By Chris Ely
My body feels like it's been hit by a truck. From my neck to my ankles, nearly everything aches. Rising in bed I find my right shoulder and my right knee are bruised. I look like an 80 year old as I trudge, haltingly down the hall and down the steps to the kitchen to fix coffee and let the dog out. The shuffle to the driveway to pick up the paper seems to take forever. Worse still is the trip back up the stairs. With every step, my knees have the snap, crackle and pop of Rice Krispies, accompanied by knife stabs of pain. Only after luxuriating under a hot shower and taking a dose of four over-the-counter pain pills am I able to maneuver around the house without wincing and limping and moaning. It's the morning after the dreaded FIRST SCRIMMAGE OF THE SEASON.
Johns Hopkins, Cornell and Loyola staged an all-day pre-season lacrosse-a-thon at Homewood Saturday. The Blue Jays took on Cornell at 10 AM. The Big Red took a short break, and then battled Loyola. Hopkins returned later in the afternoon to complete the trifecta with a scrimmage against the Greyhounds. Charles Baber, Charles Manfusco and I were assigned to the Hopkins-Cornell game at 10.
Before we go on, let me tell a tale on myself. Even though I am approaching my 56th birthday and I have been resolving since I was 35 that I will get myself into shape before the lacrosse season begins, I never seem to be able to find the time to work out prior to the first whistle. When summer league ball wraps up in June- so do I. I get my exercise on the golf course where, the last time I checked, running is discouraged and, on most courses, riding is mandatory. So, the last weekend in June, the uniform and the whistle and the flag go back into the closet, never to see the light of day until the first scrimmage of the spring.
Unlike during the regular season when the officiating crew arrives at the game site two hours in advance of the game, on Saturday morning I met my partners in front of the scorers table at about 9:50. Our pre-game conference consisted of which way we were going to run to start the game, which official would count the Hopkins players, who would count the Cornell players and whether the scrimmage was going to be played under game conditions.
Before we knew it, the first faceoff was underway, and my season began. Much to my amazement, the first six minutes or so of the first quarter could not have gone any better. I was running the on the side of the field farthest from the benches, Hopkins was controlling the ball and much of the time, we were just observers as the Blue Jays worked the ball around in the Cornell defensive zone. I thought to my self "If this one goes like this, it will be a piece of cake".
Cornell finally got possession of the ball, we ran to their end of the field. The Hopkins defense smothered the only shot the Big Red could get off, so we head back the other way. The Blue Jays clear came up my side and it was then that I got my first remedial lesson of the spring. I'm watching the Hopkins midfielder, making sure he's not run out of bounds by a Cornell rider and as the Hopkins player runs across the midline, behind me I hear the clatter of two players hitting the turf. Sneaking a peek behind me I see a Hopkins player and a Cornell player all tangled up on the ground. Uh-oh I have a problem- I do not have a clue as to how they got on the ground! The Hopkins player is pleading "Hey sir, what was that? I do not have an answer for him because I do not know. Remedial Lesson # 1 - watch everything around the play, do not narrow your field of view to the guy with the ball and the guy who's playing him or you will miss something. Later, Manfusco told me he saw the incident from across the field and there was no foul, just a couple of players getting tangled up while chasing the play.
Midway through the first quarter, I rotated to a position directly in front of the Hopkins bench. That put me up close and personal with head coach Dave Pietramala. It didn't take long before we engaged in our first conversation of the spring. Pietramala expressed the feeling that his players were being held in the crease area by the Cornell defensemen. I could not take my eyes off the field at the time, so I did not acknowledge the coach's entreaty. He called me to task on this point. "Mr. Ely, when I speak to you nicely, I expect you to acknowledge it, or I won't speak nicely again." At that point, I was able to respond, and told the coach, with a smile, that I would, when I could. That turned out to be a pleasant exchange but it reminded me of Remedial Lesson # 2 - It does not matter that this is a pre-season scrimmage- everything that goes on between the lines is important to the players and the coaches.
The first half ended with Hopkins way out in front of a scrimmage where we officials were not called on to make too many calls. By my informal count we had a pair of slashes, an offside a couple of pushes and a crease violation. At the half, I am feeling pretty good about the job so far and even better that my legs do not feel like rubber and I am keeping up with the game. My good health and collegial repartee with Mr. Pietramala would literally take a tumble in the second half.
