Memorial Day Review: Championship Caliber Coverage

By Chris Ely

The final Public Address announcement I made before Johns Hopkins and Virginia first faced off in this year's championship game informed the crowd at M&T Bank Stadium that "this game was being seen around the world on ESPN Television". I then turned to my spotter and, off mike, said "I wonder what the folks in Pago-Pago must think of this American sport? A bunch of college kids running around in the mud beating on each other with sticks."

I have yet to hear what the Pago-Pagoians thought of the NCAA Men's Division I Lacrosse title game. But for lacrosse fans in the United States, ESPN has gotten it right and provided a first-rate telecast. They captured all the hard-hitting, pin-point shooting and gritty, albeit gloppy, excitement of lacrosse's top contest.

Leif Elsmo provided the play-by-play, Quint Kessenich, the analysis and Joe Beninati, patrolled the sidelines. More on this trio later.

M&T Bank Stadium became the first professional sports venue to host the lacrosse finals and this turned out to be both a good thing and bad thing over the Memorial Day weekend. The bad part first- the week-long rain on the natural grass field, located just a matter of feet above Baltimore's Inner Harbor rendered conditions borderline unplayable. There is little doubt all the teams that had to endure the sloppy quagmire wished the Ravens had installed their new synthetic grass before, and not after, championship weekend.

The good part- the home of the Ravens comes equipped with state-of-the-art technology designed to bring the NFL into living rooms every weekend. ESPN was able to take advantage of camera locations that heretofore had not been seen on Championship Monday while the title games were being held in college stadiums. The best example- ESPN's use of the high end zone camera which provided a terrific view of the action from behind the goal-particularly during extra man plays.

Two E-Lax Photogs: Bill Jones and Bob Odrudek

Director Rick Beczynski- who is a front line director for ESPN's coverage of NHL Hockey and the Major Lacrosse League had at his disposal 8 fixed cameras along with a pair of hand-held cameras for sideline shots. The frenetic and sometime helter-skelter nature of lacrosse is not an easy game to keep up with on television, but Beczynski made it look easy. Deftly manipulating his array of technology, he made sure the action flowed from camera shot to camera shot with no visible loss of continuity or flow. Additionally, he gets an A for his judicious use of instant replay- particularly when it focused on the stellar play of Tillman Johnson in the Virginia goal. After many years of trying, ESPN seems to have hit on the formula for visually showcasing the game as lacrosse purists would like it to be seen.

Beninati and Kessenich on a sunnier day covering the MLL

When they call the roll for lacrosse color analysts, the size of the class is not very big- but there is no doubt Kessenich is at the head of the group. Quint has been providing color commentary for the past 9 seasons both nationally on ESPN and in the local Baltimore area via WMAR-TV's Lacrosse Game of the Week. The four time Johns Hopkins All-American goalkeeper does his homework, provides intimate details on nearly every player and coach in the game and conveys his intrinsic knowledge of lacrosse, most of which he is able to translate to even the novice observer. For example, Kessenich accurately predicted that Virginia's Johnson would hold the key to the contest and pointed out early that the team that reacted best to the awful playing conditions would gain the early edge. He pointed out Hopkins' failure to keep up with the Cavaliers' speed in the first 18 minutes when UVA jumped out to a 4-0 lead, cited the Cavaliers' ability to hit the goal with uncanny efficiency and was quick to notice the Blue Jays switch to a zone defense, enabling Hopkins to slow down Virginia and make a game of it by halftime. Kessenich blends the technical aspects of the game with anecdotes from other, more familiar sports, in order to make the game more understandable to the casual viewer.

Elsmo, who has been doing lacrosse play-by-play for some 20 years, enjoys unquestioned enthusiasm for the game of lacrosse- unfortunately that level of enthusiasm sometimes gets in the way of the viewer's understanding of his play-by-play. As a former player and coach, Elsmo certainly knows the game- but in the role of play-by-play announcer, it's his job to impart the relevant facts, not overstate the obvious, and set up his analyst to deliver the good lines. Leif has demonstrated some difficulty figuring out where to leave out the analysis part. Cramming his viewpoint into calling the action of the game frequently leaves Elsmo breathless and out of control- resulting in a blur of words that come so fast, the viewer can't keep up. Elsmo would be better served to let the action speak for itself, let the pictures tell the story and leave the analysis in the expert hands of Kessenich. However, he did deliver a superb line on Johnson when he said he was playing out of this universe.

