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2009 E-Lacrosse Feature: Hall of Famer anecdotes: Watts, Dillon and Marechek among inductees

Below is a news release from US Lacrosse about the upcoming Hall of Fame ceremony and this year's inductees. It concentrates on the Baltimore inductees -- Dick Watts, Pat Dillon and George Tracy -- but I'd like to point out that Tom Marechek has made his home in the Baltimore area for 20 years now and is a Baltimore guy to me.

I thought you'd enjoy a couple of anecdotes about some of the inductees. I don't know them all but some like Marechek and Virginia coach Dom Starsia are quite familiar to most lacrosse fans.

The best Marechek story I know is really a story about how he made his way from Western Canada to Syracuse, which is where he started his U.S. Hall of Fame career. Here goes -- Gary and Paul Gait were recruited to upstate New York by Roy Simmons Jr. and had a fabulous first year. They lost to Cornell in the NCAA tournament semifinals that year, if memory serves, in a brilliant game by both squads. Hopkins beat Cornell in the final, played at Rutgers. But by the end of that season, the Gaits were established as huge stars, even as freshmen.

After that season, the story goes, one or both of the Gaits approached Simmons and asked if he had been pleased with their performance on the field that year. Simmons laughed and said he was very pleased, knowing that the two would be the cornerstone of a Syracuse surge over the next few years. The Gaits responded with a simple follow up, "'Cause y'know, you left the shooter at home." The shooter was Marechek, who had played with the Gaits back in Vancouver and was, in their opinion, one of the reasons for their great success there. Simmons took heed and brought Marechek to Syracuse the next year. The rest is history.

Marechek is easily the best closer I have ever seen. He's a trick artist that actually converts his moves into points. In a club game or maybe an MLL game I once saw him do the "Celebration Move," where he fakes the shot so well that the keeper thinks its already passed him for a score. Marechek raised his hands, pumping in the air as if he'd scored and while the goalie hung his head thinking he'd lost the point, Marechek revealed that he still had the ball and placed it softly past the completely fooled keeper. It was a truly original moment.

Marechek was a truly innovative scorer who kept his streak alive for years. At one point I think he was the oldest player in the MLL and had a stellar season, helping the Bayhawks to a championship and Canada to a world title. He will go down as one of the greatest indoor pros ever and thrilled Philly fans for years. Many in Philadelphia still wear No. 42 jerseys at games.

For a long time, I did not know who Pat Dillon was, but I would see her everywhere during my work for E-Lacrosse over the years. She was one of the most prolific referees in the women's game and seemed to be involved in every big game and many small ones. I learned later that she was a leader in the women's game and very involved in the growth and organization of the game. She's a great lady and it's nice to see a ref get some recognition at the highest level.

Dick Watts is one of the funniest guys I have ever seen coach and was the organizer of one of the summer leagues I used to play in when I was in college. I remember that in my best individual year of lacrosse I shared the lead in scoring in the Loch Raven league with Jeff Wills, who was heading off to Johns Hopkins the next year, with one game left to play in the summer league - the championship. I had never come close to such an honor before, but Willsy had like seven goals in the final, while I had five. Wills won the scoring title, but Watts offered me some of the most encouraging words I've ever heard after the contest. He told me that he respected the fact that I had played to win, feeding teammates when I could have tried to amass points in that final by going to the cage. I had never won a championship and wanted that far more than the scoring title, but having won neither, only Watts relieved my disappointment that day.

Watts is still a bigwig in Baltimore. I was standing outside the scorer's trailer at the recent Senior Players Championship at Baltimore Country Club only a couple weeks ago on the final day. I skipped back from the 18th hole every once in a while to get an autograph or two from some of my all-time favorite golfers, like Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw. At some point, an official from the tournament came out of the trailer with some signed photographs in special portfolios -- very official and a prized memento that I envied. The official walked past all of us by the trailer and greeted a man who was with some young kids. He handed the man those signed photos and thanked him for something. The man smiled and looked up and I was stunned to see that it was Dick Watts.

I have no idea what his affiliation was with a golf event but he was beaming when he received the framed photo signed by Crenshaw, I imagine. Half of me wanted to shout something like, "Somebody ought to get his autograph!" or "Do you know who that is? That's Dick Watts, one of the greats in my sport!" But the prevailing half just admired a man who had a great career in lacrosse while being such a fan of golf that an autograph meant so much.

Watts coached like that. He was a fan of the game as much as a star. I'm guessing he can play some golf, too. He was never bad at anything. He was a very effective coach and especially during games. I've seen him win games he should have lost badly with his UMBC teams.

One of the funniest things I've ever seen in a college game was Watts getting himself removed from a game to motivate his team. He's done it before and usually pulled a sideline tirade to get the hook. On this occasion, Joe "Spanky" Reppert was the official, who is also one of the funniest men in the game. Spanky would tell the crowd a joke between plays in summer league games. He's as much fun to watch as any game. On this day, Watts wanted to be ejected -- his team needed a boost and he'd sacrifice himself to give them a chance that day. He was very familiar with Spanky, having known him for years, but as he walked onto the field in some emotional response to a play, Spanky approached him, warning that Watts would be ejected if he did not return to the sideline. I just remember Watts yelling, "Give it to me, Spunky," and the ejection came immediately. Watts smiled, gave a knowing look to his assistants and left the playing area as if he'd just won the game. His team played better in every way from that moment on.

He had succeeded at motivating a team of fragile confidence and gave them a chance to win that day. I remember that as an influential moment in my lacrosse development. It was my first look at an intentional ejection and that kind of coaching strategy and it stuck with me. I never did it as a coach but considered it many times calling it the "Watts Move" in my brain.

Congratulations to all of this year's inductees but a special thanks to Watts, who really influenced me at a young age as a coach and league organizer.

October 30, 2008
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