We were only into the first few moments of the second half when I learned the most painful lesson of the day. Cornell had the ball in its offensive box area and was working the ball around when I noticed a little more activity in front of the crease than I liked. A Hopkins defender was closely guarding a Cornell attack man- too close in my estimation. I was positioned on the Hopkins goal at the time. When the ball was passed out into the midfield area, my other crew members picked up the play and I looked into the crease to find the Hopkins defender continuing to hold his opponent, keeping him from cutting around the crease. I took a few steps closer to the crease and shouted into the area- "Number twenty (whatever), let your man move in there!" At that moment, Cornell took a shot that was partially deflected by the Hopkins goaltender and rolled to the end line. My responsibility is to cover the end line to determine which player is closest to the line when the ball goes out of bounds so that I can determine possession.
I run back to the end line, my eyes on a Hopkins defenseman. Suddenly, I find myself bowled over by a Cornell attack man, also heading for the loose ball rolling out of bounds. I landed on my right shoulder as my right knee slammed onto the artificial turf. Now here is something else you should know about me. This kind of thing has happened to me before so I kind of know what to do. I was able to perform a three quarter forward roll, get back onto my knees and signal that the ball would remain in Cornell's possession as the same player who knocked me off my feet was the player closest to the ball when it went out of bounds. The Cornell attack man who knocked me head over heels stopped by and apologized. I responded that I was OK and not to worry about it- he was only doing his job.
Manfusco jogged in from his position and said "Nice call." All I could respond with was "That one hurt" all the while thinking to myself- "and it'll hurt a lot more, tomorrow morning". Remedial Lesson # 3 - Do not get so close to the action that you become a casualty of the action. In other words, stay out of the way dummy.
As it turned out, my painful warning to the Hopkins defenseman went unheeded. About ten minutes into the third quarter, I looked into the same area and caught him mugging his attack man again. This time there was no warning. I threw my flag as high into the air as I could and when the play ended, called him for a 30 second technical foul for holding. Now I really heard it from the Hopkins head coach! His one sentence comment left no doubt that he and I would agree to disagree on that call. Pietramala's mood or his feelings about my call were likely enhanced when Cornell scored a goal on the subsequent extra man play.
At the end of the third quarter I was still feeling pretty good about things. I was not tired- I could still run and I felt me and my crew was calling a very consistent game.
Fourth quarter and, as we have done all three previous periods, the referees rotate positions for the face-off. I am on the far side of the field as I began the game. I do not much care for working that side of the field as a rule and especially in the fourth quarter. I have always thought that the far side official has more running to do that the two positions nearest the bench. It probably all equals out, but I still prefer the bench side to the far side. You feel more a part of the action when you are in charge of a goal and nearer to the substitution area.
However, being on the far side of the field does not diminish your responsibility and lo and behold, not two minutes into the fourth quarter, I catch my Hopkins defenseman friend up to his old tricks, holding the crease attack man from Cornell. No more warnings for this guy- another flag, another 30 second holding penalty and this time, I do not hear anything from the Hopkins bench - even when Cornell scored on another extra man play.
After the final whistle, the crew and Craig "Tick-Tock" Tillman head out to the parking lot for a post game critique. Craig, a former coach at Archbishop Curley High School in Baltimore City and a former referee is assigned during the season to observe games and provide analysis and feedback to the referees. He also assists the local assignor in filling out the college schedule. Craig was not attending the Hopkins-Cornell scrimmage in an official capacity but did offer several suggestions based on things he saw during the course of the scrimmage. As usual, Craig's insight was valuable and, good for this crew, his criticisms were minimal. Craig frequently attends the weekly meetings to provide his overall thoughts about the games he's observed during the week.
I headed home from Hopkins feeling weary, but pretty good about my effort. Like every spring, it was good to get out in the fresh air, get some exercise in and loosen the kinks from an off season of refereeing inactivity. I could have done without the collision with the Cornell attacker. It's a good thing I do not have another scrimmage (or God forbid, a real game!) for a while though. Unlike when I started refereeing in my 20's, it takes much longer to recover when you are in your mid 50's. But I am proud to say that I feel I can still keep up and the recovery period will get shorter as the season gets going. Heck, it had better get shorter! Beginning in March, I'll be putting on the striped shirt and blowing the whistle as many as 5 days a week.
Coaches by John Strohsacker & E-Lax Staff
February 21, 2003
More by Chris Ely
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Missing Link: An Adventure in Lacrosse Product History December 16, 2003
Hopkins Tricked, A Treat for Philly November 6, 2003
NCAA Should Look To MLL To Speed Up Game October 6, 2003
Ely on Team USA's Bob Shriver August 1, 2003
ESPN Gets Final Game Right June 26, 2003
Chris Ely Joins E-Lacrosse June, 2003