True-blue lacrosse fans, the kind of infatuated folks who just can't get enough of the sport, should have been on hand for the 7th Annual Jesuit High School Lacrosse Classic near Washington. D.C. last weekend. If you didn't, mark your calendar. It's an annual event held at the picturesque North Bethesda, Md. campus of Georgetown Prep. The formerly snow-covered and saturated side lawns of the spansive campus were now awash only with players and fans from teams that traveled from up-and-coming lacrosse areas all over the country. Teams from Kansas City, St Louis, Houston, Denver, Cincinnati, Chicago came to mix and mingle with two Washington-based squads and one from Philadelphia.
The centerpiece of the four-day event was a perfect Saturday, a sunny and mild day boasting nine varsity contests and one jayvee clash. Spectators were free to roam from any of the three games that were contested simultaneously from early morning to mid-afternoon on fields not more than a short walk apart.
In the evening the teams attended a Mass at Gonzaga Chapel prior to hearing Tim Strachan speak in a pre-dinner address to the athletes and their parents. Strachan, a former star quarterback and University of Maryland football recruit was paralyzed in a freak summer accident in the surf at Ocean City, Maryland. He has since gained fame anyway for succeeding and inspiring others despite his disability.
A helping hand getting up (even if I just knocked you down)
Strachan's words were as impressive as his deeds, according to William Bennett. The former Secretary of Education has authored many best-selling books, most recently "Why We Fight. Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism." His son, John, is a Princeton-bound senior defenseman at Georgetown Prep. "It's great to see all these young people coming and playing," Bennett said. "I think they've felt warmly welcomed. The mass was wonderful and the speech by Tim Strachan was really very, very good. I hear a lot of speeches. I give a lot of speeches. And this guy was really a very impressive kid. His optimism was enlightening and really captured the spirit of the whole weekend."
Princeton-bound John Bennett
That sense of community among lacrosse rivals and the goodwill promoted by the gathering was evident throughout the evening event. "Father George, our president at Georgetown Prep reminded us the word lacrosse comes from the Jesuits that watched the American Indians playing the game and said the stick looked like the Crosier [they carried] or 'La Crosse,'" Bennett said. "That's how it got named, so it's appropriate enough for the Jesuits to be getting together on this. It was a full house at mass. The church was full and everybody was going up to the communion railing. It was impressive. The kids were reminded about why we're really here. There was an excellent sermon at mass too about power and powerlessness. Father Novotny, the president of Gonzaga talked about these young and powerful men and how they need to understand that they still need to grow in the areas where they are powerless."
The interior of the impressive Gonzaga Chapel
These powerful young men didn't play glorified scrimmages here, either. The games were played with the passion of post season as if inspired by the weekend of brotherhood and the spirit of competition. Each triumph was also a feather in the cap for the victor, a morsel to savor for the long trip home and fodder for regional bragging rights. There were some surprises mixed in with the expected blowouts administered by the nationally-ranked hosts to whichever victim was at their disposal.
Fans in high places: Former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett and Georgetown Prep President, Father William George
Even the Hoyas could not escape the specter of an upset bid when a vastly improved Loyola Academy (Chicago) jumped out to an early 4-0 lead against them. Just when Georgetown Prep Coach Kevin Giblin might have considered pushing the panic button and rushing his starting unit back into the game, the mostly freshman and sophomore squad exploded. "We went on a nice 15-1 run after that," said Giblin, whose national top-ten Hoyas suffered a 12-4 setback to Gilman of Baltimore in a season-opening shocker at John Hopkins' Homewood Field a few days earlier. "But the game showed how much these other teams have improved."
Regis coach Jim Soran is also a Vail Shootout Director
Some squads improved in just the short time they participated in the round-robin whirlwind of games. Regis Jesuit (Denver), for instance, was pounded by Loyola and then lost to Gonzaga, D.C.'s other entrant and the co-host of the event. The Aurora, Colo. squad then rebounded by playing its best game of the year (other than a 9-8 loss to Rocky Mountain State powerhouse Kent Denver in its 2003 debut) when it ran away from St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia), 11-6. St Joe's had handled Gonzaga earlier, but was no match for a Regis rally in the fourth quarter in which the Raiders rattled off five consecutive goals in a torrid stretch that took just 5:06 off the clock.
