By Michael Spinner
The City College of New York (CCNY) dropped its men's lacrosse program only weeks before its first game of this 2004 season.
You heard me right. After nearly 120 years fielding a mediocre to bad varsity lacrosse program, CCNY finally decided to give it up this week. In their defense, CCNY probably had the worst winning percentage in the NCAA since the 1970's. Only a handful of CCNY laxers in recent memory had ever held a stick before joining the team, let alone played competitively. The fact that most opponents cleared their benches only minutes into each game alone might be justification for ending a tradition that was almost as old as college lacrosse itself.
But worse than all that, even worse than their team name, the Violets, was that it seemed to take the CCNY players forever to finally get out of school and get a job. Believe it or not, most members of this team took 5, 6, and 7 years to graduate. Sometimes more! With so many members of the team taking the better part of a decade to earn their degrees, the administration's call to "put down" this program would seem only logical. That is, if they weren't taking so long to graduate because they were BUSY BECOMING DOCTORS! They were studying to become Engineers. They were earning PhDs.
Let me back track for a moment: If you look into the annals of lacrosse history and the lacrosse Hall of Fame, you will locate the fact that the second oldest college lacrosse team in the United States was at the City College of New York, better known as CCNY. They started in 1888 (just after Stevens Tech I believe), and considering that lacrosse has as much of a following in New York City as Ice Hockey has in Guam, fielding a team there for so many years was quite an accomplishment.
In fact, for a better part of its earlier history, CCNY not only fielded a team but regularly played games against Army, Johns Hopkins, the Ivy League programs, and all of the other powerhouses - and if you don't believe me, the Media Guides of any major program who fielded a team before 1960 will show regular annual games against CCNY. CCNY played these programs for a better part of last century. They didn't win too many of these games, but the fact that they played such legendary programs shows that CCNY lacrosse meant something to many people.
Chief Leon A. Miller was one of those people. You can read all about Chief Miller at the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Chief Miller was the Head Coach at CCNY from 1932-1960 and was an early lacrosse legend, beating regularly the top teams like Navy and Mt. Washington between 1900 and 1905 as a star player at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. Talk about tradition - this is a man who helped invent the modern game and he did much of it at CCNY.
George Baron is another one of those people. George was a First Team All-American goalie at CCNY in 1947 and played in the College North-South game that year before embarking on a lifelong dedication to lacrosse that continues to this day. He founded New York City's first program at Jamaica High School during the 1980s and coached there for many years. Now in his 80's, Coach Baron is still coaching as he helps out several High School programs and summer lacrosse camps. His speech on the history of the lacrosse stick is simply amazing to see and if you happen to have the pleasure to meet Coach Baron you would be amazed by what the guy knows. He has seen it all and I could listen to him talk lacrosse all day. Coach Baron is in the Long Island Lacrosse Hall of Fame even though he did not play lacrosse on Long Island, and should be in the National Hall of Fame for his 60 years of dedication to our sport, but like everything else involving Long Island Lacrosse, there are brutal politics. There are many Division I Lacrosse programs to have First Team All-Americans in their history, but many more that do not. CCNY has one.
CCNY went through a lot of changes as an institution over the years. There was a time when CCNY was basically a Harvard for the working man and was considered about as fine of a college as existed at the time. Colin Powell is a CCNY grad. There are hundreds of PhDs, Doctors, Lawyers, Rhodes Scholars, etc., who have a CCNY diploma. Like the rest of the City University of New York system, CCNY's demographic changed considerably during the latter part of the last century, but its academic strength remained the same. People of all colors, religions and nationalities began to become doctors, lawyers and engineers at CCNY, and each year the team still played and represented the whole student body. To be blunt, in a sport that struggles to be less homogenous, CCNY was accomplishing more than anyone without lowering a single academic or athletic standard. To this day CCNY regularly draws the finest New York City kids who cannot afford to go to an expensive private school and offers them a top quality education for pennies on the dollar. Want more info - check out the Sophie Davis Medical Program there. It ranks with the world's elite.
During the latter part of the last century, CCNY's teams were pretty weak, but the program was strong. The lacrosse alumni were such a success as a group that they donated a beautiful Astroturf stadium to the college. The team regularly had 20-25 guys who were not lacrosse players, but they were athletes who played the game hard. They had a coach and volunteer webmaster, Hector Munoz, who was about as classy of a gentleman who ever walked the sidelines. In 1999, I had the opportunity to coach against CCNY, and even though the score was ugly in our favor, Hector was as upbeat as ever and talked about how proud he was of his team. They lost with class, they played hard, and all of them are going to get jobs better than the guys who played for my team because they were mainly Pre-med and Engineering at CCNY.
