Monday, December 6, 2010

A Friday In Baltimore

The best public speaker that TigerBlog has ever heard is, by far, Dick Vitale. Whether you find him overbearing or too over-the-top (or way too pro-Duke) on television, it doesn't change the hold that he can have over a room.

TB has seen Vitale in several different settings through the years, from a small handful of people to an informal gathering to a spotlight on him at center court in an arena with 15,000 people in attendance. It hasn't mattered. Every single time, he has been enthralling, funny, emotional, serious, emphatic and empathic.

Each time, TB has been too moved to muster any response other than something like "wow."

The second-best public speaker TB has heard is former Princeton basketball coach Pete Carril. Unlike Vitale, Carril doesn't have the overwhelming emotion involved when he speaks, but Carril can tell stories that are funny while also talking about the great lessons that he's learned in his life.

Both men speak without a script, and both speak directly from the heart.

TB was at the 1992 Princeton men's basketball banquet when Carril first awarded the Paul Friedman Award, given to that member of the program who "does his very best every day in every way."

Carril took about 20 minutes to introduce the story of how he came to decide to have this award, about how he had told Friedman that he didn't think he could play at Princeton, how Friedman came to Princeton anyway, how he had been a jayvee player, how he'd worked his way to the varsity team - only to be afflicted with a terminal case of cancer. Even then, Carril told the audience, Friedman continued to work as a coach with the jayvee program until he couldn't any longer. Eventually, Friedman finished his thesis and graduated in 1981, only to pass away a short time later.

Carril then brought Friedman's parents up, and they spoke about how being part of Princeton basketball had helped keep their son alive. Together with Carril, the Friedmans presented the first award to Sean Jackson.

By the time they did, every single person in the room was in tears.

Carril prefaced his remarks about Friedman by referring to what is essentially the Princeton basketball MVP award, the B.F. Bunn Trophy, named for a 1907 grad and given out since 1931. Nobody knew who B.F. Bunn was, Carril would say, and so you measure that award not by who it is named for but rather the people who have won it.

He said that for the new award, he wanted everyone to know who Paul Friedman was.

TigerBlog felt the same way Friday in Baltimore, when he accepted the Doyle Smith Award from the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association at the Intercollegiate Men's Lacrosse Coaches' Association convention. The Doyle Smith Award is the USILA's annual media award.

The room at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront was filled with men's lacrosse coaches, almost all of whom were from the Division II or Division III level. Everywhere you looked, there were shirts that said "F&M Lacrosse" or "LeMoyne Lacrosse" or, at TB's table, "Kean Lacrosse."

It was a younger crowd, with many who were just starting out in the field. Also in the room sat some of the biggest names in the sport: Dom Starsia from Virginia, Richie Meade from Navy, Dave Pietramala from Johns Hopkins, Jeff Tambroni from Penn State, Tony Seaman from Towson, Don Zimmerman from UMBC, John Danowski from Duke, Scott Marr of Albany, Joe Breschi from North Carolina - and of course Bill Tierney from Denver.

The Ivy League coaches were late getting to the luncheon because their meeting ran long, but Chris Bates also was there by the time the awards part started moving along.

The emcee was Carl Runk, the longtime coach at Towson. To say that Runk was funny wouldn't do his performance justice. He has enough stories to fill a book (which is something he's currently doing), but here were just two:

* he told a story about how he'd woken his wife up the other day and reminded her of something her father - a local chief of polic - had said to him a long time ago when they were first dating, how if he wasn't careful, he'd send him to prison for 35 years. When his wife asked why he was bringing that up now, Runk replied: "Because I would have been out by now."

* when he was a kid, he saved (or stole) old bottles to return for the deposits so he'd be able to afford to buy a lacrosse stick. When an old Polish man saw it and asked what it was, Runk explained it was a lacrosse stick. He then said that the old man told him something in Polish, which he then repeated perfectly, following it up with: "That was 55 years ago, and I've never forgotten what he said. I have no idea what it means but I've never forgotten it."

The two highlights were when Meade emotionally introduced one of his former coaches, longtime Nassau Community College Richie Speckman, whose remarks included his belief that his players have an opportunity to learn something through competing in lacrosse - or athletics in general - that cannot be duplicated in a strictly academic setting, and when former Cornell coach Richie Moran accepted the Spirit of the Game award.

Moran spoke directly to the young coaches in the room about his experiences, how much lacrosse had done for him and how important it was for them to honor and respect the tradition of the game. His speech was one of the best TB has ever heard.

As for TB, his part was very small. He was the third person to accept his award, after the first person (Georgetown coach Dave Urick, who won the USILA's lifetime achievement award) didn't speak and after Maryland assistant coach Dave Slafkosky said just one sentence after he won the service award.

