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Lacrosse Memories

By John Magladery '69

John Magladery '69

I entered Gilman in seventh grade, a far different environment from the small public elementary school from which I came. In 1963 there was no middle school, and seventh grade (first form) was the intimidating first rung of the upper school ladder. First and second formers were divided into teams for each sports season and played highly competitive intramural contests.

In the spring of 1964, we were ushered into the main gym where mountains of lacrosse equipment spread far into the distance. Ancient leather helmets were either soft and cracked and oozed impossibly onto your head or stiff and hard as a metal bucket, digging unmercifully into adolescent skin. Face masks, re-screwed many times, were generously spaced, offering protection from beach balls but of dubious value against lacrosse balls. Leather gloves were strewn about like roadkill, and were so stiff as to make grasping a lacrosse stick next to impossible. As a result, all of the palms had been cut out by resourceful young men.

We were the last of the wood stick generation. The sole source of sticks was a famous sporting warehouse called Bacharach Rasin, which supplied all college and prep teams nationwide. Of course at the time, that universe was largely limited to Baltimore, Long Island and upstate New York. According to the caste system, top collegiate teams had first crack, followed by private schools such as ourselves and then public schools. The warehouse had endless piles of sticks, each unique. It took hours to find the ideal piece of crooked wood, with particular attention paid to weight and balance. After the purchase, endless hours were spent oiling the pocket and straightening the gut wall with popsicle sticks until it was perfect. Of course, all of that painstaking work went for naught in the first rain, when leather pockets tightened up and gut walls softened into mush.

Properly outfitted in our leather Super Mario aviator helmets, stiff gloves with the palms removed and armed with wooden sticks, we were ready to engage in the game known as “the little brother of war.” And we loved it.

Varsity Lacrosse Team 1969

Several years later, those of us on the varsity team wore more comfortable plastic helmets and more supple gloves and, although most sticks were still wooden, a few experimental plastic stick heads began to appear.

The lacrosse season was a sensual experience. The varsity lacrosse team played home games at the current grass field location. Although the field itself was not great, the environment was. Northern Parkway was only two lanes and a large grassy slope stretched across the northern end of the field. Numerous mature cherry trees covered the hill, and its intersection with the currently existing western hill created a lovely bowl, which could and did accommodate large crowds for big games. Overarching it was the sweet smell and lush pink and white colors of the blossoms. At halftime on game days, we were treated to an abundance of iced oranges meticulously sliced by Mrs. Chandlee. The pungent odor still lingers in my mind.

Inspired on the offensive end by the legendary genius of Hopkins Hall of Famer Buzzy Budnitz and infused defensively with the toughness of Coach Thompson, Gilman teams played inspired, tough lacrosse. As a math teacher, Head Coach George Chandlee was meticulously organized. His weekly scouting reports were masterful 10-15 page instruction manuals detailing offensive and defensive strategies for the next opponent as well as individual breakdowns of each player likely to see the field against us. Although I played on a number of highly skilled, nationally ranked teams at Brown University, we had nothing even close to Coach Chandlee’s reports.

As hard as we worked physically on the field, Coach Chandlee’s weekly film sessions tested us mentally. Both our efforts in the previous game and those of the upcoming opponent were dissected. Interspersed was a constant barrage of questions not limited to lacrosse. Following the Socratic Method, players were likely to be asked questions about math, history or English. One of Coach’s favorite routines was to target a shy youngster with a technical lacrosse question and then ask him to spell “lacrosse.” Responding haltingly “L A…”, the player would be startled by the crash of Coach Chandlee’s hurled clipboard as he yelled “NO, No. It’s spelled ‘RUN!”’

Amidst the host of legendary stories about Coach Chandlee, my favorite involved his trigonometry class, which was tough and intimidating. On game days, so the story went, Coach would summon our star attackman Tom Duquette to the front row and proceed to tape his ankles without skipping a beat of the lecture. 

We entered our 1969 senior season with high hopes, favored along with Boys Latin and St. Paul’s to win the Maryland Scholastic Association title. Starting strong, we compiled a 4 and 0 record capped by a convincing win over BL, setting up a showdown with St. Paul’s. Game day was spectacular with a huge crowd estimated by the Baltimore Sun at 7-8 thousand surrounding the field in Brooklandville. Unfortunately, the Crusaders prevailed behind the play of Les Matthews, a multiyear all American at Hopkins, in the goal. With our two highlight games behind us, we won five of the seven remaining games, but played inconsistently, getting upset by mediocre Loyola and Severn teams. At the time there were no playoffs in the MSA so, despite a 9-3 record, our season suddenly was over. Post season awards notwithstanding, we would not see many of our teammates with whom we were so close for many years.

In the spring of 1969, the Vietnam War was at its height, huge protest marches filled the streets, and shootings of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy shocked America. We seniors were ready for college and not looking back. At our 50th Gilman reunion this weekend, however, we did look back, hugging our old friends and remembering the good old days. Fifty years had gone in the blink of an eye.

A few words of advice to current Greyhound players…

I have no doubt that you will play hard and well this season. As my friend Lars Tiffany says “expect nothing, earn everything”; however, don’t get lost in the competition of the moment. Take the time to look around and enjoy. Take a breath and notice the sights, sounds and smells of this spring sport you love so much. Finally, take time to tell your team mates that you love them.

It’s all over in the blink of an eye.