Not long ago, a new Athletic Director took over at CCNY. His name is Robert Coleman. I don't know Mr. Coleman personally, but I could tell you that his cranial capacity does not possess or allow much room for lacrosse knowledge because at the end of the 2003 season, he fired Hector Munoz after 17 years at the CCNY helm because he felt he needed a Coach who would recruit better players and win some more games. He never considered that a school with a 100% commuter population, located in a less-than-flattering area of New York City, where there are only a handful of High School teams has almost no chance of ever recruiting High School seniors to play lacrosse. Coleman needed only to browse the program's won-loss record before making his decision.
He must have thought, "This program does not win - we need a new coach." It didn't matter that the lacrosse alumni were so successful in life. He wanted wins. So, he hired a new Coach, Frank Romeo. Romeo was the Head Coach at New York Maritime during the mid 1990s … and we all know what a powerhouse NY Maritime was back then. Of course, he was "the right man for the job."
Barely six months on the job, Romeo had accomplished so much that two weeks before a full slate of 2004 games was to begin the program was dropped. Next year, they might be a club team, but maybe not.
So, let's look at the progress here. 116 years of producing men of character who were accomplishing in life well above what the average college lacrosse program was producing. 116 years of alumni who have utilized their overall experience at CCNY to become wealthy, successful, and proud of their institution - and anybody who ever attended a CCNY alumni game knows exactly what I am talking about. 116 years later, they fire a coach who was doing a great job and always fielded a team to hire a guy who could not accomplish as much and may have ruined the program.
Am I missing something here?
Detractors will say that the CCNY program absolutely stunk on the field and that is true. And, chances are that CCNY would have never fielded a top quality college lacrosse program. But, is that the point? Is this ALL about winning and losing? Is the sole purpose of fielding a college team of any kind to win? Or is it to provide a student-athlete with the opportunity to play a sport, represent the school and develop their bodies and minds in and out of a crowded New York City classroom?
If the purpose of college athletics, especially on the Division III level at an urban commuter campus with high academic standards, is less about winning and more about education, than the CCNY program for 116 years was about as successful as any program in the country even while losing so many times. And the fact that they had a coach for 17 years who preached dignity, class, and enthusiasm meant that the athletes were being educated even in losing. And now, the tradition is over because an administrator thought he knew best when he was simply ignorant. In a sport that values and honors tradition as lacrosse does, we all will feel some sense of loss when we learn of the program's demise, even though the sport itself will not be impacted by the lack of a program at CCNY. It will, however, impact the young men who, each year, won't be experiencing lacrosse's competitiveness, commitment, camaraderie, and loyalties on that turf field which represented 116 years of CCNY doing it right. Now it is over because of an administrator who could not have done things more wrong.
To what ends do they aspire? St. John's University, Baylor University, Iowa State University and the University of Colorado are all more accomplished on the courts, fields, television airways and ticket offices than CCNY teams could ever dream of being. Are they more successful programs?
St. John's basically had to end their season because a bunch of players decided to go to a strip club and then brought a woman back to their hotel and had a sex party. Underage players at a strip club after curfew meant big-time suspensions and even expulsions but the program will be back at full strength next season.
Iowa State University's Basketball Coach Larry Eustachy was fired a little more than a year ago because he was drinking with college kids, and not on only one occasion. He was the highest paid state employee in Iowa but could not find anybody to party with. The poor guy is gone but the program lives on.
The Colorado Football program has its own special prosecutor appointed by the Colorado State's Attorney's Office. The 4 year scandal, highlighted by six allegations of rape, an insensitive and sexist rant in public by the now-suspended coach Gary Barnett and many accusations of recruiting parties featuring paid strippers and prostitutes, will not stop the grand tradition of Buffaloes football. And, of course, the dollars are too attractive and addictive. The fact that most Colorado football players never actually earn a degree won't be considered for a moment and there is a pretty good chance that Barnett will be back on the sidelines in the fall with a damn good team.
While the Baylor University basketball team was beating Texas A&M this week, the schools independent investigation accused last year's already-fired coach of allowing improper payments to students, including a player who was killed last summer by a jealous teammate.
We have reached the point in college athletics where you can get away with everything even murder as long as your team wins, but if your team is losing or unprofitable, you are out - regardless of the educational value of the athletics experience. In the new college athletics culture, the kids do not matter. Integrity and education do not matter. Tradition does not matter. It's all about the W's and the dollars, even after 116 years of proving otherwise. CCNY's current administration inherited a great wealth that belonged to the sport and the state, but they did not value it or understand it. They entrusted it carelessly and then tossed it in the trash when they broke it. And they were ashamed of losing ball games?
Oh, and by the way, the members of the CCNY Lacrosse teams I watched over the years never lost a game no matter what the scoreboard said. They won at life and are very much enjoying victory to this day.
Team and Alumni photos from the CCNY Lax web site.
