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Starsia: Remembering Cleveland Street

By Dom Starsia, 07/01/20, 1:45PM EDT


Last week, we learned that the younger and open divisions of the Lake Placid Summit Classic, scheduled for this coming August, had been cancelled, another casualty of the coronavirus.

Whether New York State might allow an event like this to happen, it was reasonably determined that the quaint town of Lake Placid would not be re-equipped to handle a crowd of this size. This 2020 event would have been the 32nd in the tournament’s history.

At the same time as the announcement of the cancellation of the August games, we were informed that the older guys were still alive (literally and figuratively!) for a shorter tournament to be held in late September. We will keep our fingers crossed for a final decision that will be made later in the summer. When you are 68 years old and playing in the oldest division, I am not sure I can afford a year away… This is not getting easier!

I haven’t quite made every tournament over the years, but I started attending in 1999, the tournament’s second year. As I consider these recent national events — including Lake Placid's recent cancellation and the certain reality that I am closer to the end of my playing days — it took me back to the beginning of my experience with summer lacrosse.

I began playing lacrosse in 1971, the spring of my freshman year at Brown. There were no tournaments in those days, everyone played “summer league.” I don’t recall whether I actually even played that first summer, I still barely knew anyone in the game beyond my freshman teammates. It was that second summer, having been exposed to upperclass teammates while still only having made a barely noticeable mark in the game, that I was invited to join a summer league team.

The captain of the Brown team in 1972 was Bill Kavan, a big, rugged and two-time All-American defenseman from Garden City, New York. He very graciously offered a spot on the summer team that was being organized with friends and former teammates from his hometown. It was no small favor considering that I was still raw and unknown. I was introduced to and now playing alongside Rodney Rullman, first-team All-American goalie at Virginia, middie Beaver Draffen, with his long, flowing blond hair and who scored seven goals in the 1974 NCAA Final at Hobart, first-team All-American defenseman Ed Haugevik from Rutgers and two-time first-team All-American defenseman “Black Jack” McGetrick from Cortland. It was an eye-opening experience for a young player and a critical piece of my education in the game.

There were any number of teams with similar lineups; most teams did not have coaches and you would have thought competition of that caliber belonged at Hofstra Stadium, Stony Brook or some other suitable Island venue… indeed. The games were actually played on Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the Cleveland Ave. Elementary School in Freeport, N.Y. The school was located at the intersection of Sunrise Highway and Meadowbrook Parkway and a short 10-minute drive before or afterwards to Jones Beach. The two fields that were used concurrently were perpendicular to each other and without a blade of grass in the middle third. Between the dust storms, packed sidelines and balls flying everywhere, it was more a scene from “Gladiator” than some idyllic, pristine vision of the game.

The conditions absolutely contributed to the unadulterated mayhem that was the competitive energy of those contests. There was no quarter given in a game that might pit the boys from Massapequa, the Marino brothers, Craig Jaeger, Ernie Olsen, Jim Teatom and young phenom Mike O’Neill against a team that included Hopkins All-American Rick Kowalchuk, Maryland’s Doug Schreiber and Mike Thearle, Adelphi’s Kirk Jurgelevich, Cornell’s Bruce Arena and, “barely out of” Sewanhaka (N.Y.) High, Eamon McEneaney and Brentwood’s Frank Urso. We are talking about weekend summer league games with All-Americans and future Hall of Famers at every turn. It would only be a slight exaggeration to suggest that the talent and competition on those dusty fields could approach U.S. World Team tryouts.

There was also a sense of community and fellowship that surrounded those games. If you have played lacrosse for an extended period and treated it with respect throughout, the game repays with magical moments that forever serve as your good medicine. Absence may be contributing to this heart growing fonder, but I will bet that those who were involved in those Cleveland Ave. games knew that was a special time in their lives. It was (and still is) for me.

Cantiague Park Summer League, with its grass fields and lights, took over most of the Long Island summer league play around 1975; summer school for the college guys, working camps and playing in a couple of tournaments rather than playing every weekend became more of an attraction. It may have been an inevitable evolution, but I am extremely thankful for that short clip of unfiltered lacrosse in my past and the recollections that always bring a smile.