History of Manheim Township Lacrosse -
Thanks to John Bartges for allowing us the opportunity to know how it all began
In the Beginning. . .
My son, David (MTHS ’03), had become disillusioned with baseball, and thought he might like to try lacrosse. Although our school district did not have a team, we bought some sticks and balls at Play It Again Sports and headed to the backyard. It quickly became apparent that some instruction would be helpful, and we turned to friend and neighbor Steve Tifft, a former lacrosse captain at Dartmouth. Steve delivered some bad news (“Yes, you really do have to catch and throw both left and right handed!”), but with his coaching the ball was soon spending more time in the air than rolling on the ground.
What is it about this game that grabs kids? The speed? The swagger? The opportunity for all body types? The highly customized and doctored stick? Whatever the magic, David was smitten, and we signed him up for a summer camp at West Chester. That particular camp proved to be a poor choice as it was intended for experienced players, and the first session began with a scrimmage.
“You! Go in at middie!”
“Right! What’s a middie?”
The coach laughed, grabbed him by the collar, and led him out onto the field. Acting as David’s shadow, the coach ran with him, giving instruction on where to go and what to do. It was wonderful!
In the weeks that followed, there were few waking moments that David did not have the stick in his hand. Clearly he needed an outlet, and we began the inquiries into starting a program in Manheim Township. We knew that the sport was already “on the radar” of the administration, but there was not yet an implementation plan in place.
I sent a letter to then Superintendent Sharon Nelson in December of 1998 asking for authorization to put a program together. Within a few days I received a phone call from Athletic Director Mike McKonly saying, ”Yes, that is a good idea, and while you are at it, why not start a girls’ program?”
I was probably an unlikely candidate for the challenge with my lack of any lacrosse experience (isn’t a middie a person enrolled at the Naval Academy, and isn’t EMO a Muppet?), but I was quickly introduced to the resource people that would make lacrosse a reality for us. It started with Doug Bailey, a former Penn State player, who was the Coordinator of the Township Phys. Ed. Program. Doug was a Hempfield resident, and he had developed the highly successful program at Hempfield High School. As with almost all of the lacrosse people that I contacted, Doug was an enthusiastic ambassador for the sport, and wanted to do anything possible to grow lacrosse in our area. He unselfishly introduced me to Ted Loughlin, a former player at Marist, who was then his top assistant coach at Hempfield. Ted was a Township resident with two small boys, and he was overjoyed to hear that there might be a program in our district. He, in turn, put me in touch with Joe Gugluizza (Naval Academy) and Frank Miller (James Madison). It seemed like everyone that I called knew of another person with lacrosse experience, and the list of resource people quickly grew. Key early additions were Mark Lukes (Washington and Lee) and Mark Pinkerton (Gettysburg); we also had support from the other local coaches, including Rob Umble (F & M, head coach at Elizabethtown HS), and John Dantinne (All-American at Roanoke, head coach at Penn Manor).
The pathway for the boys was pretty clear, with the Mid Penn Lacrosse League already established for both Middle School and High School, and Elementary teams forming in other districts. The pathway for the girls was uncertain, however, simply because there were not any local teams to play. There was a program starting at Penn Manor, organized by Dee Minchoff, and coached by several of the players from Millersville’s team. Barbara Waltman (former Millersville player and then head coach at Millersville) offered to help in a consultation role, and I soon had a list names to call. Again, it seemed that each person knew of another with lacrosse experience and interest, and I found an amazing group of local players. Lisa Clark (All-American at Delaware, US Team member and NCAA official), Renee Alshouse (All-American at Drexel, also a US Team member), and Jen Fluck (All-American at East Stroudsburg) all lived outside of Manheim Township, but they were eager to help us get lacrosse up and running in the county. Francie Thayer (Trinity) and Steve’s wife, Bev Tifft (Oberlin) were Township residents with college experience. The pieces of the puzzle were coming together.
One question that had to be resolved early was if we would start with the High School program and add Middle School and Elementary later, or go for the “Big Bang” with all age groups forming at once. We felt we had the resources for the Big Bang, and that decision played an important role in the incredibly rapid ascent of our programs.
With a core list of coaches and parents in place, the next step was to “get the word out” and gauge the interest of the student athletes. Posters went up and announcements were made at all of the schools. David was a particularly aggressive recruiter at the Middle School, enlisting his friends and athletes from other sports (including the van Roden twins, Brett and Chad, who later opted to stay with Tennis and went on to become State doubles champions!).
