50th Anniversary Speech

Middlebury Men’s Lacrosse Program 1949-2001

Alumni Weekend

Saturday, April 14, 2001


Given by: Jamie Haire



            We are here tonight to celebrate the Middlebury College Men’s Lacrosse program annual alumni weekend.  More importantly though, we are gathered in this gymnasium, adjacent to a parking lot that some Middlebury lacrosse players used to call a field, to celebrate the 50 year existence of a program that all of us in this room grew to love.  In his letter dated February 9, 2001, Coach Erin Quinn defined the people in this room as: “alumni and families, the current players and coaches and their families, former head coaches, trainers, and other personnel that have been associated with the program over the years.”


In addressing the 50 year history of this great program, I realized that the words of our local poetic hero Robert Frost held true, indeed there is a “road less traveled.”  From its inception in 1949, the Middlebury College Men’s Lacrosse program has had hundreds of its members create a path for those of us who today played against Bowdoin College, under the increasingly warm Vermont sun, on Middlebury’s own Peter Kohn field.  Some of these members excelled at the game of lacrosse and presently have their names on one or many esteemed lists of Middlebury’s lacrosse records.  With an 89 point freshman season, on 54 goals and 35 assists, the great Jeff Thompsen, a three time Second Team All American from the class of ’83, began his 4 year record breaking point streak, on his way to his present record of 310 points.  The Middlebury College Men’s Lacrosse program itself holds an impressive record.  With our win today over Bowdoin, this program has enjoyed 173 more wins than it has been shocked by losses.  Our 50-year record stands at 393 wins, 220 losses, and 5 ties.  But instead of analyzing this statistical path that these great teams, players, and coaches have paved for us, I wanted to address the “off track,” Robert Frost qualitative path that this program has enjoyed.  And that path began in 1949.  Then a junior in college, Curt Cushman helped found the program of Middlebury College Lacrosse.  Despite a 1-4 record in its opening season, the annual Kaleidoscope publication summarized the new program in the concluding paragraph of its season ending article with the following words: “Progress.  Lacrosse now an official minor sport, future hopes for Athletic Department subsidization and use of the old intramural field space.  The lacrosse team-proof that you can’t keep good men down.”  The following season, a recent graduate of Middlebury College by the name of Hal Parker took the reigns of the lacrosse program.


            Throughout the 50’s, under the initial guidance of Mr. Cushman, coach Parker, and beginning in 1954 with the onset of the Coach “Duke” Nelson era, the Middlebury College Lacrosse program laid the foundations that account for our success today, 50 years later.  They met stiff opposition, from both their opponents and the college who did not want an additional and more expensive Spring sport, but they PERSEVERED.  And it is that qualitative personality or characteristic that has propelled past Middlebury teams to great heights.


            In the 50’s, the program had to battle fundamental issues just to play a game.  Because athletics did not play such an integral part in the college’s survival, details were often overlooked.  So, to ensure that he would be able to both teach his Saturday 8 AM Sociology class and coach his boys against Yale, Harvard, or Tufts, Coach Hal Parker was flown from the local Middlebury airport, by the legendary Al Quesnel, in a B-13 airplane, to his respective destination.  He would meet his boys off the bus, coach the game, and be flown back to school.  However, as lacrosse games can go, sometimes it was not so easy.  If the game ran into overtime or the sun was setting, Coach Parker was forced to leave because our local airport did not have the appropriate night flying infrastructure.  In that case, the team captains coached the remainder of the game. 


Even more daunting was the task of outfitting all of the players under what Coach Hal Parker called a “shoelace budget.”  In his recent letter to Coach Quinn, Coach Parker spoke of the inability to pool the appropriate amount of resources.  The team did not have the correct number of lacrosse helmets, so they improvised with the current model of football helmets.  For gloves they used the equipment from the hockey team.  And as if this predicament was not bad enough, the issue of sticks and their fragile nature created more headaches.  The college provided each player with one stick, however, in a physical match, most notably against Williams College, sticks were frequently broken.  If in the middle of a game, there was a stick handed to the respective player off the bench, or they used the ever-present wood saw to cut a former defensive stick down to an offensive length.  Despite these and additional fundamental mishaps, as the 1958 Kaleidoscope article suggested, “the determination and persistence of the team helped to increase the stature of the program within the Middlebury College society.”


