two-time mayor of Penn Yan), Ernie Lisi ’50 (211-19 W/L record over 17 years at Irondequoit HS), Jack McDonald ’60, Bruce Teague ’67, John Natti ’68, Fran Shields ’75, Guy VanArsdale ’79, Mark VanArsdale ‘81, Paul Boncaro ’90, Bill Warder ’92, Adam Platzer ‘96, Matt Hanna ’97, Scott Ditzell ’01, and Michael Toner ’05. Phew!

Irondequoit Lacrosse is tradition.
Easily the most recognizable name in Section V high school lacrosse, Irondequoit started up in 1957 under the leadership of Vern Babcock. In his four years as head coach, his teams went 25-4. Then, as Ernie Lisi took over the Irondequoit program, Vice-Principal Babcock continued to play a large role in high school lacrosse’s formative years, serving as Secretary-Treasurer of the newly-formed Upstate Interscholastic Lacrosse League, with charter members Irondequoit, Geneva, West Genesee, Baldwinsville, and Watertown. The first championship of that league, in 1960, was… you guessed it, Irondequoit.

Coach Lisi went on to amass a W/L record of 211-19 over a 17-year span. John Pratt was next in line, winning 431 games, and 11 Section V titles in his 28 years as head varsity coach, with one assistant coach – Don Wright – over all those years. Irondequoit has advanced to the state championship game twice, coming up short both times, but they’re still the headliner in Section V. In fact, there’s a 50-Year History of Irondequoit Lacrosse documentary available on DVD, and in 2013, three Irondequoit alumni were coaching their teams in the NCAA Championships over Memorial Day Weekend at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field – Paul Cantabene ‘89 (Stevenson – DIII), Chris Ryan ‘92 (Mercyhurst – DI), and Matt Kerwick ’86 (Cornell – DI). A sample of other Irondequoit HS lacrosse royalty include Rory Whipple ‘72, Hank Janczyk ‘72, Jeff Long ‘73, Wade Bollinger ’77, Rob Randall, Andrew Whipple ’93, Joe Walters ’02, Greg Wright ’08, Drew Coholan ’09, and Greg Coholan ’11… and I’ll throw in the fact that Mark Serron ’77 and Ric Schulz ’77 were teammates of mine at Oswego State.

In addition to picking the brains of Paul Wilson and Mike Simon, I also spoke with Mark Rice (Fairport ’72), former varsity coach at Penfield HS for 20 years and currently an assistant coach at St. John Fisher College, and annual participant in the Lake Placid Summit Classic. He said that his father had played lacrosse at Cornell, and when Fairport started up its lacrosse program in his freshman year, he quickly gave up baseball to play on Fairport’s first JV team. His first-ever lacrosse game? A humbling 23-1 loss to West Genesee’s JV.

Mark explained that, at one time, there were three separate leagues in Section V – the Monroe County League, the Finger Lakes League, and the City League. As of 2020, there are now six leagues – FL1 (with ten teams), GRALL (four teams), INDY (three), MC1 (six), MC2 (six), and MC3 (five).

In his days (years? decades?) watching lacrosse in Section V, Mark says the best players he’s ever seen include Jeff Long, Andrew Whipple, Mike Manley (Penn Yan, Duke, and several pro teams), and Ben Reeves (Pal-Mac, Yale, and pro teams). Paul saw Mark’s list and added two more names – Blaze Riorden (Fairport, U Albany, and pro box and field teams) and T.D. Ierlan (Victor, U Albany, Yale, and …?).

Mike also thought I should mention three or four more names before wrapping this up. Here’s a tip of the hat to Randy Garrett, who accumulated more than 400 wins as head modified and varsity lacrosse coach at Fairport, and John Johnson, head coach at Canandaigua for 26 years (357-149) and then head coach at St. John Fisher for 11 (132-69). And to Harry Queener and Brian Hobart at Penn Yan, a duo that has won 24 of the past 26 Section V titles in its class. I couldn’t agree more. Randy, John, and Harry are all members of the Greater Rochester Chapter US Lacrosse Hall of Fame, and it’s only a matter of time before Brian joins them.

Between Mark, Mike, and Paul – and Paul’s website – they gave me an overall timeline of the evolution of scholastic lacrosse in Section V.

Timeline
1922 – Geneva
1930s – All-City (combined team of Rochester City Schools, formed by Richard Fancy)
1957 – Irondequoit
Early 1960s – Webster, Eastridge
Mid 1960s – Seneca Falls, Waterloo, Marshall, West High
Late 1960s – Franklin, Jefferson, Fairport, Rush-Henrietta, Corning East and West (originally in Section V)
1970s – Newark, Penn Yan, Canandaigua, Penfield, Pittsford, Bishop Kearney, East High
1980s – Newark, McQuaid
1990s –Victor, Brighton, Aquinas
2000s – Bath, Livonia, Greece, Hilton, Honeoye Falls-Lima, Pal-Mac, Midlakes, Spencerport, Gates-Chili, Churchville-Chili, Batavia, Brockport, East Rochester, Marcus Whitman
2010s – Gananda, Wayne, Avon, East United/Eastridge

So there you have it. Rochester Lacrosse is tradition. Hobart Lacrosse is tradition. Geneva Lacrosse is tradition; Irondequoit Lacrosse is tradition. Now about to celebrate its 20th year, I’m declaring that SportsFive.net is tradition. And all that tradition just adds to Rochester and Section V’s lacrosse history.

Thanks again to Mike, Paul, and Mark – and thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed the ride!

Drive carefully – and 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.