Shot on Goal and A Shot into the Head

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014


Our son’s lacrosse team plays in it’s high school regional championship tonight. The winner advances to the state championship on Saturday. Owen has been part of championship teams since he was 7 years old on his first soccer team. I don’t really believe that he yet understands how rare and even lucky is that level of achievement. They’re not the favorites tonight which is fine because they were not the favorites in the three previous games either.

Despite the pre-season promise for this team, the odds turned against them when their All-American teammate injured his knee rendering him unable to play at all this season. So, they regrouped, wandered a bit and found their stride in time for these play-offs. Regardless of tonight’s score, they’re the darlings of the tournament and share a collective achievement that time and its sidekick, experience, will burnish.

I drove to a morning breakfast meeting thinking about this evening’s contest. I want to find the occasion to thank publicly the injured All-American who participates in every game by instructing and rooting for his teammates. If you are familiar with lacrosse, he’s the face-off man as well as scoring mid-fielder making his absence twice as deep. His father volunteered to fill the role of Assistant Coach when the actual Assistant Coach left for higher ground because he felt that the All-American-less team had few prospects (True!).

I envisioned telling the boys that their achievement reveals one of the keen messages of team sports: that the whole is almost always greater than the sum of its parts. I imagined myself thanking the Schmidt family for the superior example of finding a way to contribute to the team after Thomas injured his knee. I want them to know that perseverance in the face of adversity is the manifestation of character, individual and collective. How we compete describes our essence.

Then I had breakfast with the young woman who has a bullet in her head.

From a good family not far from our home, she was first curious then trapped by adults preying upon naive middle-schoolers. A calamity of compounding bad decisions led to a drunken binge, a flat tire in the middle of the night, a helping hand from a ‘man in a white SUV’, his robbery of her cigarettes and $4, his gunshot to the back of her head. This was in her second year of college.

Her junior year began with a crack addiction supported by a 24 hour per day concentration on lying and stealing to support her habit. Now she is a financial manager at TROSA in Durham, North Carolina having completed its two year drug rehabilitation program.

After the breakfast discussion, 25 local business types toured TROSA’s 470 bed facility and its $13mm per year revenue-generating enterprises including the landscape business, long distance moving services and frame shop. Their CEO, Kevin Mcdonald, is the most self-effacing executive that I’ve ever met despite his credential of building this business only aided by his wits and the commitment of the residents.

Again a moment for me where I was reminded, embarrassingly so, that my day does not consist of problems, my life is abundant with opportunities.

Kevin’s son is on the Jordan lacrosse team, one year younger than our son. Kevin and I sit together at the games because we like to compare ideas about what sports can mean and how sports can be interpreted to mean more than they do.

Now I’m wondering what did I learn at TROSA this morning? What is the essence of its achievements and success? It’s in the front part of the dictionary: acceptance and accountability.

Jordan High School’s lacrosse team began the year with bright prospects for success. Events conspired to derail the this path. I now believe that they accepted this and in a minor way, compared to the enormous change in behaviors demanded of the TROSA residents, and, maybe each in his own way, have agreed to a modified set of accounts and accountability.

There has to be a measurement to the contest tonight, aka the score; maybe there will be one more lacrosse game on Saturday night. That would be fun. What truly matters has revealed itself with the promise that many others, who may rely on these boys in the future, will benefit as a result.

Bonus comment: on one of the walls in the TROSA dormitories are handwritten phrases of resident advice and observation including:

Rule #1: Don’t Worry about the small stuff in life.
Rule #2: 100% of life is comprised of small stuff.


Maybe I could pretend to be George Plimpton?!

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

High school lacrosse season began this week. As I coordinate my referee costume (don’t repeat this description to other men referees), obvious is that even though lacrosse is a spring season sport, one has to prepare for winter, spring and summer weather and, periodically, for all three during the same game. For last night’s game, I wore gloves, leggings beneath my lined pants, two pair of socks, a vest and two long sleeved shirts all of which were camouflaged by the familiar black striped shirt and hat. The game began at 7:45 pm in 32 degrees temperature. By 9:30, blowing the whistle was an achievement of lip, breath and finger dexterity. Monday’s game will be played in near 70 degree weather which will present the short ensemble: pants, socks, shirt sleeve length.


