Old Memories Given New Green Blood
Saturday we got together with teammates from the original Michigan State lacrosse club, which started in the 1962-63 season, and became a varsity sport in 1970. It was downgraded to club status again in 1996 due to Title 10 considerations. With almost 100 men’s high school teams now playing lacrosse in Michigan and 60 women’s programs, the time has come for the sport to be elevated again for both genders. The get-together was sponsored by the Michigan State University Lacrosse Alumni Association and was a great opportunity to renew friendships and recall what we aold guys all refer to as the woodstick days, when all players used wooden lacrosse sticks, not the plastics and aerospace composites of modern times. Let me say at the outset thanks to Luke Griemsman MSULAA’s very enthusiastic and capable leader. Organizing lacrosse players is only slightly less frustrating than herding cats.
Some of our teammates had played lacrosse before: Bruce ‘The Dwarf” Goodwin in Baltimore, Bud Shultz in western New York, and Dave “Wags”Wagner a transfer (in his bright red Battling Bishops red shoes) from Ohio Wesleyan. These three men were responsible for the birth of the game at the university. Bruce now lives in San Diego, Bud in St. John’s Mi and is still working for MSU’s medical school, and “Wags” is a retired foreign service officer, living in New Mexico.
Bill Prahler recounted how he got the team-name “Dancing Bear,” and how in the return game in South Bend, the Irish came onto the field after we were warming up, and walked around us single file three times all chanting his number. Once the game commenced, the war was on, but it was all clean. At the game’s end, the Irish goalie shook Bill’s hand and said, “All is forgiven.” It’s all class down there in South Bend. Bet on it. Bill now lives in Potterville, Michigan . A long-time high school coach, he is currently an assistant coach for the MSU women’s lacrosse club team.
Ex U.S. Marine Turf Kaufman, came to us from MSU football and later came to play a critical role in lacrosse becoming a varsity sport at the university. When he first joined us he could not cradle a ball and ran down the field carrying the ball in his stick, held out directly in front of him and of course he was immediately dubbed, The Spoon. Turf lives in Williamston, Michigan. His hair is silver and he remains irrepressible.
Chester “Chet” Grabowski, came to us as a would-be defenseman, but coach Bruce Goodwin somehow moved him over to goalie and during a practice in the indoor dirt arena in the Intramurals Building, one of us somehow clipped off the end of Chet’s nose with a stick. The bleeding goalie was taken quickly to Olin Health Center for treatment and one of our teammates dutifully followed along with the nose piece wrapped in a towel. Chet of course, became “Nose,” and a terrific goalie. He was also extremely competitive. In one game he came out of the net to take an attacker, but the guy got by him. A defenseman was supposed to automatically slide into the net behind Chet to cover the unattended net, but failed, and a goal was scored. And as the refs dug the ball out of the net, Chet chased our defenseman down the field shouting at him and pounding on him on the helmet and back with his goalie stick. Nose lives in Denver. Nose asked us Saturday, “Did that really happen? Yes, Nose, it happened.
We also heard how Steve Harrington was assaulted by a Notre Dame player, who knocked out one of his front teeth, and we were reminded of how we stopped the game to search the grass for the tooth, which we never located . Steve had gauze and god-knows-what stuffed into his mouth and went back into the game, whereupon each time he got the ball he immediately drilled a 90 mph shot directly at the player who had taken his tooth and was still marking him. After the third shot, which put the player on his back on the ground, the player withdrew from the game and did not return, and Steve became “Fang.” He now works for a civil engineering firm, and is a long-time resident of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
The association dinner at the Coral Gables in East Lansing culminated with an award to Dr. Frank Beeman, head of intramurals for the university in our day and our staunchest supporter in the beginning. We named him our first and permanent captain and presented him with a plaque — with a standing ovation. We also presented Mike “Jolly Green” Jolly (all 6-6) of him an award for bringing us all together. Mike personally tracked down most of us and without his dogged effort there would have been no get-together. Mike is the retired athletic director from Warren DeLeSalle High School in Detroit, and still coaching high school lacrosse.
My good friend and former teammate Bill “Wolfman” Haeger, originally from Lansing, a hockey player-turned lacrosseman, was up from his retirement home in Savannah and we recalled how every March we took off to Torch Lake in northern Michigan to hunt rabbits. During one of those hunts we had an “unusual” encounter with a deer and at some point I’ll write about that in another section of the website. Bill said that recently he had told people this story and that they sat with their mouths open, not believing.
It was great to see all my former teammates and catch up with them. I know it’s that sport can be a little out of hand at times, and that it’s fashionable in some circles to bash sport or paint all athletic endeavors with the same negative brush, but lacosse at MSUwas about as pure an amateur undertaking as can be imagined. No scholarships, no nothing, basically us paying our own way and coming to practice every day solely because we loved playing the game, and working on our skills in summer because we wanted to get better. Our first season we were 3-3, but in my senior year we were Midwest Club Lacrosse Champions, a nice way to go out. Sport teaches a number of things: the importance of practice if you want to improve a skill; how to trust others; how to peform in public and be accountable for your own performance; how to play the game with total effort, but put aside the emotion and aggression when the final whistle blows.
These are lessons that can carry over to other areas of our lives and I was glad to have been part of the start of lacrosse at Michigan State going on a half-century ago.