We asked parents and players to meet at the F&M-Cortland State men’s game at Baker Field on Saturday, March 13,1999, for an initial Orientation; this would be the first time that many of our group had ever seen lacrosse played, and we had to assure folks that the women’s game was very different (without the contact!). We met briefly with everyone after the game, and the F&M coach, Dave Webster, was kind enough to give some remarks about the sport. The Organization Meeting was held in Convocation Hall on Thursday, March 18th. Our boys’ and girls’ coaches gave an overview of the sport and answered parents’ questions, and we took orders for sticks. David and I took the family’s Suburban down to the Lax World warehouse in Baltimore on March 19th, filled all the stick orders, and bought balls, mouthpieces, and a set of goals.
Manheim Township lacrosse was officially born on Saturday, March 20, 1999 in our backyard. We set up the goals, and sold the sticks and mouthpieces out of our garage. The morning session was for the boys, with Ted Loughlin and Joe Gugluizza providing instruction, and the afternoon session was for the girls, with Lisa Clark and Jen Fluck coaching. Lisa had made a dash from the college game that she officiated earlier in the day, and was still wearing her referee’s uniform. I’m sure there was some frustration that day as many took the stick in hand for the first time, but there were smiles all around and a very palpable energy; this was clearly the start of something big.
The Athletic Department was supportive at this stage, but there was no funding and very limited field space. It was ultimately agreed that the girls would use the football practice field Monday and Wednesday evenings, and the boys would use the field Tuesdays and Thursdays, with Saturday practices and special clinics for both groups. The girls organized several Sunday clinics at Lancaster Country Day with guest instruction from the staffs at Millersville, F&M, and Swarthmore. The boys practiced with only sticks and balls for the first two weeks, and on April 4th we had Lax World set up a store in our cafeteria where they fitted and sold the helmets, gloves, and pads necessary for contact. We were suddenly playing “real lacrosse,” although at that early stage of our skills, observers called it “football with sticks.” Whatever it was, it was fun.
As an aside, few local retailers were stocking lacrosse equipment in 1999. I recall overhearing a group wearing Cortland State Lacrosse jackets (in town for the F&M game) laughing about the paucity of anything lacrosse at our Sports Authority. We continued to work with Lax World through the Spring, buying more equipment in bulk as new players at every level came on board. We took orders and then distributed all manner of gear out of our home (as my wife, Hannah, graciously allowed her living room to be transformed into Lax World North!).
Word of the developing girls’ program quickly spread, and we invited players from other districts (primarily Hempfield) to participate in the practices. These sessions culminated in a scrimmage at Country Day with three teams playing in a round-robin format. The boys finished this inaugural season with scrimmages away at Elizabethtown and home with Penn Manor. Both Middle School and High School teams played, sharing hand-me-down jerseys donated from youth football.
The summer of 1999 was a busy one for our developing lacrosse programs. The boys played in a summer league hosted by Elizabethtown HS (with “mixed” teams composed of players from Hempfield, Penn Manor, Elizabethtown, and Manheim Township). Summer clinics were also run for elementary students, with Mark Lukes instructing the boys, and Hillary Ehling (a Bucher teacher and club player at Delaware) coaching the girls. Summer camps at assorted colleges were popular and attended by many. Fall programs were also offered for both boys and girls of all age groups.
In his role as Phys. Ed. Coordinator, Doug Bailey introduced lacrosse into the Physical Education curriculum in the fall semester for both boys and girls. The boys played with helmets and sticks, and the girls with sticks. While this gave the sport additional exposure and got more kids interested, there were some humorous incidents as teachers tried to teach an unfamiliar sport. A former football coach asked another gym teacher, Jane Glass (the head Field Hockey coach and a former college lacrosse player) for some help in technique. She obliged, but taught him the cradling technique for the women’s stick (with the much shallower pocket).
We worked hard to prepare for a “real” season in the Spring of 2000 for both the boys and girls. The Fall Organizational Meeting was held Tuesday, October 26th at Convocation Hall. At that time we had tentative commitments from the Administration for field space and other resources, but the plans had not yet received the approval of the Board of School Directors. We were scheduled to present the Board with our proposals at their November meeting, so it was with a leap of faith that we shared our vision to the players and parents on the 26th.
I actually took a bigger leap of faith the day before. I rode with Doug Bailey to the Harrisburg Academy for a meeting with the coaches of the Mid Penn Lacrosse League to schedule Varsity, JV, and Middle School games for the coming Spring. Mr. McKonly had given me a list of the schedules for the other Spring sports, so I knew what dates we would presumably have field space for home games. At that point in time, I didn’t have a coach, we had no uniforms, field availability was unconfirmed, and we had only a rough idea of our player rosters. Ever the optimist, I kept these reservations to myself, and traded dates with the coaches from the other programs.
