References to Field of Dreams
might be popular these days, what with the recent Yankees/White Sox game played in the idyllic cornfields of Iowa, but, like protagonist Ray Kinsella, Harry Queener probably heard voices, too.
“Build it and he will come.”
Unlike many of the Upstate icons I’ve profiled in RTD blogs this past year, Harry Queener did
play high school lacrosse. He got his first taste of the game when he was a sophomore at Geneva High School; his football coaches Bob Manners and Jack McDonald also coached lacrosse, and Harry was drawn to the speed and contact that lacrosse offered.
Also unlike many of the greats I’ve written about, Harry didn’t find particular success at the college level. His college travels took him from Monroe CC to Oswego State, where the program wasn’t at an NCAA level yet. He earned his degree in elementary education and then went to Geneseo for his Master’s degree in special education.
Though not the founder of Penn Yan lacrosse, and no longer the head varsity coach of the Mustangs – yes, 25-time Section V champions, by the way – Harry Queener started his lengthy relationship with the Finger Lakes’ finest during the 1982-1983 school year, when he was hired as a special ed teacher and JV lacrosse coach at Penn Yan. He served as the JV coach for three years and then moved up to the varsity helm when that coach took another job.
Harry spent 18 years as the Mustangs’ head coach, building a program that had first started in 1973. Looking back, he says that the 1992 return of Brian Hobart to the PY community after playing football at Canisius College was a huge landmark in the program’s success. The following year, a supportive community, led by the efforts of men like Steve Trombley, Bruce Hansen, Bill Halbert, and Ed Bolger, helped build a primitive outdoor box lacrosse rink, complete with chicken wire (rumored to be dubbed “the Chicken Coop” by Casey Powell), and it wasn’t long before lacrosse became an obsession in the small town on Keuka Lake.
Harry and his coaches took Penn Yan teams to youth tournaments. The Penn Yan Youth Lacrosse Association bought an old three-quarter-length school bus (“The Magic Mooner” – don’t ask…) to transport teams, and they weren’t afraid to put miles on it. “We took teams to the NJLA tournament at Towson for three straight years, when my kids Brice, Brett, and Sarah were playing youth lacrosse. We played against teams like Team Texas, Team Minnesota, and here we are, Team Penn Yan. That’s where I first met George Leveille and Anthony Ortolano; they were coaching their kids on an Albany team. It was a great tournament; it was the first time I saw kids from Colorado, Texas, etc… but it went by the wayside.” At an Ithaca Turkeyshoot during that time, Brice played against a Canadian high-schooler named Brodie Merrill – a few years later, they were teammates at Georgetown.
The extra experience and travel paid off. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the Mustangs won their first Section V title in 1996, the first of 12 consecutive championships. Success in the State playoffs was hard to come by, but Coach Queener and his squads persevered.
Then, in 1998, in just its fourth year of existence, the Mustangs’ girls’ varsity team, coached by Harry’s wife Patty and starring their oldest daughter Sarah, ran the table and completed a perfect 24-0 season, winning a state championship. In a house filled with coaches and competitive athletes, the win added extra motivation for Harry and his sons.
The Mustang boys won Sectional titles again in 1998, 1999, and 2000, and in 2001 everything finally fell into place. Penn Yan advanced to the state championship and defeated Manhasset 9-8 for its first – and, so far, – only state title. Brice was a senior midfielder on the team, and Brett was the sophomore goalie. Penn Yan Academy became the first boys’ lacrosse team from Section V to win a state title.
“Go the distance” would be another easy Field of Dreams
cliché, but Coach Queener, well, he took the road less traveled…
In 2004, he stepped aside from the boys’ team to be Patty’s assistant coach, and Brian Hobart took over as head coach of the boys’ program. Harry helped Patty – and their younger daughter Sylvia – for four years. The Penn Yan girls won their second state title in 2004, and Harry says that he enjoyed that championship just as much as he had the boys’ 2001 win. In 2008, he returned to the boys’ side as Hobart’s assistant, the same position he holds today.
In 2016, Harry retired after 33 years of teaching at Penn Yan, and he has handed over the youth program to Chris Hansen (girls) and Hobart (boys). Deemed an “attractive nuisance” by town officials, the Chicken Coop was torn down, but it has since been replaced by another box, located in a less visible locale.
But make no mistake about it – the program built by Coach Queener still prevails. Consider: from the small, Class D school, the Mustangs can boast 26 high school All-Americans. Pat Cougevan was Penn Yan’s first A-A, and he went on to be a starter for Syracuse. Mike Manley was a two-time USILA All-American at Duke and has played in the NLL, MLL, and, currently, the PLL. Both Brice and Brett have played professionally as well. Brad Voigt played at Syracuse and then professionally.
In recent years, PYA alumni have continued to go on to play at some of the top D-I men’s programs in the country. Connor Fingar (UAlbany), Austin Fingar (Cornell), Brian Maciejewski (Limestone), Brandon Maciejewski (Stony Brook), Jim Burdett (UAlbany), and Sean Emerson (LeMoyne) are just a few.
In case you missed it, the 2021 Mustangs went 16-1 this past spring, winning the school’s latest Sectional championship, 16-2, over Pal-Mac this past June. Unfortunately, due to COVID, that was as far as the season went.
In 2018, Lax All Stars sponsored a new award at the Lake Placid Summit Classic – the LAS “Grow the Game Award” – presented to the person or people who have helped promote the growth of lacrosse.
The first-ever winner?
Nope, not Harry Queener.
The award deservedly went to the entire Queener Family.
You see, Coach Queener’s coaching legacy is most visible when his family gets together. Oldest daughter Sarah is currently the head coach of the D-III women’s program at Pomona-Pitzer in California. Brice is the offensive coordinator of the women’s D-I team at U Denver. Brett is the varsity boys’ coach at the Community School of Naples, Florida. Sylvia is the head coach of the women’s team at D-III Whittier College in California. Enroute to their current positions, Harry and Patty’s children have also coached in New York, Washington DC, Connecticut, Tennessee, Texas, and Canada. To date, Harry (2004), Patty (2012), and Sarah (2021) have each been inducted into the Greater Rochester Chapter of US Lacrosse’s Hall of Fame.
But there are more branches to the Queener coaching tree. Penn Yan Academy alums Jason Paige (Keuka College), Eric Carlsen (Wayne HS), Chris Hansen (PYA girls), and Jason Lochner (Alfred) have also found themselves coaching on the sidelines. Justin Wahl and Cougevan coach in the Fairport youth program. Even Hobart has pushed beyond his position at PYA – he has also coached at the professional and US National Team levels.
So, how does a guy who was born in Tennessee, who started playing lacrosse in tenth grade and didn’t play with All-American teammates in college – and didn’t
go to Cortland State – go on to become one of the most successful high school coaches in all of Upstate New York?
Perseverance. Surrounding himself with good people. Building a program – make that programs (plural)
– including his own immediate family and supported by his local community. And Harry Queener likes to say that he has good bloodlines, too – an ancestor who wore buckskin and was known for his “stickball” skills once roamed the countryside somewhere near the Tennessee/Kentucky border.
It’s not hard to envision someone visiting Penn Yan and seeing Keuka Lake, the new turf field and the state championship banners at Penn Yan Academy, and the new box lacrosse rink up the road, and asking, “Is this heaven?”
“No,” Harry Queener would say proudly. “This is Penn Yan.”
Thanks for reading. Please, college students are back and scholastic sports have started, so drive carefully. Stay safe, stay smart, and stay kind.
- Dan Witmer
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.