Beginning in 1959, and throughout the 60’s the legendary international soccer icon Joe Merrone replaced Hal Parker as head coach.  Under Merrone’s 11-year supervision, the Middlebury program maintained a .517 winning percentage on 59 wins, 55 losses, and 4 ties.  More importantly though, as the winning percentage of this great program increased, the determination of the respective teams heightened.  In describing the pre-season of Middlebury’s first undefeated team to-be on March 29th, 1965, Coach Joe Merrone suggested that: “there are a lot of question marks, but if there’s a way we’ll find it.”  Two months later, after their record breaking season, in his annual Middlebury College Lacrosse Newsletter which he defined as: “imparting news of former letterman, news of lacrosse in general and news of the present team here at Middlebury,” Coach Joe Merrone laid out the essence of Middlebury Lacrosse in the form of a simple equation,: “The season was a great success, despite the many handicaps, the squad worked hard at practice, worked well as a team during games, had great spirit and hustle and in the end, did what 15 other Middlebury Lacrosse teams failed to do- have an undefeated season.”


In a recent interview with Duane Ford, an Honorable Mention All American midfielder and graduate of the class of ’78, he said that like American society at the time, the Middlebury College Lacrosse program was “loose.”  This “loose” program went onto win 4 consecutive ECAC championships, including its first ever in 1975.  In addressing the program’s exceptional record over his four years, on 53 wins and 10 losses, Ford accredited coach Robert Pfeiffer and Dennis Daly’s “different” style of play.  It is this style of play that epitomized the success of the program throughout the 70’s.  In describing this “difference,” Ford recounted that: “it was almost as if despite any circumstances within the game, every square inch or space on the field, from sideline to sideline was OURS.”  This aggressive mentality no doubt stemmed from the program’s dominating defense.  Ford remembered that: “We doubled from everywhere, and that relentless defensive mentality carried over into our team’s attitude.”


With his acceptance of the head coach position of the Middlebury College lacrosse program, Coach James Grube ushered in a new era.  Under his guidance, the program would win 5 ECAC titles in the eighties and in 13 years would carry a 116 wins and 51 loss record.  In describing his success as a head coach, but more importantly the success of the program, Coach Grube recently spoke of the program’s ability to build upon successive generations of players.  He argued that as a coach he saw it as his job to add to the tradition and respect that the former great Dennis Daly had brought to the program.  By emphasizing and reinforcing the program’s values that had accounted for its success thus far, Grube and his respective teams persisted in a “pursuit of excellence.”  Despite the obstacle of representing the “team to beat” in the ECAC’s, the Middlebury College Lacrosse program stuck with the sportsmanship and humility that had defined the program in the past and achieved excellence amongst grace and selflessness. 


In addressing the success he enjoyed as a player under Coach Grube, Scotty Seymour, an Honorable Mention All American attackman and graduate of the class of ’88, suggested that Peter Kohn has a large role in our success as a program.  He argued that Middlebury’s teams rally around the tradition and history that embodies Myronius Guttmnaous Kohn.  And so today, despite the warm weather, Peter Kohn traveled the Middlebury sidelines, searching for balls and wiping sweat from our heads, offering us “moist towels” and suggesting that Coach Quinn hand him the reigns.  And even despite Peter’s answer to my question of the meaning behind tonight’s gathering, “I don’t want to be a hero or make myself big.  I’m just myself.  What difference does it make that the field was named after me.  I just want to be everyone’s friend,” Peter Kohn offered a great hypothesis.  He suggested that like himself and the success he has enjoyed at this program, the Middlebury Lacrosse program has succeeded in its 50 year history because it gives young men a chance to build characteristics and personalities.  A persistent personality that was used to describe Curt Cushman’s first Middlebury team in 1949, and the persistent characteristic that the 2001 Middlebury Lacrosse team wears on the back of their shirts every time we walk onto the field. 


Thank You.