Raubner and his socks will forego college lax to study graphic design
Max Rauber's second tally of the game was emblematic of Regis' play in this test of pride. He was the finisher on a fastbreak after a one-handed grab in stride by promising sophomore Joey Murray, who found Clay Beethe. The eagle-eyed senior middie then rifled a feed to Rauber, who whipped the ball into the net. "This is how we can play," said Rauber. "We didn't want to come out of here 0-4. We wanted to show what a Colorado team can do."
St. Joe's Coach Jacques Bagley was not exactly pumped after the meltdown cooled off his Hawks following wins over Gonzaga, 10-7, and Strake Jesuit (Houston), 12-2. "I guess we're not as good as we thought we were," said Bagley, whose team went 17-8 last spring. "We took them lightly, but they were the better team today."
Regis Coach Jim Soran thought that the spirit his squad displayed was worthy of an event with a religious foundation. "The Jesuits believe in 'Men for Others' and that's a big part of this," said Soran, who is also a co-founder and director of the Vail Shootout. "We all go to Mass together and these guys end up being friends. It's quite a moving experience."
Nelson Coffin with St. Joe's Coach Jacques Bagley
St. Xavier (Cincinnati) was a team that should have been moved after it beat a pair of Missouri schools, DeSmet Jesuit (St. Louis), 9-7, and Rockhurst Jesuit (Kansas City), 7-1. The Bombers were the 2000 Division II Ohio state champs. "This (the Jesuit Classic) does wonders for us," said St. Xavier Assistant Coach Patrick Collura, a member of the 1972 Long Island champs when he played for East Meadow. "The game is growing in Cincinnati. We have over 100 kids in our youth program now."
All smiles on the Strake sideline
Rockhurst, not surprisingly, was left in the dust by Georgetown Prep. Yet the Hawklets were not afraid to lay some wood to the Hoya attackmen when they drove toward the goal. The longsticks played tough, physical defense against the home team, which featured the high-scoring trio of Matt Lyons, Trevor Casey and Dan Glading in rebuttal to the rough stuff. The Hawklets' Andy Elmer intends to play next spring for Ohio State Coach Joe Breschi, a graduate of Baltimore powerhouse Loyola Blakefield, a Jesuit institution in suburban Towson. Loyola chose not to participate in the event this year and was missed both on the lacrosse field and in the chapel according to a few of the parents and players we spoke to.
Am I gonna be on E-Lacrosse?
Rockhurst's cross-state rival, DeSmet Jesuit (St. Louis) picked up the pieces after a shattering loss to St. Xavier by whipping Strake, 13-4. The defending Missouri champs felt that better competition might help them haul in their fifth state title in seven years. "These are our most important games of the year," said DeSmet Assistant Coach Jason Fatchett. "It's a very big deal to leave your state and play established teams." Said Spartan junior close defender Mike Wilcox: "We just don't have this kind of competition in Missouri. It helps to play against guys who grow up playing lacrosse like the kids in St. Louis grow up playing soccer. The competition is just much better here." DeSmet is already producing collegiate players in St. Louis though. A DeSmet alumnus, Pat Hogan, is a solid contributor for NCAA Division I dynasty Syracuse.
Georgetown Prep is already considered to be elite among schoolboy squads, despite the loss to Gilman. And the Hoyas did not really have to sweat much in their own back yard, except for erasing that 4-0 deficit to Loyola Academy. "We're not doing this for wins and losses," said Giblin, winner of 4 games at the Classic by a combined 54-13 margin. "It's great to see how teams get better. Three or four years ago, the St. Joe's kids could barely catch and throw. Now, they're pretty good."
Kevin Giblin with Nelson Coffin
And that improvement comes with all the benefits of participating in Jesuit high school lacrosse. "Lacrosse has really been great for my kids," says Bennett. "John's a very good football player and lacrosse is the sport he's chosen to play. And it's his younger brother, Joe's chosen sport. It's been a great experience. He's been with Coach Giblin all along at Mater Dei and then at Georgetown Prep. He's conditioned himself to the standards Giblin expects. He works hard and plays by the rules. What's that worth to a parent? It's priceless."