I referee high school lacrosse games, both women’s and men’s. Same game, worlds apart. Anyone surprised? The men’s game is about managing contact as the boys wear helmets, thick gloves and thin pads on the arms and shoulders. The women’s game discourages, even forbids, contact. Their variant of the game is committed to skill which comes with rules, lots of rules. The boys have their rulebook, for sure. If a ref enforced every rule or called every foul, a boys game would last longer than a cricket match presuming that not all players had fouled-out of the game in order to last that weekend.

Sports develop character and teach us about ourselves, the Fields of Eton notion. Refereeing a sport can be equally revealing about our true selves as this role requires a mixed breed of self-love, servitude, leadership, intentional deafness and a smiling distrust of each and every human being on the field and at the sidelines that you volunteered your free time to be with.

There is one law of lacrosse that all referees are taught. When the game concludes, leave the field directly and immediately. Accept a salutation or a kind word of thanks as you keeping moving towards the parking lot. I know this to be valuable advice because of the one time that I paused on the way to my vehicle to congratulate one coach on a game well-played. Her school’s team was new to the sport, the outcome of the game required three overtime periods and her girls played well and fairly into the twilight of the evening.

“Good game, coach. Well played,” I said.

Without hesitation, she replied, “Do you know how many F@#$%G calls you missed today?!” It didn’t seem like she meant only 1 or 2.

I don’t think anyone heard her besides the 15 players on her team, 10 or 12 of their parents in the stands and a guy walking his dog across the street from the field. Incredibly, I was inclined to answer her non-question. Luckily, I realized that she was yelling at The Ref and not at Christopher. I nodded with diminished authority, pivoted and marched to my car. I want to believe that the radio and closed windows disguised my screaming at her in retort. Then I enjoyed a 90 mile drive from Greenville back to Durham.

A broad range of men and women qualify to be lacrosse referees. Many are school teachers and PhD candidates. Most played the sport at some level, particularly the women’s referees. How else could one learn the rules and the application of the rules! Many of the referee’s on the men’s side are also football, basketball and soccer refs as it seems that $55 to $65 per contest can add-up nicely. Some refs are confident of their knowledge of the rules and manage the game from this base; others rely on their own playing pasts, tending to ‘let them play’, although the attention to the potential of head-injuries in all contact sports has reduced such interpretive perogative. In short, there are mandatory fouls for hits to and about the head. Fields of Eton, indeed!

The best referees call the game as they see it. They are not looking for a game to turn-out a particular way as though there is a pattern to be followed. They would rather miss a call then to make an unnecessary call and players prefer this approach. They don’t want to be influential in the game or even noticed at the conclusion of the game (Mr. Perrien seconds the motion). The superior referees have compelling presence and are credible even when they are mistaken. All refs make mistakes in every game.

When the helmets and the eye guards are removed; when the crosses are put down; when the kids rush their goalies in celebration, they all become suddenly so young to me. Or I’ve just became twenty five years older as suddenly. The transition from armored athlete to high school, fun-loving jock is instantaneous.

A similar transformation happens to referees. They metamorphose from demigod and the keeper of the peace to a building contractor or a county employee in the distance between the goalie’s cage and the parking lot. A well refereed game is a combination of suspended disbelief and pursuit of common objective. I guess that character is built by characters.

Ramen noodles or a Grande Latte Venti?

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Our younger son was born tall and hasn’t stop since. He plays on the junior varsity basketball team with a strict regimen of four practice shots per month, maybe less. His preferred sport is lacrosse where he, in true form, is catching a big wave at an opportune moment. Just ask Nike and ESPN. Even though lax is a spring season sport, one can play organized lacrosse year-round: leagues include the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, complete with helmet, pads and crosse. BTW, lacrosse received its name when the visiting team, aka the French Priests, saw the Canadian Indians playing their village to village game and declared that their sticks looked like the ceremonial cross that the bishops carried. OK, so maybe FCA teams are not so ironic after all. And there is Fall Ball and Frosty Ball (winter,’natch) and post winter but before spring ball – not really, but it is kind of an endless season. Which brings me to the concept of traveling teams, those things I scoffed at and derided when other parents told me of their lost weekends driving around the state, region and even to interstate venues. I think some place north of someplace that I have never been to.