February 28, 2003
First of all thanks for the article. The last two seasons at CCNY were the hardest for me, especially the last one. It was due mainly to the many battles my assistant (Brad Meetze, Oswego) and I had in order to field a team. Would you believe that Brad and I shoveled snow off the turf after the first snow storm in order to have a small area to practice on. When we were hit by the second snow storm there was too much snow for us to remove. The "03" team was least prepared team I have ever fielded at CCNY due to lack of quality practices. Practicing on a small side court for basketball does not teach a team, defense, offense, transition, riding and clearing for a game that is played on a field the size of a soccer field. We had no scrimmages because of the snow. So you can see why the team had difficulties.
I really want to write about one of the e-mails written to you by Brett Smith. In his e-mail he wrote, "In fact, Mr. Munoz had been disassociated with the program for a long time before Mr. Romeo accepted the position." The fact is that I was informed that I would not be re-signed in the middle of May. During the fall I was in contact with some of the players to find out how things were going with team and in contact with Doug Marino and George Baron, who have been involved with saving the program since my release. Just last week I was at City, met the new coach, spoke to the lacrosse players on helping the coach to recruit athletes on campus while he recruits off campus. I made it quite clear that the lacrosse alumni is working very hard for the team, but their help is needed. While I was there three young men showed up to speak to the coach about joining the team and one of them had played in high school. I feel that Mr. Smith is not aware that I am an alumnus of CCNY. So how can I disassociate myself from my alma mater. Maybe Mr. Smith should have done some research on his part before writing the above statement.
I have never met Mr. Frank Romeo and I have no idea what kind of a person he is. The one thing I can tell you about him, if he were the coach right now I would have done the same thing for him that I did for the new coach. I was there for the players and the program.
Once again thank you for the article,
IN DEFENSE OF FRANK ROMEO
I read with great dismay your article of February 28, 2004 regarding the CCNY lacrosse program. Not only is your derogatory tone overtly supercilious and unnecessary, you repetitively contradict yourself and make misinformed statements. I have followed many family members and close friends in the lacrosse world on e-lacrosse for years. Never have I found the site so lacking in class as I did upon reviewing your article.
Your respect and friendship for Coach Munoz is apparent and no reader can fault you for this. Surely, Coach Munoz did a wonderful job if was able to teach pride and diligence to his athletes. You stoop too low is your blatant defamation of Mr. Romeo, however. CCNY is certainly a difficult place to recruit given its "less-than-flattering area of New York City" and "100% commuter population" as you so respectfully state. What can one expect from ANY coach inheriting such a program in late August? I challenge you to turn the eye inward and seriously ponder if you are able to produce anything different given similar circumstances? Mr. Romeo was, in fact, only "six months on the job." How dare you make such an attack against anyone. Your implications are that a better coach could have produced more. Do you seriously believe this to be true? Perhaps one of the top-five D-I coaches would have been more suited for the challenge? Would they have been able to recruit more players in the FALL when 99.9% of the student population is attending a college of their choice?
You make no mention of the position being part-time. You make no mention of the lack of facilities and support athletics receive at the school. You make no mention of the FACT that Mr. Rome had SIX eligible players on his roster. You fail to mention the FACT that Mr. Romeo inherited a program with myriad problems and that he had NOTHING to do with the termination of Mr. Munoz. In fact, Mr. Munoz had been disassociated with the program for a long time before Mr. Romeo accepted the position. You do not mention Mr. Romeo's extensive knowledge of the game or passion to help young people grow and mature. No, these do not support your personal crusade to help a friend in a time of shame. Of course, this type of information requires speaking to Mr. Romeo. This you failed to do.
Michael, I cannot express enough my total disgust in your obvious defamation of perhaps the most honest, hard-working, genuine man I know. Perhaps if you took the time to COMPLETE your research and actually speak to ALL parties involved in the story, your journalism would be more representative of the truth. I hope you will realize your error in slandering Frank Romeo's name. I think many people expect you to correct this misrepresentation with a few words on your classy website. This is not too much to ask considering Mr. Romeo has done nothing but try to help a staggering program.
I wish you well in your future endeavors to present the truth to your readers. That is what journalism is about, right?
p.s.- Your derogatory implication of Division III athletics did not go unnoticed.
Just read your article regarding CCNY Lacrosse....I found it very informative and really liked the fact that you stood up for a program that never won (on the field). I do however question one part of the article, your accusation that Frank Romeo ran the program into the ground. I personally have known Frank since our freshman year at Roanoke College (played together for four years) ...the way it was explained to me from Frank a few weeks ago.... he was dealt a program in ruin and had little chance of getting enough kids to participate to field a team. I'm sure there are two sides to every story but I think Frank should have the right to defend himself before the story is posted on e-lacrosse. Like I said before I really did enjoy your article I just do not want this to affect Frank's ability to do something he trully cares for (staying involved in the sport of lacrosse).
