Road Trip Dad - Western NY High School Lacrosse – still “Talking Proud!”
Dan Witmer | February 1, 2021
When I was living in Oswego State’s Cayuga Hall back in my college days, the four freshmen in adjacent rooms across the hall were all from Buffalo. They dressed funny, listened to an inordinate amount of Bob Seger, debated the merits of the Anchor Bar vs. Duff’s, and let everyone know that they were die-hard Bills and Sabres fans. Their go-to slogan – their city’s slogan – was “Talking Proud!”

I still tease them about it today.

But when I spoke with long-time Williamsville East HS head varsity lacrosse coach Ed Greenway recently about the history and growth of high school lacrosse in his neck of the woods, I quickly got a whiff of that same sense of pride, all these years later.

Which is pretty cool.

I don’t remember when I first met Ed; I’m sure it was at a coaches’ clinic or convention somewhere. He was a West Genesee HS grad and he knew a few of the WG guys I knew – Jim Onacki, Jerry Crossett, Art Werbeck, and Ross Maniaci – so I listed him in my book as one of the good guys. Over a span of almost 30 years, we’d smile and shake hands every time we met.

So when I started this whole “Upstate Lacrosse Heritage Project” (my working title, until I think of something better), I was pleased when Section V’s Mike Simon gave me Ed’s name and contact info as someone to talk to about Section VI lacrosse.

After an email or two, I called Ed in January and asked him a few more than my allotted 20 Questions.

I was embarrassed to admit to him that, in all my years of coaching and recruiting, I had never been to a Section VI lacrosse game. I saw games in Rochester and Binghamton, Canton and Albany, but I never quite made it out to the Buffalo area, so I knew a little about Section VI lacrosse, but not much.

So I guess I was fortunate to have players from that part of the state come to Oswego, especially in the later years of my tenure. In my final two seasons, for instance, we had Dan Rogers, Dan Wilcox, and Nick Zoyhofski from Frontier HS, Andy Williams and Andy Preischel from Eden HS, Josh Roetzer and Brad Teal from Williamsville East HS, Spencer Mallia from Bishop Timon/St. Jude HS, and Tony Fiorentino from West Seneca East HS…

Ed told me that high school lacrosse in the Buffalo area started with “the Big Six” – Gow, Gowanda, Nichols, Orchard Park, Park School, and Sweet Home. To the best of his knowledge, those programs dated back to about 1978. “As I understand it, the guys who got things started included Gene Tundo at Orchard Park, John Faller at Sweet Home, Tim Duggan at the Park School, and Tommy Franz at Nichols. They were football people, first and foremost, and they saw lacrosse as a way to keep in contact with their players in the spring,” explained Greenway.

In the early 1980s, more new high school programs popped up at Niagara-Wheatfield, Salamanca, Lake Shore, Hamburg, and Grand Island. “Jerry Severino (Hamburg) and Bill Riffle (Grand Island) came aboard, and there was always plenty of lacrosse in the Native American communities,” said Greenway, “so it didn’t take that much effort for them to form varsity teams as well.”

Ed started teaching at Heim Middle School in the Williamsville Central School District in 1986 and helped start their first varsity boys’ lacrosse team – for all three Williamsville high schools – in his first year. He and Joe Buffamonti coached the combined team until 1994, when Williamsville split into separate North and East teams, and Amherst and Iroquois came into the picture with new programs. “Stephen Henn at Amherst and Tom Kincella at Iroquois both started the same time, and the three of us brought new programs in for that ’94 season. Henn was a Cortland guy from Harborfields (Long Island), and Kincella was an Oswego State grad from Bishop Ludden (Syracuse).”

Greenway also gave credit to local lacrosse referees who helped the sport grow. “Charlie Goodrich had played at Oberlin… Rich Davis was a Cornell guy… and Tom Sutton had played high school lacrosse at Lafayette and college ball at Ithaca – they were real supportive, recruited other officials.”

“One of the biggest obstacles was we just didn’t have enough people who knew the game and felt comfortable coaching, so a bunch of us went on the road, did professional development presentations at other schools, trying to inform and encourage others to take the leap.”

It took a while, but today there are 37 varsity programs in Section VI. “The only program I can think of that dropped its boys varsity program over the years was Jamestown, and they were simply a victim of their location and size. They’re a big school, and travel for them to play other large schools was a real challenge.”

In case you’re wondering, by comparison, Section V lists 34 (2020) teams on www.sportsfive.net and Section III lists 37 (2019) programs on www.section3.org. Not too shabby for a “late(r) starter.”

According to the website www.section6.e1b.org, championships have been shared among a number of teams since 1980. In Class A, Orchard Park has been dominant, winning 26 out of 40 Section VI titles, including 16 in a row between 1995 and 2010. The Quakers are the only Section VI team to make it to the New York State Championship game, finishing as runners-up in 2000, 2001, and again in 2009.

In Class B, which started crowning its own champions in 1987, Hamburg leads with 12 titles, while Amherst (7), Gowanda (5 + 4 Class C championships), and Grand Island (6 + 1 Class C title) rank right behind the Bulldogs. Williamsville East has two Section VI championships.

In Class C, which broke off in 2000, Silver Creek has 6 championships, and Akron has 3 (+ 2 Class D titles).