Right you are, comeuppance time. Or should I describe it as ‘I know that I cannot afford either a new bbq grill or a new lawn-mower, but how could I not seize the chance(s) to invest $700 for a weekend away in the heat, rain and chill to watch other miserable parents watch their children pretend to be on ESPN.’ Away tournaments are kind of attractive, at least one is not asked to cook-out or to cut the grass. But, on Mondays, I look forward to getting in the car on Friday for a journey to the away tournaments entitled Select or Showcase, cause this is where the scholarships to D-1, D-2 and D-3 schools are awarded. We’re not talking college, we’re talking divisions of college. I cannot tell if being 50th of 100 in D-1 schools is better or equal or worse than being in the top 10 of a D-3 school?! I do know this: athletic scholarships are the dope of college applications = get those 15 year olds thinking about life at 22 as soon as possible, complete with a $600 HD video package of how he performed at the Select Camp so that the other coaches can view junior’s talents on-line asap. I’d offer a sarcastic comment including Harvard or Michigan or other elite institutions, but they are all rushing into lax as fast as possible. Untapped revenue streams have to be tapped and women’s tennis is not the spring draw desired.

I never dreamed that a sport that I never dreamed of when I was young would occupy so much of my attention and disposable income. How about this: I’m a certified high school lacrosse ref. I mean, how else could I learn about this simple and complex game?! Run, shoot, score…with face-offs, creases, warding and slashing. Happily, it all happens in a hurry with lots of scoring. In short, not golf. I plan to use lax as my vantage point for the college application process. Once again indicating that even though most of us will never play a professional sport, there is no harm in making a business out it anyway.

Traveling Lax Season: 1st stop Charlotte

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

I qualified as a referee this spring and worked about 30 games mostly at the middle school level. Pursued this qualification even though I’ve never played lacrosse. My elder son played and his brother is enamored with the sport having made the varsity team in his freshman year. I observe that the game appeals to parents because of its speed and, especially, the governing principle that the game is to be stopped only if absolutely necessary meaning that we’re all back in our cars within 90 minutes. I particularly enjoy the game as I instruct the team captains prior to their games, “it’s a big boy sport which is why you are wearing helmets and pads; and no body gets hurt” – meaning that it’s a game of well-defined conduct.

Fastest growing game in America. Wall Street Journal article of 20 May 11

Midshipmen, Officers and Lacrosse Players

Monday, May 11th, 2009

It was Navy weekend with the NROTC commissioning ceremonies at both NC State and Duke Universities. Gratifying to be around so many purposeful young men and women and their inspiringly proud parents. Observing 12 young midshipmen take the oath of office then promoted to Ensigns and hearing of their assignments to nuclear submarines, airplane squadrons and the Medical Corps excited me about the intriguing futures in store for each and diminished the weight of the prevailing befuddling stream of economic news.

After these Friday ceremonies, we prepared for a BBQ and the Navy vs Duke lacrosse match as part of the NCAA tournament. A vicious thunderstorm forced us inside without much loss of our spirits, but whatever good mood remained was completely dispelled when Duke ran off 10 unanswered goals in the first period. Even John Paul Jones might have struck his colors at that point. As Yankee Yogi would say, ‘it got late early for Navy.’

Duke is off to Annapolis next weekend to play UNC in the second round of this championship! The schools are 20 minutes apart and will drive 11 hours round-trip for a 90 minute game. Go Green Movement! Of course, both are happy to be in the final 8 no matter where the field.

Lacrosse participation is certainly on the rise as the Duke players appeared larger, faster and more skilled. Thirty years ago, the Navy had the larger and faster players keeping them competitive even when they were not as skilled. I’m sure that the distribution of talent into our corps of naval and marine officers follows an opposite trend, more talent is drawn from a smaller pool of interested parties.

In both the commissioning ceremonies and the lacrosse game, one had to both entertained and satisfied that there is wealth of talented and capable youth readying to relieve the watch.