I’m happy to have been privileged to play on Michigan State’s first lacrosse team, fifty years ago this spring. This afternoon the lads will gather for an alumni “game” and a banquet tonight. I composed the following as a paean to the memory.
We are age seventy or more
A fact none of us can easily ignore
A half-century past our youthful prime,
We were mere boys back in that time,
Playing lacrosse on our own dime,
Conservative in dress,
Hopeful in thought,
Most or all of us in ROTC by law
A draft upon the land
Soon to be beset by massive unrest
A nation splintering into sides
As fights for equality
And a trumped-up war
Gathered bloody steam toward
Almost sixty thousand dead
On our side alone,
Race rioting in the streets leaving many dead
In the loud, long bloody years ahead.
We were from big cities
Small hamlets and towns, Midwest and East
But almost all of us seeming to be
What once was called Indian Country,
Home to Iroquois and Algonquin,
Role models largely unknown to us then,
The Iroquois Confederation,
Binding glue of the
A model for our own
And how many of us heard
That in a history class?
Like Indians we adopted all who came
And joined our effort, became brothers,
Wrote the Bard:
“We few/ we happy few/ we band of brothers/
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me/
Shall be my brother/ be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition/
And gentlemen in England now a-bed/
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here/
And hold their manhoods cheap/ whiles any speaks/
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
I contend our days had equal import
Surely felt as momentous as Prince Hal’s Agincourt
And I contend what writ Shakespeare
In the days of yore
For the audiences of Henry the Fifth
Has equal import for us on a night like this.
Like English warriors we were
Connected by our belief in each other’
And shared commitment to the game.
All of us with different majors,
Creeds, family stories,
Sad tales and prior glories
Planning to graduate on time
That is, in four straight years,
(A strange concept in modern times I hear)
Many, if not most of us,
Paying our own way through
And finding time for books and play
All the things college kids should do.
We were normal men in most ways
Yet, and I also must say
Before this august group
We were exemplary men
Who believed in giving,
Leaving marks and goals
For all those who would follow.
Unlike the golden jocks
On publicly financed full-paid rides
We scraped along and made our own way
To Bleed Green blood in the light of day
Not before crowds of cheering thousands
But on lonely fields where only
Our own pride mattered.
Look around tonight
Fifty years downstream
And how many men do you know
Who can claim
To have left such a legacy?
Banded together by a game played
By Indians and called by different names,
Men Hit a Rounded Object
To the Onondaga, the Little War
Said the Eastern Cherokee
Little Brother of War for Mohawks
And here in Michigan, “Bump Hips,”
Our Ojibwa called it.
Has there ever been a better
Description for a game
For a bunch of college men
Of Coral Gables fame?
Bumps Hips indeed
That name alone merits
And all-night, all-out grasser
On the welcoming banks
Of the beloved Old Grand River,
A paean to party-on deeds
Carefully selected for
A deliciously naughty screed.
Ours was a holy undertaking as
We willingly walked the war road
The way the Iroquois had walked theirs
Taking on all who would face us
The game a collective prayer to the creator,
Who imbued us with life
And gave us the wherewithal to face future strife.
Thus called by some back then “The Creator’s Game.”
Parties and psyching the nights
Before games, ribald and rowdy
In the extreme
Celebrations in the wake of victories
Things few mortals will never see,
If nothing else, we knew how to party,
We howling sons of Sparty
A game of unbending wills
Ferocity expected, never to wilt,
Passing considered an insidious trick
Dodging a collision with your foe
A most heinous and cowardly act,
Always charging forward, never looking back.
The runway behind us meaning nothing at all
When our team has control of the ball.
We switch immediately from D to O
All of us on the attack.
Indians then played the game all out
Slugging it out toe to toe,
Playing for the honor of self and tribe
Just as we did in our own time so long ago.
Barely conscious that we blindly
Carried on a centuries-old tradition
And so provided transportation
As bridge players say
From thence to now,
A fact of which each of us
Should be very proud.
A French Jesuit was first
To write about the game the game of les heuron in 1637,
This name from the old French l’heure
Meaning rough, or bristly hair
Like a wild boar’s,
Surely like those spiky flattops
And crewcuts of our own day,
Heuron taken to mean ruffians,
A word that applied to how we looked
If any ever could.
The priest in Kanada, en Kebek
Calling the game lacrosse in French,
Father Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit
Later martyred in horrible ways.
Look to our Indian brethren
For part of what we were
And who we are on this fine April night,
Let us recall upon the fields
Our namesakes hailed from distant Sparta
In its prime twenty four hundred years ago
Their reputation as a land-fighting force unrivaled
And what did we strive for
If not that in our campaigns?
And how did the red men put it
Avoiding collisions was cowardly,
Spartan and Indian ways were clear
Courage, trust each other, never quit
And most of all
From any team you play
Taketh not a white of shit.
I call the names of Wags and Dwarf and Schwiz
to the fore, these three men who launched us
In 1963 in the dirt arena
Of the IM Building,
Where we one night took
Grabowski’s nose remains
in a towel to Olin
For reattachment to his face,
While outside on the grass some of us danced on
The chests of other teams’ aces
As we happily kicked their
…well you know.
We fought as one tight unit
When the gloves got cast aside
Raised up all of our bare knuckles
And let our punches fly.
We drove miles upon miles
All over the Midwest,
With no other goal than
Spreading honor to
Those five letters across our chests.
S T A T E
Some men have glory
All their lives through
While others, timid as mice, never do.
We were lucky men,
Through and through
Honored to take the field in Spartan green
In an undertaking then so new
And now so old
We can wear it like the finest patina on 18 carat gold.
There will be no grand and splashy
Acclamation for anything we did
But all of us there remember
What we did when we were
No more than kids.
Hoist a drink to teammates
Who took the field with you
And to the boys who wore
Spartan green when your day was done and through,
We share one sweet thing on this momentous night
That all of us here within memory and sight ,
Gave all we had in a most glorious fight.
As the years keep passing,
So too will all of us,
As you start to take that inevitable ride
Across the River Styx
Don’t forget to pack your Bachrach Raisin
Your trusty old wooden stick,
Because, I promise you this will abide,
There will teammates gathering
To welcome you on the other side.
There is no greater glory
In any of our lives
Than to serve side by side with men
Who proved over and over
in blood and sweat and some tears too,
They would never do
Less than you.
No price can be placed on that,
It can’t be auctioned
To the highest bidder
Or contracted to the lowest
What we were is ours alone
No more, no less,
For all time, only we who lived it
Are entitled to own it.
[Portage, Michigan, April 6, 2013]