Sunday, May 18, 2014

Danes-go figure sports

When I was a freshman in college a group of guys tried to gather up enthusiasm for a college club lacrosse team. On Long Island where I went to high school, lacrosse was a big sport. The jocks played lacrosse as much as baseball in the spring time.  Similarly in central and western New York lacrosse was a big sport.  Since so many of my college classmates came from the New York City suburbs or from the Syracuse area of the state, it was not such a coincidence that there happened to be some lacrosse enthusiasts in our freshman class.

So these enthusiasts successfully convinced the athletic powers to start a club team. In addition to those who played in high school, these enthusiasts were able to persuade athletes who had never played the game to pick up a stick and give it a whack.  They got a fellow who worked in some non athletic department administrative capacity to be a pro bono coach, somehow got the dough for the equipment, and the Albany State Great Danes had ourselves a lacrosse club.

My buddy Kenny who is a good athlete but had not played in high school, was one of those recruited to play.  He and a slew of others from my dorm began practice in early spring (which in Albany means winter). The club team took shape.

While it was not a coincidence that there were lacrosse enthusiasts in my class, it was a coincidence that there were several outstanding players on the team.  Three in particular:  Steve Jakway, Larry Smith, and Mark Werter.  Exceptional players.  These guys had not been recruited because there had been no team to be recruited to or for. They just happened to go to Albany, a club team evolved, and so they grabbed their sticks.

The club team was unbelievable. Went through the first year undefeated. In no time it had captured the imagination of whatever size group it was that followed "spring" sports at the school.   In addition, to the three studs, guys like my buddy Kenny who had not played in high school were learning the game quickly and played with terrific enthusiasm. Undefeated club team.  Very exciting to watch.

Fast forward forty six years.  Albany is now a strong division I lacrosse team. Scholarship athletes, hoo hah field, well respected coach. If you follow college lacrosse you have heard of the Great Danes. And this year, Albany was in the NCAA tournament and had made it to the quarter finals.

Yesterday, my buddy Kenny traveled to Hempstead New York to watch the quarter final match pitting Albany against Notre Dame.  It is a single elimination tournament.  If you win you advance to the semis, if you lose your season is over.  The game was on ESPN2 so I stopped what I was doing here in sunny Florida and kerplunked myself in front of the tv set to watch the game.

With about half of the final period gone, Albany, a huge underdog, led 12-7. This in lacrosse is a big lead. Kind of like leading 12-7 in the bottom of the ninth in a baseball game.  The goalie for Albany was stopping everything and the Dane scorers were scoring everything. Then, all hell broke loose. Notre Dame scored 6 goals in the last few minutes to 1 for my alma mater. At the end of regulation the score was tied 13-13.  In a sudden death overtime, Notre Dame scored the final goal.

I have forgotten all the rules of lacrosse so I could not follow the process completely.  But I know sports and I know what a devastating blow it must be to players to lead 12-7 and be ready to move on in the tournament and then see the bottom fall out.

What I find remarkable--even for someone who is a sports enthusiast-- is how I reacted to the loss.  I never played lacrosse. I kinda sorta know the rules, but certainly not the nuances.  I have not gone to a single game this year.  I know noone on this team. I do know some of the former players who played in the initial year especially my buddy Kenny. But I have no affiliation with this 2013-2104 team at all.  And yet at the end of the game, I felt so sad. So low, as if I myself had played, or as if this game was meaningful to me in some way.  I felt bad for my buddy Kenny who had traveled to the game, and for all the players wearing the purple and gold that are the school colors of the team.  I just felt lousy period.

Now, go figure this.  Why.  What is the power of sport, that someone 46 years removed from the start of a club team of which he had no direct participation, would feel sad about a loss in a game.  If you understand sport, you can figure this because you know it occurs.  Yet, if you had to explain it to a Martian what might you say to try to explain why an event so removed has such an emotional impact?

I think it has something to do with the heart. What that is, I do not know.  Our heart makes connections and when those connections are bruised or severed it has as much of a physical effect on us as a physical injury like banging a finger instead of a nail when you are hammering.  Except the pain in your finger goes away more quickly.  The sadness of emotional loss lingers.  Not to make such a big deal about a lacrosse game. This isn't the same as a loss of a loved one, but the same thing I believe is at play. We get connected.

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