Amid the lasting impressions from the 26th annual Lake Placid Summit Lacrosse Tournament were ones of awe – watching the men’s past-masters (that’s age 60 and up) showing up for their games four hours ahead of time, heading to trainer’s tent, and greeting old friends as they show up; uniqueness – Whiteface to the north, Marcy and the Olympic ski jumps to the south, with planes and helicopters coming and going all day long; and joy and pride – teams winning championships, unanticipated reunions of old teammates, neighbors, and friends, and introductions of wives, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers.
I commented to someone that, as far as I’m concerned, the Lake Placid Tournament is probably the best lacrosse event of the entire year. Winning coaches might argue that championships and playoff success might be better, and maybe the announcement of All-American honors, the Tewaaraton, and US National Team rosters might also be up there, but for the average fan, player, and family member, how can you possibly top LP?
I’ve always considered the NCAA Championship Weekend as the highlight of the lacrosse year, and even though I plan to keep my streak of 33 consecutive years in attendance going next May, I’ve come to realize that I truly do enjoy Placid more – and not just because I’m getting paid to be there.
Weekends in Philadelphia, Baltimore, or Foxboro are fun, but first of all, they’re only three or four days long. My stay in LP is eight days long. Second, you simply cannot beat the scenery. I’ll take the Adirondack Mountains over an NFL venue any day of the week (although I do love Baltimore’s Inner Harbor).
Then there’s the accessibility and proximity to the action. Positioned where I am, most every player in the Summit Lacrosse Tournament has to walk right by the main tent, and many, many, many of them stop by on their way through to say hi to someone they know. And if you want a good seat to watch a big game, you can sit right along the sideline. You can see the players’ faces; you can hear them talking to their teammates and opponents. Game gets boring or one-sided? No problem; there are five other fields to choose from without walking more than 100 yards. The Final Four Weekend offers other games, but you might have to wait hours or days to see them.
My biggest takeaway this year, however, was the sheer joy seen in the play of so many players, and unfortunately you don’t see enough of that during the traditional spring season. Sure, there’s some trash-talking at Lake Placid, but it’s usually good-natured teasing more than angry smack-talk. All week long you can see and hear laughter, joking, and encouragement between the two teams, the spectators, and even the referees. Too many high school and even college games get bogged down with misplaced machismo, tough talk, and chippy play. Most of the lacrosse I see at Lake Placid consists of guys and girls just having fun playing this great game. Players laugh at themselves and their own teammates – you don’t see that very often anywhere else, from modified to JV to varsity to college ball.
Of course, most coaches at LP aren’t fighting to keep their job; I get that. And don’t think for an instant that winning the game isn’t important to the players on the field and sideline. But I think it’s too bad that we don’t see enough of the laughter and joy anywhere other than the rare occasion such as Lake Placid. It’s something to think about…
On a more personal note, here are some of the highlights of my final two days at this year’s Summit Lacrosse Tournament…
On Saturday afternoon I went over to the sideline where the Dark Horse women’s team had just finished playing and introduced myself to their goalie, Jackie Beshlian. Besides being the sophomore starting goalie for Cortland’s 2015 National Championship team, Jackie is also the oldest daughter of my college friend, teammate, and housemate, Rich Beshlian ’82. Rich frequently comes back to Oswego every fall for our alumni weekend, but he’s never brought his family with him, so this was the first time Jackie and I had ever met. To make things a little more weird, I had sent some Syracuse Post-Standard
clippings to Jackie after the Red Dragons had won their title in Philadelphia, and somehow when she got the mailing she was a bit unsure about who had sent them. So there I was, some strange old creeper, stalking poor Jackie all the way up to Lake Placid. We laughed about it, and I think we’re all good now.
Also on Saturday afternoon, on two separate occasions I bumped into both Paul Mizer ’85 and Bill Bergan, who were playing on two different Sailin’ Shoe teams. Both said the same thing to me: “That’s it; no more playing two divisions. I can’t do it anymore.” They had just finished playing in both the Super Grand Masters (50+) and Grand Masters (45+) age groups – four games in each, for a total of eight games in a matter of four days. I got tired and sore just talking to them. Of course, you can still count on both of them playing next year, whether it’s in just one division or two.
At 8:00 AM on Sunday morning, Rich Gross, Brittney Rowe, and my son Eric assembled the 35 table workers who have worked all week – often 12-hour days – and Britt and Eric handed out the Second Annual Paper Plate Awards to everyone. Six of us had gone out to dinner on Saturday night and brainstormed ideas for each individual, and there’s a chance we might have made a little too much noise while doing so. Nonetheless, the awards seemed to go over pretty well – again.
At 9:45 AM on Sunday morning, head athletic trainer Anthony Ortolano walked through the white trailer where I was inputting scores and handed everyone in the trailer a Nestle’s Drumstick ice cream cone. “It’s 9:45!” we protested, but we ate – and enjoyed – them anyway. Simple pleasures…
As the morning passed, I got a chance to walk around more than I had all week and I was taken by the number of baby strollers lined up along the sidelines. With numbers and scores still circling around my head, I found myself counting them. The first sideline I observed – during a game between Black and Blue Jays and Motive Pure/Force 5 on Field 1 – there were seven strollers between one bench and the closest goal line extended. That’s seven strollers in less than half the field! Then, an hour or so later, I was at Field 2 during a game between Graph-Tex and the Gray Danes, when I saw seven more strollers on one sideline, but they were in a circle formation, like the pioneers used to do in the old Westerns! I found myself thinking, “Some divisions leave beer cans, some Gatorade bottles, some ice bags, and some… well, juice boxes and diapers.”
There were only four games scheduled for the last time slot (1:30 PM), so things started clearing out quickly. Several people asked me how long we staff members had to stay afterwards, or how long did it take to clean up and break down the fields, and I told them it was amazing and impressive how quickly things got done once the games were over. Sure enough, with the last games ending around 2:45, by 3:30 the place looked significantly different. Vendors were mostly gone, trash was completely picked up, and the fields were empty (except for three people we noticed just sitting out on Field 2, staring off towards Mt. Marcy, apparently in no rush to leave).
Eric and I stayed longer than we had to, offering to help break down tables, sorting through the Lost and Found, and making several trips to the storage shed with balls, signs, and more. He left around 4 PM, heading back to Brockport, and I left just before 4:30. It was a quiet, fast, uneventful trip home, with no stops between Tupper Lake and home.
“Count your blessings” is a trite cliché, but I consider myself a very fortunate person. To be able to just be there, to be able to work there, and to be able to meet so many new and old friends in Lake Placid is truly a blessing. Here’s to many, many more LP Summit Lacrosse Tournaments to come (the 27th annual 2016 Lake Placid Tournament is set for August 1-7; mark your calendars now if you haven’t done so already).
While New York State public schools start a little late this year, fall sports practices start today in CNY. So, as far as I’m concerned, “School’s Open - Drive Carefully,” everyone. Thanks!
- Dan Witmer