RTD 2, Indecisive Deer 1
Dan Witmer |August 3, 2021
Yes, it was a split decision. In a light-heavyweight bout (how’s that for an oxymoron!), that unlucky deer standing in the right lane of the New York State Thruway on Saturday night managed to do some considerable damage to my Nissan. It was a match between a four-legged lightweight and my four-wheeled Altima – with cruise control set at 73 MPH, no less. And, well, this time Goliath came away victorious and little Davey… well, let’s just say he didn’t fare so well.

After winning three out of the four various games he played Friday and Saturday, my son Brian had just proclaimed, “I’m having the best weekend of lacrosse ever!” and I agreed with him. But a few minutes and miles later, the good times came to a quick halt.

Thankfully, no one got hurt. The front end was crushed pretty good and anti-freeze was leaking all over, so I knew I couldn’t drive it home. A State Trooper was on the scene within minutes, and she told me we were just a mile or so from the next exit (Canastota/Chittenango). We limped into the Savon gas station across the street from the US Boxing Hall of Fame, and while I called AAA, Brian called our insurance company. My wife came and picked us up, and the car got transported to my front lawn. Long story short, we got home closer to 11:30 than 10.

Brian’s most-excellent lacrosse weekend had started at Happy Lax in Albany on Friday afternoon, as his Achy Bones Men’s Open team – comprised mainly of former SUNY Brockport teammates – had lost its first game but then rebounded with a close win over their second opponent. He stayed in Albany with his brother and other teammates later than he should have, and he didn’t get home to Oswego till the wee hours of Saturday morning.

As much fun as he had on Friday, Saturday proved even better. The annual Oswego vs. Fulton Alumni Game was at noon, and Brian had helped reach out to some of his former OHS Buc teammates and was excited about the match-up. I knew most of the Oswego players and maybe a third of the Fulton crew, so things went pretty well. It was a close game from start to finish, but the highlight of the game was a “hidden ball trick” perfectly executed by Brian and his Salt City Eels teammate, Nate Schultzkie, during an Oswego man-up. I won’t go into detail, but it was fun to watch – every single Fulton defender was looking at Brian when Nate threw the ball into the unguarded goal. The Buc alums won 9-7, and a date was set for the 2022 re-match.

After the game, we stopped home for quick showers and lunch, and then we were off to Clinton for the IBLA Empire North division playoff game between Brian’s team – the #1 seed Salt City Eels – and the #2 seed Utica Yeti. The game was played in the historic Clinton Arena, and the Eels put on a good show. They trailed 3-1 after one period, but established a 7-4 lead after two. Brian scored the Eels’ sixth goal on a coast-to-coast breakaway – about two hours before we encountered that dang deer on the Thruway. The Eels went on to an 11-5 victory, and Brian’s goal was Salt City’s sixth score of the game, so when I met him in the parking lot after the game, I told him he had, in fact, scored the game-winning goal.

Ah yes – the parking lot. I had already said hello to Gerry Nicholson, Vince Lang, Bob Leary, Paul Noecker, Bill Hardy, and Travis Cook and – like father; like son – as is his wont, Brian took his time saying hello and good-bye to friends, teammates, and opponents gathered outside the arena. As I sat in the car waiting for Brian – and, unknowingly, that ill-fated deer – I reminded myself that he will be flying back to the Czech Republic in less than two weeks, so I gave him all the time he wanted. And sure enough, when he finally got in the car, he said with sagacity beyond his years, “Y’know, the post-game is just as much fun as the game itself.”

An hour later, we were flagging down the State Trooper and filling out an accident report.

Come Sunday, we still had another game to be played before we headed up to Lake Placid. Maybe a game and a half…

The Empire North championship would require a second win – this time at the Eels’ home turf, the Burnet Park Rec Center in Syracuse. If the Yeti evened the series, a 20-minute tie-breaking mini-game would determine the championship. Game Two was set for 3 PM, so instead of driving my car and his van down to Syracuse – and then both of us driving up separately to LP – we climbed into Brian’s infamous van for a long day of shaking, rattling, and gas-guzzling.

A good crowd was on hand to watch the teams battle for the Empire North title – and yes, the trophy was on display at the door as you walked in. I think the lead changed four times or so, and the Eels trailed by a goal going into the third and final period. Brian had missed a chance to score on another breakaway, but his Oswego teammate Nate Schultzkie scored his own one-on-goalie chance. Timely goals came in the final minutes, and the Eels prevailed with a 7-6 victory. The cup was raised and cell phone cameras captured lots of memorable moments.

Again, Brian was very slow to say his good-byes. He even took the time to get a haircut in the parking lot, courtesy of the Yeti head coach Tony Sorci, who was the coach of the Vermont Voyageurs a few summers ago when Brian played up there. I spoke briefly to the Eels’ head coach, Ron Cogan, and learned that he had played for Paul Wehrum at Herkimer CC. It was after 6:30 when we finally set off for I-81, and then we stopped in Watertown for Chipotle…

And then we stopped in Harrisville to say hello and goodbye to another of Brian’s former teammates.

It rained the whole trip, and it was almost 11 PM Sunday night when we pulled into my condo at LP. Brian accepted my offer to sleep on the couch, and we called it a night…

Brian had played in five lacrosse games over the span of three days – two field games in Albany, one box game in Clinton, another field game in Fulton, and the box game in Syracuse. I was fortunate enough to watch three of them (one while I was reffing), and overall, his teams went 4-1. I saw him score, get an assist, miss a breakaway, and pull off the perfect hidden ball ruse.

And I thought the fun would start once I got to LP.

Hah!

RTD 2, Indecisive Deer 1. Actually, the score wasn’t that close. It really was a great weekend of lacrosse.

Monday, Day One of the 32nd LP Summit Classic, went pretty smoothly. Cold gray skies turned warm and blue, and I felt like I spent most of the day saying hello to people I haven’t seen in two years. Can I drop some names? How about Casey Vock, John Tillman, Gary Gait, Ric Beardsley, Tom Abbott, 2020 and 2021 LP Legends Jeff Coulson and Mike Branski, Casey Powell, Ryan Powell, and Steve Beville? Or former Oswego State players (and teammates) Vince Lang and Kevin Couse? Then there was the SLV team, all in the same place at once – George Leveille, Ashley Murphy, Kevin Leveille, Blake Schierer, and my son, Eric. Fist bumps, handshakes, and hugs seemed to be the order of the day.

And before I crashed – er, called it a night – I spent some time on Facebook last night watching John Zulberti highlight reels, wall ball tutorials, and more. So, so sad to learn of his passing yesterday. In a game filled with colorful characters, few could rival his legacy.

I don’t have anything definite in mind right now, but I hope to write an RTD piece or two while I’m up here. Keep checking back at JustLacrosse Upstate for updates.

In the meantime, 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.