We had been looking for a head coach for the High School program for several months, and aside from Doug Bailey, there were no others “in house” with lacrosse experience. Doug and Mr. McKonly had been encouraging one of the Phys. Ed. teachers, Rich Lefever, to consider taking on the job. Rich was new to lacrosse, but he had coached other sports, including basketball (which had some similar offensive and defensive strategies). I met with him on Saturday, November 6th, and shared with him all I knew about our program. He was interested, but indicated that he would need time to make a decision.
The sign-ups for the Spring season were held in the cafeteria on November 19th. Lax World returned with another truck full of equipment, and we also took orders for the team jersey and shorts. The design featured a white torso on the jersey with dark blue sleeves and shoulders; this was a cost-saving measure, allowing the jersey to be used for both home and away games.
Although we had about fifty boys sign up for the High School team, there were only fourteen 7th and 8th graders. With the added problems of very limited field space for the Middle School’s practices and games, and the lack of a Middle School coach, it became doubtful that we could support a team. At this same time, Lancaster Country Day announced plans to start a Middle School team, with the idea that they would begin a High School program as these kids advanced. They had a coach and a field, but not enough players. Bingo!
Overall, things worked well with the LCDS/MTMS “merger” for the first two years of league play. There was grumbling that the Country Day kids got preferential treatment with playing time, but most games were played with a “fifth quarter” to give additional minutes. After the second year, Township’s numbers and resources allowed us to field our own Middle School team, and Country Day developed a relationship with the School District of Lancaster for additional players. We remain grateful to LCD’s Headmaster Mike Merskey and AD Dale Mylin for their assistance in this early period.
By December Mr. Lefever had agreed to be our men’s head coach, to be assisted by Ted Loughlin and the others that had managed our Spring program. Also at this time, Suzanne Smith, one of the girls’ Phys. Ed. teachers, agreed to be the head coach of the girls’ program, with assistance from Lisa Clark and the others. With both programs at least poised to move on, we felt it was best to separate the lacrosse booster club into two distinct organizations; a booster club for girls’ lacrosse was formed, and my involvement with that side was limited thereafter. Francie Thayer played a major role in coordinating the development of the women’s programs at several school districts.
I mentioned the Big Bang approach earlier, where we elected to start programs at the Elementary level along with Middle School and High School teams at the same time. We were very fortunate to have a wealth of coaching talent at the elementary level, with Mark Lukes, Mark Pinkerton, and Steve Tifft leading the way. They taught basic skills, but they also instilled a love of the game and a sense of sportsmanship that have come to define all levels of Township lacrosse. The strength of our youth programs has allowed the Varsity to “reload” rather than “rebuild” for the last many years, and it was largely because of them that our boys were playing for the state championship just 8 years after that first practice in our backyard.
Our 2000 boys’ season wasn’t pretty from a purist’s outlook; clearing the ball after a save was often a challenge, and at the offensive end there were few completed passes before shots. We “came close” only once or twice in games with our league rivals, scoring only 30 goals all season, but enthusiasm remained high for players, parents, and coaches. The booster club did a great job with fundraising, hospitality (i.e. concessions) at home games, and the year-end picnic. The Middle School combo with LCDS had a great year, with Eric Graupensberger scoring a ridiculous number of points. The seed had been planted, and lacrosse was on its way to becoming a “signature sport” for Manheim Township.
Fast forward to 2003, David’s senior year, and my last year with the program. Lacrosse remained a club sport for the boys, and we still hadn’t beaten Hempfield, but the team scored 299 goals en route to a 15-5 season and a section title. The girls’ Varsity and JV teams both won their league championships, with the Varsity going undefeated. There was no looking back.
Lacrosse would have come to Manheim Township sooner or later. I will take the credit for being the catalyst, making phone calls and writing letters that got it started when it did. We are indebted to a large group of people, however, who did the work in the gyms and out on the fields. As noted above, many of the biggest contributors had no connection to Manheim Township, but they had a love and a dedication to the sport that drove them to help young people find that magic. We are also indebted to the receptive and supportive administration, especially Superintendent Nelson and Athletic Director McKonly, for their roles in making it all happen; struggling teams in some other districts were not as fortunate.
The pages that follow are a collection of pictures, posters, letters, E-mails, and faxes that document the first two seasons of our programs. There were some missteps along the way, miscommunications, and things that might have been done better, but in the end a lot of good people did a good job of putting a good thing together.