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This is Why I Play in Lake Placid

By Kyle Devitte, 08/10/17, 3:15PM EDT


“Where did you play?” is the most common question asked in any conversation that involves lacrosse players/people. To some it is an annoyance, others a point of pride. My answer is always the same: “Clark University *wait a beat* — it’s a small DIII school,” but it’s the reaction that is always telling. There are four responses.

1. Their eyes just glaze over. Which is rude, but I understand it. I guess. 
2. “Do you mean Clarkson?” Like I’m the idiot who can’t remember where I played for some reason.
3. “Oh, I know where that is.” accompanied by a small nod. Which means they're lying.
4. “In Atlanta?” With a tinge of disbelief because there is a Clark in Atlanta that is a predominantly African-American school. In this instance I always say, “Yeah. It was a lot of fun.”

Placid is one of the few places in the lacrosse world in which “Where did you play?” is never the most important part of a conversation. It almost never comes up because you’re either 
A. Wearing the gear of the team you played for or —
B. So old that it doesn’t matter.

I’m officially in the latter camp and have been for some time. This is my 12th year at Lake Placid. In those 12 years I have camped, stayed in my car, crashed on couches, and — when I was finally able to afford it — rented all manner of cabins, cottages and houses. I have a lot of stories that I can never tell you about in this space. They are stories I would not trade the world for, and 98% of them take place off the field of play. For me this tournament is not about playing; it’s about acceptance. It’s about finding a place where you belong. 

This morning, I woke up at 7 a.m. (OK, it was 7:30). I am staying in Saranac Lake, two towns over from Lake Placid. I know the area and I know myself and it’s much better for me to stay farther away from Placid proper; you’re just going to have to trust that. I’m staying in a small cottage decorated with signs that look to have been stolen from local tourist attractions like ski trails and guided tours of Olympic attractions. I step on my knee brace on the way to the bathroom and almost fall into the shower. I slam my contacts into my eyes and fill up a water bottle. I do my gear count, and lug my bag to the car. I forget my coffee. Forget my water bottle. Forget my cup. I go back and get the water bottle because I’m only getting checked in my legs this year and I have no idea where the cup is anyway. I drive to my game at the horse grounds, and we win handily. But you don’t care about that. I don’t really care about that either.

See, the games don’t matter anymore. I mean, they do — I’ll race someone down the block if challenged and then pout if I lose — but right now, in this moment, I’m so happy to be here that winning is the last thing on my mind.

Last October I ruptured my PCL, a ligament in my right knee, playing basketball. A PCL tear or rupture doesn’t get surgery, it gets a brace and months of physical therapy along with a doctor telling you to stop playing sports. This past April, I was hospitalized for five days with a kidney infarction and a GI blockage. I was in so much pain that my physicians put me on Dilaudid — an opiate so powerful that it felt like a shadowy hand was pulling me into the floor every time it was fed into my IV. I went to the gym for a workout two weeks after I was released from the hospital and fainted in the locker room.

So, I never thought I’d be back here.

Lake Placid is the only place on earth where people call me by my first name — I often joke that even my mom calls me “Devitte,” and it’s less of a joke than a sad anecdote about me looking just like my dad and how much it terrifies my mother. In college, I had a lot of nicknames, but no one ever called me Kyle. For over a decade I was “Coach.” At IL, I’m just “Devitte.” It’s fine, I’m not complaining. But everyone I ever met at Lake Placid didn’t care about any of that. They didn’t care where I played. They didn’t care where I coached. They didn’t care who I wrote for. They met me once, and that’s all they needed to know. 

Ten years ago I took my brother, who is seven years younger than me, to the tournament for the first time. He played for our hometown college NEC (another small DIII school, did you want to fight about it?) and didn’t believe any of the stories I told him about my first year there — especially the one about a guy getting powerbombed through a pinball machine — and wanted to see what this crazy tournament was all about for himself. I’d be lying if I told you that we knew where each other were all weekend, but I got him to every game and home safe — that’s all that matters. We drove back to Henniker, N.H., together and I walked him into my parents’ house. We were both moving slower than usual, but we were all smiles. As we got into the doorway, my brother stood upright and ran upstairs. My dad, who had just come to greet us, swiveled and asked, “What did you do to him?” I shrugged. A few minutes later, my brother came down the stairs and announced that he was going to take a nap. Before he went back up to his bedroom my father asked, “So how was it?” My brother, who is rarely pensive, paused. He looked down at the floor, looked back up and said, “Top three weekend of my life,” and bounded upstairs. 

For five days a year in the Adirondacks, tenuous bonds harden into steel. It gets unseasonably cold, and you score goals anyway. You wear the same pair of shorts for four days straight because you forget to change and you think the uni is fire this year. It rains without warning and your liver is challenged afterward. This is the Lake Placid Summit Classic. It’s the greatest thing on earth.