Hope all is well with you. Things here at Roanoke are fine except it is pouring down rain today and we have a game at 3:30! I guess it is better than snow!
I read your recent article about CCNY dropping lacrosse. Like you, I hate to see any program drop from varsity to club status. I was especially interested in your article because Frank Romeo, the CCNY coach, played for me here at Roanoke College.
It appears that you did a tremendous job investigating the events at CCNY except for your assertions that Frank Romeo may have somehow caused the program to be dropped from varsity status. I have spoken to Frank on several occasions about the situation at CCNY and you should have spoken to him yourself before writing the article. I don't know anyone at CCNY and cannot make assumptions or lay blame on anyone up there. I do however, know Frank Romeo and he is a fantastic person who only accepted the job at CCNY as a "labor of love" for lacrosse. He wanted to have a team in place and was prepared to do so but tremendous obstacles stand in his way. He is a great lacrosse person, willing to accept little pay for late nights, long hours and much heartache coaching, playing, teaching the game we love. From what Frank has told me, he did everything possible to have a team in place this Spring and in the future but was offered little assistance or encouragement.
I know that Frank is upset about some of your statements in the article and I am enclosing his email address in the event you want to reach out to him for some more information on the situation at CCNY.
Thanks for reading my note and see you soon.
I spoke with Mr. Coleman today and he informed me that the team is still playing only at a club level. I guess this is better then no team at all. He has received soo many emails regarding this issue.! I hope the team gets reinstated next year.
Thanks for all you do for lacrosse
VIOLET'S ARE BLUE…
I must congratulate you on your great article. (The team name, however, is the Beavers, (Violets are NYU). CCNY colors are Black & Lavendar).
I did read it with a trembling heart, though. It was the first I heard that my Lacrosse team had been ended!
I played at CCNY from 1965 to 1971. We fielded respectable teams (of course our record seems to improve over the years). My closest friends are my teammates from almost 40 years ago! We are in a variety of professions: medical, education, social services, business….. We have been in close contact with the lacrosse program throughout the years. Lacrosse alumni were the major contributors to the athletic field at the college. (A bit of ancient history: Felix Frankfurter, a former Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court was a CCNY Lacrosse player.) Alumni have served as mentors to varsity players and have assisted them in starting their careers.
Being a member of a team made my attendance at this large university more personal. I had connections with teammates and coaches (George Baron and Sy Kalman). My fervor for the college kept me active in the Alumni Association and I served as its President for two years.
As an education administrator, I have been interviewed for a variety of positions. I always included the statement "As a member of a team, I know when to be a contributing part of a team and when to step forward to be the team leader". I learned this from my team participation.
I hope that this program, filled with rich tradition, can be reinstated.
I want to thank you for the article on CCNY. This is what sports should be about in this day and age. It is not about the "W" in the win column but the fact that they come together each and every day as a team. I think that CCNY officials missed the boat on this program by dismantling it. They should have realized that they where graduating well rounded proud citizens into the community from this program. This is shown by the gift of the Astroturf field that the alumni purchased for the program. They might not have been the best skilled players but they had heart and dedication to a team and a game.
The administrators at this school and any school talk about how they stress academics over anything else. What they don't realize is that with out the focus of team building skills from sports they loose the well rounded aspect of the student athlete. I know this first hand being a past student athlete. I was part of the lacrosse program at Radford University which was also dismantled do to a college president's lack of understanding. I am proud to be Radford University lacrosse alum, and I am fighting to get a program back there. They have club but that is not good enough. I think people need to be aware that even though Lacrosse is not a money sport it still builds off of the same principles as well as ideals that are set forth by the NCAA. The bottom line is college president's need to be educated about the sports that build character, not the schools bank account.
Thanks again for the article
What a fantastic story. As a native New Yorker who never saw a lacrosse game until I played baseball out on the Island and now a transplanted Marylander whose son played at Western Maryland under Coach Keith Reitenbach for 4 years, it hurts to see tradition die. College sports today have gone off the deep end. Teams recruiting using strippers. Teams with more criminals on the team then are in the local jail. If they want to maintain the credibility of the process they need to eliminate special preference to jocks and make them compete to get into school to prepare for life in the real world. Obviously CCNY does that everyday. This was a school whose basketball teams were incredible until they were rocked by a scandal. They now have things in the right perspective. Thank you for the story!
James F. Coleman
That is indeed a wonderful article about CCNY! I do hope that the new AD Robert Coleman reads the article. You have touched on the many positives that lacrosse brings our student-athletes no matter the school, nor the season record!
Brooks Singer, Head Coach Catholic U (Men's D3, Washington, DC)
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