Finally, since the creation of a Class D champion in 2017, Akron has two titles and Eden has one.

Ed spoke proudly about his involvement in the Amherst Lacrosse Association, a youth program that serves multiple school districts, and gave credit to other ALA coaches, like Jeremy Murphy, Rick Hopkins, Rick Presutti, Ken Cummins, and Stephen Henn. “Hey, 15 years ago, Connor Fields was playing here for us, and back in the late ‘90s, we connected with Mark Coups, CEO of the English Lacrosse Association, and we took a group of 18 kids to Sheffield, England one summer for an unforgettable experience, and the following year, Sheffield sent a 22 of their kids over here. We stayed at their homes, and then they stayed in our kids’ places. Unfortunately, after 9/11, those trips came to an end.”

Prior to the start of the ALA, the first youth program in town was the WNYLA, organized by the late Ed VanTine, who also coached at Hamburg, St. Francis Prep, Buff State, and Canisius. The long-running Hamburg Youth Tournament has more recently been re-named the Ed VanTine Tournament in his memory.

Coach Greenway also spoke with pride about the strong traditional Native American presence throughout his part of the state. “Guys like Gary Sundown (Akron), Ray Logan (Gowanda), and Emmit Printup and Vince Shiffert (Niagara-Wheatfield), they’ve been there from the start. Lacrosse is everywhere in our communities, whether it’s on the reservations, in the box, or on our school fields.”

Ed went on to talk about the proud tradition of the Section VI Exceptional Senior Game, which has continued for 40 years and, until COVID came along, was the longest-running Senior Game in Upstate. “We started out with two teams, the Tuscarora and the Seneca, but over the years we re-named the teams to North versus South. The first game was at Salamanca High School, and we rotate it around all our schools each year; every varsity team is guaranteed at least one representative.”

Finally, Ed spoke with pride about the local legacy left by US Lacrosse Hall of Famer Wes Patterson. Patterson was born and raised on the Tuscarora Reservation, and went on to be an All-New England lacrosse player at Springfield College, where he graduated in 1951. He taught phys ed and coached lacrosse in Baltimore for 20 years and started the first youth league, earning him the nickname “the Father of Lacrosse.” Then he returned home to Western New York, where he refereed, coached at the club and college level, and started his legendary stick-making company, Tuskewe Krafts. His sticks were considered the gold standard of all wood sticks, and he sent some of his sticks to help the growth of lacrosse in Australia, the Czech Republic, and Japan. He was also the founder and first Executive Director of the Iroquois Nationals, and founded the Can-Am box league. He was inducted into the Rochester/WNY Chapter of US Lacrosse’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and then the US Lacrosse National Hall of Fame in 2000. He was also inducted into both the Springfield College Hall of Fame and the Ontario Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1998. Today there’s a High School Sportsmanship Award presented by the Niagara Frontier Lacrosse Officials Association (NFLOA) and a Tuscarora Nation Community Service Award, both named for him.

As he spoke about the 37 boys’ varsity programs, the Amherst Lacrosse Association, the Exceptional Senior Game, the great contributions from the neighboring Native American communities, the founders, movers, and shakers of Section VI high school lacrosse, and everything else, there was no mistaking the pride in Ed’s voice. This is his 35th year teaching and coaching in the Williamsville School District, and while there are plenty of other men who can tell their own stories of “the early days,” I’m guessing that few could match the pride he has in high school lacrosse in his part of the state.

Buffalo – still “Talking Proud” after all these years.

Note:  As much as I relied on my conversations and emails with Ed, I also owe a debt of gratitude to a number of websites. In addition to the three I mentioned in the text, I also got a lot of help from the following: https://www.uslacrosse.org/about-us-lacrosse/hall-of-fame, https://springfieldcollegepride.com/information/ahof/ahof_overview, and https://ontariolacrossehalloffame.com/.

Another Note:  Forget the whole Kevin Bacon and Six Degrees of Separation stuff. While speaking with Coach Greenway, he mentioned that his assistant coach at Williamsville East was Dan Liddy.

“From Lafayette HS and Clarkson?” I asked.

“Yes – you know him?” Ed asked.

Sure do. Probably around 15 years ago, we ran an Oswego State Shooting Camp for a week in late June. It was a day camp, just a couple of hours each day, and our goal was to have our campers shoot until their arms ached. We had about 18-20 campers, all from Oswego… except for Dan Liddy. He was staying with his grandparents in Sterling for his first week of summer vacation, and they were looking for something to keep him busy. His grandmother was the secretary at Hannibal Schools’ District Office, so we knew one another. Dan’s yellow Lafayette helmet stood out among all the Buc Blue lids, and his name stuck with me. We crossed paths a few years later when I went up to Potsdam to watch Brockport play the Golden Knights – and one of their captains was Dan Liddy.

Lacrosse people don’t need Six Degrees of Anything. Two will probably do.

RTD TRIVIA!

MOST RECENT QUESTION:   Geneva HS played its first varsity lacrosse game in the spring of 1922. Who was their opponent?
ANSWER:    Hobart’s JV team. Those were the days!

THIS WEEK’S QUESTION:  In 2009, the last time Orchard Park advanced to the NYSPHSAA Class A state championship game, who did they beat in the state semi-final?

Thanks for reading, everyone! Please, drive carefully, 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.