Cruising and perusing fields of dreams and seams

March 7, 2023

Cruising and perusing - I carry my camera onto the lacrosse practice field with my head on a swivel, although my neck clicks when I twist. I am a welcome intrusion, at least that’s what the coaches tell me. Lacrosse is like football in that there is only one group you can always engage in conversation or pose for a quick photo. In football, it’s the quarterbacks. In lacrosse, it’s the goalies. Ironically, those are the most crucial positions in each sport, yet there are no herd drills – what coaches call group work – because there aren’t that many athletes skilled enough to play quarterback or willing to put on a helmet and have attackers throw a small, hard rubber  ball 100 mph at their head. And that is why I got the coveted two-goalies-guarding-one-cage photo for both the Cape boys’ and girls’ teams. Helmets on followed by helmets off. I make no assessment and ask no questions about depth charts during the first week of practice. I said to Cape coaches Joey Vavala and Mark D’Ambrogi of the boys’ team, “There's only two criteria to use when evaluating a goalie: Can you stop it and can you clear it?” They agreed, “That’s pretty much it.” I later thought of a third after an incredibly athletic kid with great vision and reflexes gave up on his quest to be a goaltender, telling me, “I’m afraid of the ball … [I] can see it and hear it, and I just can’t stop flinching. I think I may learn to throw the discus, but not catch it.”

Strength and style - The strongest-looking guy doesn’t always win a wrestling match, but it’s important to be weight-room strong or solid-country strong rather than rock a biscuit-boy body. Natural athleticism and balance both play a part, and there is that judo kung fu factor of stealing someone’s strength and using it against them. Luke Bender, whom I call Wingspan Gumby, is like grappling with a carnivorous plant. Luke is patient, deliberate and deadly. I’d tell anyone going against him, “If he is giving you something, don’t take it, just think trap game.” My favorite guy to watch this year was freshman Nick Walker at 132, the Henlopen Conference champion and runner-up in the state. Nick is a relentless attacker and dogged on the top. And Justin Griffith of Sanford. I've watched him for the last five years. If I was a coach sending some out against him, I’d just shrug and say, “I don’t know what to tell you. Fleeing the mat may be your best option. The kid just sees it.”   

You can do it! I’ve always known purple is a weekend power color for women going back to my toddling rowhouse days in North Philly. The last two weekends at the Henlopen Conference Wrestling Championships in Milford and the state meet at Cape, we all got to experience the positive force of Ruth Chandler, who rolls with Sussex Central. I’ve learned the song lyric, “Do you see what I see? Do you hear what I hear?” is pretty much always true. The crowd adopted and absorbed the positive vibes from the 82-year-old Miz Ruth and the fact that she was viewed as the antidote for bad fans who often mess things up for others. I tried talking to her for some personal information. "Do you have a person on the team?” She said something like, “All of them,” then stepped around my view-obstructing self to resume her mission, “You can do it! C’mon, you can do it!” 

Snippets - Joey Vavala is now a full-time varsity lacrosse coach at Cape, while Hank Coveleski takes over the JV program and will be assisted by Andrew Scrutchfield. 

Talk about gap years. It has been 50 years since Cape won a state title in girls’ basketball and 47 years since a state title in boys’ basketball. Football seems more recent, but it has been 44 years since a state championship. 

I call them the Zen parents and grandparents of athletes. They handle success with true graciousness and there are no antonyms to success; they are the true Zen masters of the universe. Disappointment to these people is but a fleeting moment. Personally, I ain’t even close. Go on now, git!      

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