But TB, like Carril, wanted those there to know who the award was named for and what he had meant for the game.

And so he spoke, briefly, first about Doyle himself. Doyle had been one of the first people TB had met in lacrosse, back when Doyle was the sports information contact at Virginia.

TB said that Doyle was a kind man and that it was special to win an award named for someone he considered a friend, though it was also bittersweet because both Doyle and last year's winner, Mike Colley, another friend from UVa, had died so young.

Afterwards, TB received two emails from people who played at Virginia back when Doyle was there, two men TB has never met.

The first was from a man named Tom Duquette, who said this about Doyle:
I matriculated at the University of Virginia, and in the fall of 1969 met E Doyle. He was a mentor and a friend until he died. For 10 years I was his spotter in football and his visiting team statistician in basketball. Watching him defend my assist stats to a less than happy Dean Smith is one of my fondest memories. Doyle helped many young lacrosse players at Virginia find their way, and I was fortunate enough to be one. Doyle helped me get to Australia as a member of the US National team in 1974. When he called and shared his diagnosis of Parkinson's, he was of more help to me than I to him, and when he passed away I was honored to be one of the speakers at his memorial service. Trust me, as one who knew E Doyle almost too well, he would have been the first to shake your hand and celebrate your work. Following hard by, he would have encouraged you to be keep it up and challenged you to keep getting better.

The second was from a man named Kris Snyder:
He was so intelligent but accessible to all the athletes; very demanding but equally fair; extremely generous but expected us to treat others in a similar manner. All these attributes set the bar high for me (and others) and, by example, gave me the tools to tackle life away from the comforts of college. I relocated to Seattle not long after my UVA years but continued to stay in touch with Doyle nearly every week afterwards until his untimely passing. He continued to offer me great advice as I moved through life's paces and still think of him whenever I have tough decisions to make. He was the absolute definition of a great friend. I was honored to be at his table for his Hall of Fame induction and be part of the group that created the Doyle Smith Cup, awarded in his memory to the annual winner of the UVA - Hopkins game.

TigerBlog grew up by the Jersey Shore, where the sport of lacrosse didn't exist. He didn't see his first game until he was in college, and he had almost no background in the sport when he was first sent to cover the 1990 Princeton-Bucknell game on a freezing day at Finney Field.

By that time, Doyle Smith was already a giant in the game, one of the most respected members of the lacrosse community and one of the most important people involved in the coming explosion of the sport. He had already been diagnosed with Parkinson's, a disease that he would fight until his death in 2004.

The more TB thought back about his time with Doyle, the more one thing kept coming back to him - Doyle was always happy to see TB. He would always, always give TB a hug when he saw him and greet him with a huge smile.

TB mentioned that there was no way that he would ever have won an award in the sport of lacrosse had it not been for Tierney and for TB's good fortunate to stumble upon the Princeton program in 1990. Since Friday, TB has received a bunch of emails from former Princeton players, and he's appreciated every one of them.

To be honest, the opportunity to work with Tierney, David Metzbower, Bryce Chase and the long line of young assistant coaches on their staff all those years was great, but the real award TB won was the chance to be around the great players and people who have worn the uniform here the last 21 seasons and who continue to do so.

When Tierney left for Denver in June 2009, TB wondered if Princeton lacrosse would ever be the same. Now, in more than a year with Chris Bates, TB realizes that he couldn't possibly have asked for more in Tierney's replacement.

TB has been extremely proud to be associated with Princeton lacrosse all these years, whether it's been on the day of an NCAA championship or after an excruciating loss.

Winning the Doyle Smith Award is one of the greatest honors TB has ever had, and he didn't realize how much it meant to him until he was there Friday. To be recognized by the lacrosse coaches for work that is done almost exclusively out of the spotlight is humbling.

As TB said, he had no background in the sport at all until he started following it at Princeton. Today, lacrosse has become an important part of TB's life, and both TigerBlog Jr. and Little Miss TigerBlog are growing up playing the game.

TB owes a lot of that to the people who were in the room in Baltimore Friday.

And to one who wasn't.

The name "Doyle Smith" didn't belong to just some forgotten person from a long time ago, and having an award in his honor every year helps keep his spirit alive.

Doyle Smith was a tremendous human being. TB is quite honored to have the award that bears his name - and the memory of his time with an old friend.

1 comment:

CAZ said...

Congrats JIP! Finally the rest of the world is acknowledging what the rest of us have known for years… that you are one of the most talented writers in America. Regardless of the topic or circumstance you have an uncanny way of engaging the reader and making everything accessible. THX!

Of course your fastball stinks, but we can’t have everything.