Some Americans at the World Games Will Have Plenty of Experience
By Nelson Coffin, Photos by John Strohsacker
The Americans making the flight from Los Angeles to Australia in late June for the World Championships should easily have an abundance of lacrosse and life stories to share should they want to kill some of those fifteen in-flight hours. And we're not really talking about the players, either. The officials, the coaches, the statistician and some other members of the support staff have varied backgrounds in the sport that collectively far outweighs the experience the U.S. squad can claim, considering the Americans boast only a half-dozen post-collegiate performers among it 23-man roster. Statistician Harvey Cohen, alone, has been affiliated with the old Indian game for almost 70 years as a player, coach and organizer. The 84-year-old attorney from Manhasset isn't going to let a little jaunt halfway around the world stop him from supporting his country's stick squad, especially given its newfound status as an underdog.
It's Cohen's nature to stand up for his country. He proved as much during World War II. Between stints coaching the Harvard frosh, while a law student in Cambridge, Cohen was a pilot adept at dropping paratroopers behind enemy lines in Hitler's Third Reich. Remember, there were more than a few folks who believed the Nazi war machine was invincible when the U.S. entered that battle, as well. Maybe that's one of the reasons why Cohen is optimistic about Uncle Sam's Perth prospects.
Cohen first decided the US had a real shot in Perth while he watched the unheralded U.S. squad top the Major Lacrosse League's New Jersey Pride, 14-10, in the team's first official exhibition. "I was shocked," said Cohen, a Hall of Fame member (Class of '88) who probably hasn't said that many times about anything concerning a sport he first played at Lafayette College in 1934. "We had only been together once, and that was in October (at the Lacrosse for Leukemia fall ball tournament in Baltimore). A, I thought they were going to kill us and B, I thought they'd [probably E-Lacrosse and others] publicize it to the world.
The officials on duty that night in New Jersey were, as usual, hearing it from both sides. They'll probably get an earful Down Under, also. The foursome, Eric Evans, John Price, Greg LaCour and Mike Ventura, qualified for the "team" by the same rigorous selection process that confronted the players. They are some of the best refs in America. And the refs were supposed to be prepping themselves that day for the quicker pace of the no-horns, sub-on-the-fly international game. Not that a few negative comments on a high school field in New Jersey are about to perforate the thick skin of those guys. They've heard it all before. There's little reason to think that they'll shy away from making tough calls just because they'll be on the world stage in the Land of Oz. And the U.S. kids can save the lobbying on the flight over. The Americans can't ref any U.S. encounters until the final, provided the U.S. kids, and the officials, get that far.
"The pros wanted it called a little looser and the other side wanted it called more like a college game," says Eric Evans, who penned pamphlets on New England officiating and international referee history. "So we were somewhere in the middle and both sides were pissed at us." Evans worked the 2001 European Championships in Cardiff, Wales and values the experience.
"I like the [international] rules better," said the former All-New England defender from Hotchkiss School now living in Vermont. "It's more of a player's game, not a coach's game. And you don't have to worry about a lot of things like equipment. No body cares if you're wearing a mouthguard or not. You almost never see a stick-check."
Mike Ventura probably has the most hours logged in big games than any of his cohorts. He has officiated championship contests in the pro indoor league, Division I and Division III NCAA, six Brogden Cups, two Canadian and three German national championships. The Towson, Md. native was also part of the crew in Stockholm, Sweden for the European Championships in 1997. Ventura, who played golf at Loyola College, figures his time wearing a striped shirt in the NLL final in front of almost 20,000 screaming fans in the Air Canada Centre in Toronto was the ultimate. "If you can live in the indoor pro league or in the MLL, you can do anything," the 48 year-old insurance executive, advised. "I have a great chance to make it to the final this year and that's what I want to do." Just like the teams, which advance by winning, the zebras will move along after being judged for their game management skills.
Perth-bound referee John Price has been calling games since 1988 but will be a newcomer to international competition, although he's officiated NCAA and ECAC tournaments and a pair of New York State high school title tilts. Price, who hails from Lima, New York is also a rules interpreter for the past five campaigns.
Long Islander Greg LaCour was an attackman at Towson State, where he led the team in scoring in 1980. After several years of club ball in the Baltimore area, LaCour wanted to stay involved in lacrosse. Like Price, this will be his first taste of the international game. The Floral Park native prepped by reffing in the ultra-competitive private school league (MIAA) and college lacrosse in the Baltimore area. "I have a lot of confidence because of what we learn in our association (Southern Lacrosse Officials Association). And the level of competition here is so high in the high schools and with all the D-I programs," he said. As for moving up a level or two, LaCour is ready. "I just have to dig in and do the best I can," said the Bel Air, Md. resident. "Being a former player helps me to understand what these guys are going through sometimes."
So while the team is young and inexperienced, some of the often overlooked contributors to the World Games bring loads of experience to the task. So, on that very long flight, if the young guys aren't zoned out to the new Papa Roach tunes on their MP3 players, they could twist an arm or two and get some great stories going. And the tales will only get better after the heated competition expected down under.
DID YOU SEE THOSE JERSEYS?
They're sporting the new REBEL/STX Uniforms!
June 22, 2002