For 28 years, Dan Witmer served as head coach of the Oswego State Men’s Lacrosse team, leaving the program in 2012 when the college changed the position from part-time to full-time. During his career as as a part-time head coach, the Lakers appeared in six ECAC tournaments, winning the championship in 1996 and finishing second in 1994 and 1997, won three Empire Lacrosse League titles (1994, 1995, 1996), and were ranked among the nation’s top 20 teams in both 1994 and 1996. Since leaving the Lakers, Witmer has coached at the high school level, and has remained close to the game through roles with other organizations, as well as by writing about his experiences.
Coach Witmer recently took the time to answer some questions for Capital Districta Lax.
Gary Govel: You served as Head Coach of the Oswego State for 28 years. What memories stand out to you the most from your tenure with the Lakers?
Dan Witmer: First, all the relationships with the players. In the beginning, they were literally my former teammates. By the end, they were like my own sons, and I was recruiting second generation Lakers. But start to finish, I remember smiling and laughing a lot. Next, the relationships with many of the game’s greats – some players, but mostly coaches. Conversations with Hall of Famers, working summer camps, knowing top coaches before they got to the top. And then the places I’ve been. We played at Homewood Field and in the Dome, under the Throgs Neck Bridge and at Washington College. Beautiful St Mary’s College in Virginia and mud bogs at Oneonta, Geneseo, and yes, Oswego!
GG: During those 28 years, what were the biggest changes to the game of lacrosse that you observed?
DW: Three things come to mind. The “speed of play” issue is something I’ve never figured out. We used to have substitution horns at every whistle, and the game would take a little more than two hours to play – and in my mind, the game was awesome. Now the games are under two hours, and we spend 30 seconds subbing after every faceoff and clear. At a lot of programs, the pace has slowed and coaches are over-coaching. Still, it’s not all gloom and doom – I noticed an uptick in team offense this year, especially at the D-III level. Another thing that comes to mind is the physicality of play. We’re so concerned with safety now that any hit that knocks a player down is a penalty, often more than a minute and often non-releasable. The third is how the game setting has changed – everyone plays on a turf field with a nice big scoreboard, and we don’t play if it’s too cold or if there’s a bad weather forecast. Lacrosse used to be more like football – play no matter what – and less like baseball. It’s almost too sterile – our guys used to love to play in lousy weather or on lousy fields. These days, kids don’t know what that’s like, and I think that’s unfortunate.
GG: Since your time at Oswego, you have coached a variety of high school sports. How are the rewards and challenges different at the high school level, as compared to coaching a college team?
DW: I think coaching is coaching, whether it’s boys or girls… soccer, ice hockey, or lacrosse… JV, varsity, or D-III. And coaching is teaching. But the biggest difference is the ability to recruit at the college level. In high school sports, you’re pretty limited with your personnel. At the college level, you have a little more control or influence about who’s on your team. Personally, I love the challenge of taking a group of players and helping them become a team. We used to do it over four days at lacrosse camps. In high school the season is about ten weeks, with some activity in the off-season; in college, it’s almost 12 months.
GG: You serve as Tournament Competition Manager for Summit Lacrosse Ventures. Tell us a little about that role.
DW: I think this will be 12th or maybe 13th year working up at Lake Placid. George Leveille has been very good to me over that time, inviting me to play a larger and larger role each year. This summer I’ll be working at four SLV events; at this point in time I’m transitioning from Competition Director to Legends Director/Summit Society Director. I do a little more over the off-season now, and I’ll be helping with Legends relations, fundraising for urban lacrosse programs, and developing a greater emphasis on sportsmanship. As Competition Director I was responsible for seeing all teams through their schedule, determining tie-breakers, moving the right teams toward championships or consolation games, etc. The schedule was pretty cryptic to me at first, but these days I have a pretty good feel for it, and I enjoy helping people understand it. The best challenges are when grandparents show up to see their grandchildren play, and they don’t know what team they’re on, what age division they’re in, and we’ve got games going on all day long on 12 fields. But we usually figure it out. I’ve also got to mention that George, Ashley (Gersuk) Murphy, and Kevin Leveille have been great to my sons, too. Brian and Eric have worked up there almost as long as I have, and through their own experiences, they have networked into jobs and opportunities that have taken them to amazing places.
“What do I like about working with SLV?” The Lake Placid Tournament is the Super Bowl, Mardi Gras, NCAA Final Four, and Spring Break all rolled into one. You see people you haven’t seen in years, and then you see the same people year after year. Everyone who is anyone is there. You can watch amazing lacrosse all day long, and everyone is having fun and smiling… and I’ve spent summers in the Adirondacks since i was a kid, so nothing beats the scenery. Being part of the administration of that event alone is unbeatable.
GG: In addition to your work with SLV, you have also remained connected to the game through your “Roadtrip Dad” blog. Tell us a little about that project.
DW: I really missed the game – and especially the people – when I stopped coaching at Oswego State in 2010. The only silver lining was that both of my sons were playing college lax at SUNY Brockport at the time, so I was committed to going to see every one of their games. After one year of doing that, I got the idea to write a “blog” about my experiences. Dennis Pettit at JustLacrosse.com was very encouraging and accommodating, and I’ve been writing a weekly piece ever since February of 2012 – over 325 articles by now. Every once in a while I’ll struggle for ideas and material, but there are just so many stories to be told, so many issues to be addressed. I’ve really enjoyed the experience!
GG: You recently published a book collecting some of your “Roadtrip Dad” essays. Where’d the idea to collect and publish in book form come from?
DW: The “Best of” idea came from Dennis; the decision to make it a “Laker Lacrosse Collection” was mine. With all those articles to choose from, I could have done a Lake Placid book, a coaching book, a parenting book, a nostalgia book, etc. Who knows – there might be more down the road.
GG: Does the reader have a different experience holding the book in his/her hand compared to reading in an online blog?
DW:I’m old school, a retired high school English teacher. I read books with paper pages, not on a Kindle or Nook. My house is filled with books. To have these 45 articles all in one place – with photos that were never included in the on-line versions – I think it’s a great gift, or scrapbook, for dads, sons, husbands, teammates, etc. I’d like to think that, in this case, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
GG: Of the 40+ essays collected in the book, do you have a favorite?
DW: That’s a tough one! The Veteran’s Day piece comes to mind, the Laker Buffet article, and then the stories – “It was so cold…,” “TCB and TLAs,” the 9/11 piece, and the “10 Best Laker Lacrosse Road Trips Ever.” And then my last chapter, when I realized I was about to publish a book and hadn’t told these favorite stories yet, that one might be my overall favorite.
To purchase a copy of The Best of Road Trip Dad: The Laker Lacrosse Collection” CLICK HERE
Tag(s): SLV In The Press