Beninati had the most thankless job on Championship Monday- slogging around wet sidelines looking for a way to contribute to the broadcast. He is the voice of the Washington Capitals and the Baltimore Bayhawks. He was off the mark early in the game when he said the field conditions would affect the shooters- a comment that was in direct contrast to what the booth announcers were describing- Virginia, after all, raced off to their early lead by racing past Hopkins defenders that slipped out of position- so the goopy field obviously affected the Jays' defense much more than the Virginia shooters. But Beninati made a strong comeback later in the game when he relayed comments from the bench areas that lent perspective to what was happening on the field.

Other observations:

Q's Best: Speaking about Johnson's spectacular afternoon in the nets: "Those saves are half reaction and half anticipation. You have to trust your intuition. The ball comes at you in an eyelash."

Joe B's Best on the Side: Start of the 4th Qtr- "Brent Hughes told his Virginia teammates: 'Play this fourth quarter like we are down by three goals.' Dave Pietramala to the Blue Jays: 'If you want it, you can have it. You've got to come back in the fourth."

Classic Replay! 4th Quarter 13:02 to 12:52- Johnson put on a clinic, making three spectacular saves in 10 seconds to effectively snuff out Hopkins last best chance to win and seal the Most Outstanding Player Award.

Don't Tell Us- Show Us! In the first 10 minutes of play Beninati made a good point about how football sized cleats would have worked better in the muddy conditions but Lax rules prevent their use. I think he had a visual presentation to make the point crystal clear, but he never made it on camera.

Where the Heck is This Mud Sty? OK, the game was played at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore- but since the venue has been re-named only recently, and during the NFL off-season, few, if anyone knew it is the home of the Ravens until Elsmo mentioned it once, late in the third quarter.

Now You Tell Us? Because ESPN crams the lacrosse into a small time frame from 11AM to 1PM on Memorial Day (all the better to make way for more Major League Baseball) they leave precious little wiggle room. To the Worldwide Leader this broadcast appears to be: here's the game- the game is over- here's who won- now let's get to Yankee Stadium. It would be nice to see Quint's keys to the game before the commencement of the second half, and a short post game interview with the star of the game would bring a fitting conclusion to the broadcast.

June 26, 2003

Photos by John Strohsacker and E-Lacrosse Staff


I first met Chris in the Baltimore Summer Leagues as a kid. He ran the league, did all the work and officiated games, as well. He was always a great person for the kids to deal with and is remembered very fondly by those who played in his leagues. Many years later I found myself back in Baltimore watching the news and there was Chris delivering the sports and covering lacrosse on the nightly news! As you'll see in the bio that follows, there might be no one in the game more qualified to write the "On lacrosse" column for E-Lacrosse. As a player, organizer, ref, and broadcaster Chris has developed a very unique and thorough view of the game. We hope to tap into that broad perspective this year as we welcome Chris to the E-Lacrosse staff! -John Weaver, E-Lacrosse Editor


Chris Ely was born and raised in Baltimore, graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute where he first played lacrosse as a midfielder. Ely then graduated in 1970 with a B.A. in psychology from Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland where he was a varsity letter-winner in lacrosse all four years.

Following graduation, Ely began a 26 year career with the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services (from which he retired in 1996) and earned a Masters Degree in Guidance and Counseling from Loyola College in Maryland in 1979. Ely played two seasons for the Mt. Washington Lacrosse Club (1971-72). In 1974 he began his lacrosse officiating career and has been refereeing high school, college, club and summer league ball from 1974 through 1994 and 1998 through the present. He ran the Heroes Baltimore County summer league, in the late 70's and early 80's.

His broadcasting career began in 1975 when he became the P.A. announcer for Mt. Washington. Later he was the radio voice of Johns Hopkins lacrosse for three seasons and handled lacrosse play-by-play on ESPN and for the World Games. Also during this time he was the public address announcer for most of the city's prep football, baseball, basketball and lacrosse championships and from 1984 through 1994 Ely was the fill-in public address announcer for the Baltimore Orioles, serving in that capacity during the closing weekend at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. For one year, he was the radio voice of the Washington Wave indoor lacrosse team.

In 1988, Chris won a contest to become the weekend sportscaster at WJZ TV in Baltimore, besting 3500 other amateur and professional candidates. He remained in that capacity until July, 1999. Ely joined WBAL Radio as morning drive time sportscaster in November of that year and joined WBAL TV in 1999, serving as the weekend sportscaster until October, 2002.

June 26, 2003

What are you doing this Summer?

June 26-July 5 at Towson University