Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Runner Up

TigerBlog was following the same basic route as the Union army did, 148 years to the day earlier, a fact that didn't dawn on TB until he pulled into a Subway on Route 15 just north of Gettysburg.

A few minutes - and one Cold Cut Combo - later, TB went past the town where the Union met up somewhat by chance with the Army of Northern Virginia, and three days later, 8,000 soldiers were dead.

It was on July 1, 1863, that the Battle of Gettysburg began. When it ended on July 3, the Confederate Army was in retreat, never to return north of the Potomac. Though it was would take until April of 1865 - and thousands more dead - before the Confederacy surrendered, the winner of the Civil War was determined by that battle.

Had Robert E. Lee, to that point viewed as invincible, managed to break through in Gettysburg, who knows what might have happened. Instead, the North prevailed, saving the Union.

TigerBlog actually went to the battlefield at Gettysburg once, and to stand at a place where so many people died is quite a different experience. It's haunted, so to speak, not by ghosts per se but by the memory of what went on there.

It's especially true from the perspective on Little Round Top and Cemetery Hill, where the Northern army turned away "Pickett's Charge," as 12,500 Confederates tried to storm a hill and half never came back, the rest either killed, wounded or captured.

This trip, though, wasn't to Gettysburg. It just happened to go through the town, and it just happened to be on the day the battle started.

Had General Meade decided to chase Lee and his Southern army as it retreated south from Gettysburg, he might have caught up to them on a little patch of land in the town of Boyds. Had he done so, that land might now be sacred, just like the one in Gettysburg.

Instead, Meade decided to regroup and refresh, leaving Lee to make it back to Virginia and fight another day.

And so the land in Boyds is instead the Maryland Soccer Complex, a sprawling facility that this past weekend played host to the National Lacrosse Classic middle school tournament and which now through Friday is hosting the high school division.

The middle school tournament brought together 12 boys' teams and six girls' teams from different regions of the country. On the boys' side, there were two pools, featuring Long Island, Tennessee, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois and Rochester in one and Pennsylvania, Florida, Missouri, Maryland, Metro New York and New England in the other.

The teams were selected from regional tryouts. The high school event is a solid recruiting event, while the middle school one was in its first year.

The winner of the middle school tournament won the "national" championship, though it obviously was not a true national champion and the teams were not comprised of only the elite in middle school lacrosse. Still, there were some great players in the tournament.

Still, it was a very well-run event (including seminars on issues related to sports-parenting, fitness, nutrition and such), and there was an element of a middle school dance when the boys and girls teams mingled.

As for the level of play, it was extremely high.

Long Island needed to hold off New Jersey in the final game of its pool to advance to the final. Pennsylvania - a team that included TigerBlog Jr. - went 5-0 in its pool, with a one-goal win over Metro New York and a come-from-behind win over Maryland along the way.

This set up a Long Island-Pennsylvania final, and it turned out to be the single best youth sporting event TigerBlog has ever seen. There was a huge crowd, as the girls' finalists (Pennsylvania beat New Jersey) and families, as well as some of the boys' teams who had just played prior to the final, stayed to watch.

The game itself was tight throughout, as Long Island went up 3-1, Pennsylvania tied it at 3-3, Long Island went up 6-4 and Pennsylvania tied it at 6-6. LI took a 7-6 lead with about six minutes left and then held off two strong Pennsylvania challenges. The game ended as LI did a masterful job of playing keep-away in the box before Pennsylvania finally got it back with about 20 seconds to go, only to turn it back over and lead to a game-sealing LI goal with six seconds remaining, making the final 8-6.

It was an extraordinarily well-played game, especially considering the teams had almost no practice together.

On the other hand, the coaches were college assistants, and Pennsylvania was coached by a combination of Ohio State on the first day and Duke on the last two.

Watching the game, TB couldn't help but think that the skill level and physicality of most of the players was far beyond an average high school player, and of course it led to some obvious questions.

During the opening ceremony of the event, as 300 boys and 150 girls paraded by, TigerBlog was asked how many of these players he thought would eventually play at Princeton. This was followed up by how many of these players would end up in Division I.

With the way that some of them can run, shoot, dodge, defend, handle a long pole and everything else, it's hard to imagine that they're not going to be Division I players at some point. If TB had to guess, he'd say No. 24 and No. 22 on Long Island or the Maryland goalie are much of the way there, as well as a few from Pennsylvania and other teams.

In all, TB said of the 300 boys, maybe fewer than 20 would end up playing Division I.

The middle school kids are all high school blank slates right now. Every time TB was asked about his job and what the coaches ask potential recruits, the first answer is always about academics. Right now, none of these kids has taken one high school class.

TigerBlog is used to seeing Princeton athletes, or other Ivy League athletes, as the finished products they became. Like the middle school kids from this tournament, a few years ago they were kids with some promise, and they went through high school and achieved great things athletically and as students.

TigerBlog might save the rosters of the kids from this event this past weekend and go back in four years and see who is who.

Some will never play the game on the varsity level, for any number of reasons. Others will get to Division I.

The cool part is that it's really up to them.

Are they willing to work as hard as they can to make it happen, to take full advantage of the gifts they have been given? Some will. Some won't.

It was a great weekend for the kids involved in the event. Like the Confederacy at Gettysburg, will it be the high-water mark of some of their careers?

TB hopes not.

Everywhere he looked this weekend, TB saw kids with potential. It'd be a shame for them to waste it.

No comments: