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July 21, 2019 — A hard self-reflection

PARENTAL ADVISORY: If you’re a teenager reading this, you may want to have a parent or guardian with you.


A friend of mine, a jazz singer from California, posted an interesting question on social media, in response to the arrest and denial of bail this week of Jeffrey Epstein, a financier who is being charged with sex trafficking.

My friend quoted journalist Sarah Kendzior, who said this on a podcast last December:

Donald Trump is friends with at least five pedophiles, most of whom were involved in sex trafficking or blackmail schemes. There’s (Jeffrey) Epstein, (John) Casablancas, (Tevfik) Arif, (George) Nader, (Roy) Cohn. Who the hell is friends with five pedophiles?

I thought for a second. To nobody in particular when I was reading the post, I said aloud, “Three.”

Part of what this site is about is reporting news and accomplishments in field hockey, lacrosse, and women’s sports in general. But a highly regrettable part of my reporting over the last two decades has been chronicling the arrests and convictions of people in the field hockey and lacrosse communities for various morals charges.

And of the dozen or so people who have been arrested, fired, or outright banned from their field hockey or lacrosse positions because of their actions, I can say that I knew three of them.

Well, let’s be clear: I thought I knew them.

When you’re a writer, in any beat, you get to know a lot of people, from the powerful to the pauper. You talk to coaches, parents, and some outliers — private coaches, trainers, alumni/ae, and athletic administrators.

In athletic competitions, I get to see two stories. One is the coach trying to get a group of 20 players to buy into a competitive vision. The other story is the parent ceding control of the child for a few weeks.

It’s the latter story that has, regrettably, led to many of the dozens of stories of teachers and coaches having sexual relations with students over the years. At one point, there was an average of more than one arrest per day being reported in newspapers around the country. It got to the point where Bob Reno, the editor of BadJocks.com, stopped counting (and, eventually, stopped publishing the site).

Given what I have seen, I ask myself all the time what I could have done to alter or prevent some of this behavior. Then again, even if I had influenced one person or another to not engage with an undercover FBI agent to trade child porn, or to not have sex with his students, or to not interfere with a police investigation, there would be many others.

Our nation, I think, is a sexual cesspool when it comes to adults and minors. The regrettable thing is that it’s taken the lurid tales surrounding the Larry Nassar trial and conviction to bring this to the fore.

Our President’s associates, and their predilections, are just another symptom. Nothing more to see here.

July 20, 2019 — Return of The Sports Curmudgeon

NOTE: Frank Deford (1938-2017) not only wrote articles for Sports Illustrated and was editor of The National Sports Daily, he contributed oral commentaries to National Public Radio for 37 years. The Sports Curmudgeon was a character he invented as a trope to either predict the future of a particular pastime, or to rant about how the sport in question “used to be.”  

OK, people. In about a week’s time, the National Federation of State High School Associations is going to issue its annual press release about changes in the sport of girls’ lacrosse.

The talk around the lacrosse world for much of the last decade has been how to brighten, freshen up, or, for lack of a better term, “sex up” the fastest game on two feet.

I never thought the game ever needed sexing up; it’s a ritual borne from Native American combat, where teams numbering in the hundreds would play in forests, clearings, and the paths in between, hoping to use sticks to propel a ball towards a goal of some kind.

In the men’s game, there were mechanisms to speed up the game if the officials believed that the offense was being passive, including the ultimate punishment of making the attack keep it in an attack box 35 yards long and 40 yards wide. A few years ago, that punishment was changed to a 30-second shot clock.

Eventually, that was changed to an 80-second clock for college, and a clock varying from 52 to 60 seconds in the pro game. For the women, the possession clock is 90 seconds for the NCAA, and 60 seconds for the WPLL pro game.

The problem with implementing a possession clock in scholastic lacrosse — both men’s and women’s — is that the scorer’s table is now responsible for three clocks. With nearly 3,500 schools across America offering the sport these days, finding people competent enough to run these clocks is going to be an absolute nightmare.

Therefore, by the power invested in your Sports Curmudgeon, the National Federation and U.S. Lacrosse (who co-write the rules for the U-19 game nationwide) are directed to implement what I call the “Clock Lock” when it comes to running the game clock, possession clock, and any and all penalty clocks that may occur during the contest.

“Clock Lock” means that the time counts off any and all operating clocks simultaneously, even in situations when the game clock is supposed to be running (such as when one team takes a 10-goal lead). In other words, there should be no reason for the game clock to be running while the possession clock is not, and vice-versa.

Take, for example, when a card is issued. The umpire should be allowed to stop the game and clock, send the player to the penalty bench, record the foul, and ensure that the time is set. This goes even if the game score is out of hand.

I have seen a number of times in the most recent NCAA season, a running game clock has harmed a team’s chances to get back into a game late when the possession clock is not running.

What that does is change the calculus of comebacks: with five minutes to go in the second half, a coaching staff expects four possessions (three full 90-second clocks and about 30 seconds of leftover time). But if one team dawdles in getting the ball back into play while the possession clock is still and the game clock is not, that takes a critical possession away from the team that is trailing.

I think the “Clock Lock” rule simplifies timing for people running the clocks, whether they are parents, student managers, volunteers, or even paid cadet officials.

Your Sports Curmudgeon has spoken.

July 19, 2019 — Games of the Year, 2019

This year has been a difficult one to keep any sort of hold on what makes games great, since there are so many interconference and interstate matches held these days. Sometimes, these lists may wane in their importance, given the passage of time and the changing of perspective.

Here’s our attempt at a list of 10 best matches from this past spring:

10. Bayport-Blue Point (N.Y.) 8, Mount Sinai (N.Y.) 0
April 17, 2019
Regular-season game
When was the last time that you saw a state championship-level team from a national hotbed (winners of the New York state title in 2017, nonetheless) get shut out for all 50 minutes? Give a ton of credit to BBP for the win, but this team and others’ slowdown tactics have hastened calls for a possession clock to be instituted in U.S. Lacrosse and National Federation contests.

9. Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) 8, Manhasset (N.Y.) 7
April 6, 2019
Regular-season game
Let it not be said that Taylor Cummings doesn’t like a challenge. After a successul Southern swing, the Eagles went up to Long Island and came away with a win over the defending New York Class B champs.

8. Hingham Notre Dame Academy (Mass.) 12, Providence Moses Brown School (R.I.) 10
May 18, 2019
Regular-season game
Nobody knew it at the time, but after a taut and tense matchup in mid-may, both of these sides would win their respective state championships. NDA won the Massachusetts Division I crown, and Moses Brown won the Rhode Island Division I title.

7. Baldwinsville (N.Y.) 15, Bethlehem (N.Y.) 14 (OT)
June 7, 2019
NYSPHSAA Class A semifinal
Bethlehem had come back from a first-half swoon to take a two-goal lead with under five minutes to play. However, the Bees drew level late and won it on Katherine Pascale’s free position 48 seconds into extra time.

6. Cohasset (Mass.) 14, Norwell (Mass.) 13
June 11, 2019
MIAA Division II South semifinal
These two South Shore League rivals knew that a win here was likely the proverbial golden ticket to the state championship. Norwell and Cohasset had met in the previous four sectional finals, with the winner going on to win the MIAA title each of those four seasons. Jane Hansen led Cohasset with six goals.

5. Moorestown (N.J.) 11, Ridgewood (N.J.) 10
June 5, 2019
NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinal
These two teams met on April 24 in the regular season with Ridgewood winning 12-8, but Moorestown, the Group III champs, bested Group IV titlists Ridgewood in a game which saw one player ruled out due to concussion protocol, and a late stick check changing possession to Ridgewood for a final attempt to level.

4. Pittsford (N.Y.) 7, Rush-Henrietta (N.Y.) 6, 4 OT 
May 29, 2019
NYSPHSAA Section 5 Class A final
Rush-Henrietta had last year’s champions on the proverbial ropes, taking a 6-4 lead deep into regulation, but Pittsford answered back with two late goals and Ellie Mooney’s goal in the fourth period of extra time.

3. Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) 5, Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.) 4, 2 OT
May 11, 2019
IAAM Class A Tournament final
SPSG came into the IAAM tournament as the sixth seed, but went through a Murderer’s Row of teams to get to the championship. And, thanks to the heroics of goalie Leah Wareheim, almost toppled the Eagles’ dream of regaining the title. It was Izzy Marsh who put McDonogh on top of the nation’s toughest conference with a goal six minutes into extra time.

2. Auburn St. Dominic Academy (Maine) 11, Naples Lake Region (Maine) 8
June 15, 2019
MPA Class C Tournament final
What’s notable about this match is that St. Dominic played the entire state championship without substitutions. That’s right; an injury or an ill-timed yellow card could have left the Saints short not only on the pitch, but on the bench. Yet eight goals from Avery Lutrzykowski sent the team and its campuses into dreamland.

1. Contoocook Hopkinton (N.H.) 12, Derryfield (N.H.) 11
June 4, 2019
NHIAA Division III Tournament final
Hopkinton has had a sudden rise in its fortune over the last three seasons, making its first championship run a year ago. But this title game would be anything but orthodox. The Hawks were a player short late in the first half after receiving its fourth team yellow of the game. Only two minutes into the second half, leading scorer Lyndon Flanagan received her second yellow, and the team’s fifth of the game. It was against this backdrop that the Hawks showed a remarkable resilience playing with just nine outfielders, winning on a pair of goals from center Ellie Morrall. She had five goals in this game, after scoring six against Bow (N.H.) in the semifinals.

July 18, 2019 — What’s missing in the WNBA?

Last night, at a takeout place near home, I actually got to sit down and watch part of a WNBA game on an NBA TV simulcast.

The item that led the news of the day in one of the world’s most high-profile women’s pro basketball leagues? The news that Riquina Williams of the Los Angeles Sparks was being suspended for 10 games for her part in a domestic violence incident.

This follows on allegations over the weekend involving the Seattle Storm’s All-Star forward Natasha Howard and her spouse.

The 2019 WNBA season has been more about disappearances, rather than a maturing league bringing the game of women’s basketball to the fore. Sue Bird, with a knee injury, is lost for the season. So is her teammate Breanna Stewart, who tore her Achilles tendon.

Maya Moore has not reported to the Minnesota Lynx, expressing a desire to do ministry work. Skylar Diggins is missing the season to have a baby.

And two other high-profile players, Angel McCoughtry and Diana Taurasi, couldn’t start the season because of major injuries.

Now, I recognize a lot of these player disappearances are out of the control of the various teams and owners. But the Moore situation came just after the Lynx put its franchise tag on her, which puts less freedom of movement on her for her next round of contract negotiations.

Aside from player disappearances, some WNBA teams have made befuddling moves from large arenas in the middle of their territories to out-of-the-way buildings barely better than high-school arenas. The New York Liberty, having played parts of most of its last few seasons either at the Prudential Center in Newark or in Madison Square Garden, has been relegated to playing at the 5,000-seat Westchester County Center in White Plains. The team barely took in an average of 2,000 fans a game last year.

The Washington Mystics, having filled the current Capital One Center on several occasions in the 1990s, is relegated to playing its home games at the practice gym of the Washington Wizards, a place that barely seats 4,500 people and is located far from the center of town.

It’s as if though the WNBA has been complicit in hiding its most valuable asset — its teams — under a bowl, to borrow a Biblical parable.

I can’t see this as being terribly sustainable over the long haul.

July 17, 2019 — Meanwhile, above the 49th Parallel

There was a point in the 1990s when the Canadian women’s field hockey program was regarded at least as an equal to the American side. American colleges were looking north for talent and that one gem of a player who could make a difference in the NCAA Tournament. Canada had medaled in two consecutive FIH World Cups, in 1983 and 1986, and is the only nation to have kept Argentina and the U.S. from finishing 1 and 2 in the Pan American Games, having taken silver in 1991 in Cuba.

But the Canadian women have not done so well in continental and world tournaments in recent years. Canada has not made a World Cup or an Olympics since 1996.

It’s not for lack of trying, but more and more young girls from Canada have been playing other sports where Canada are among the world leaders. This especially goes for ice hockey, where the country has been the gold standard since winning the first IIHF Women’s World Championship in 1990.

While the ice hockey and women’s soccer teams have been having great success, the field hockey team has turned to a modern method of staying afloat financially: crowd-sourcing. Here’s the story.

 

July 16, 2019 — Your national scoring champion

In Kentucky, there’s usually two sides in every sports story. And those two sides usually surround the state’s two largest cities: Louisville (which is about 600,000) and Lexington (about 300,000).

But unlike the rivalry in men’s basketball between the two major Division I universities, the world of girls’ high-school lacrosse in the Bluegrass State is at a much lower intensity.

Louisville’s lacrosse culture has been fed mainly by the 18 programs in and around the metropolis. Many of the schools have been amongst the best in the country in field hockey, girls’ volleyball, and girls’ soccer in the last two decades. And since 2001, the teams in the Kentucky Scholastic Lacrosse League have used many of those athletes and have developed into leaders of the game in the mid-South.

The other dozen or so teams in the state, clustered around Lexington, are in the Commonwealth League. Many of these teams did not exist in 2001, the first year the KSLL had its first title game. The Commonwealth League is very much in the shadows of their more experienced counterparts to the west, and, because of that, there’s not much interconference play.

That may change, in part because of the attacking heroics of junior Brittany Sherrod. She is your national scoring champion for 2019, scoring 158 goals and leading a phalanx of six other players nationwide who cracked the Top 12 performances of all time.

“Well, we are going to scrimmage (Louisville teams) next year, but there’s not going to be a merger next year,” Sherrod says.

If there’s one thing that marked Sherrod’s performance in 2019, it was not just her scoring, but the efficiency thereof. She was credited with an unreal percentage of 76 percent from the field as an attacker, plus she was a draw specialist.

“I actually started playing with the boys,” Sherrod said. “At first (in fourth grade) I was scared because the boys’ stick was so much easier to throw and catch with it. But once I transferred over, it was easy. It’s all about soft hands, hand-eye coordination, and all that other stuff.”

But the experience playing with the third-grade boys gave her a different mindset, one which she’s carried through to this day. She made not only all-state, but was invited to the Under Armour All-America games for underclasswomen.

“It helped me with being aggressive, and playing defense, because you’re always fighting for the ball,” Sherrod says.

During the 2019 season, Woodford County had a marvelous run of form, winning all 24 games — and winning them comfortably. The Yellow Jackets 10-goalled their first nine opponents, then won games against out-of-state foes from Georgia, Tennessee, and West Virginia on the way to their second straight Commonwealth postseason championship.

“It was very important for me to share the ball,” Sherrod said. “We wouldn’t have won as many games like we did without us playing as a team.”

Sherrod is heading to Division I Gardner-Webb in the fall of 2020 at a crucial time for lacrosse not only in the South, but at the school. Gardner-Webb had almost as many wins in 2019 (six) than it did in its first five years of existence (eight).

“I always want to get better each year; we need to have goals,” she says.

Sherrod’s total joins a number of top performances from the recent past:

2019: Brittany Sherrod, Versailles Woodford County (Ky.) 158
2018: Charlie Rudy, Novato (Calif.), 147
2017: Charlie Rudy, Novato (Calif.), 160
2016: Bridget Ruskey, Cape May Courthouse Middle Township (N.J.), 135
2015: Sophia Turchetta, Harvard Bromfield (Mass.), 158
2014: Sophia Turchetta, Harvard Bromfield (Mass.), 170
2013: Daniela McMahon, Saddle River Country Day School (N.J.), 143
2012: Emma Lazaroff, Lafayette Centaurus (Colo.), 143
2011: Alex Moore, Allentown (N.J.), 148
2010: Autumn MacMillin, Tecumseh (Mich.), 157
2009: Katie Ferris, Carthage (N.Y.), 138
2008: Courtney Miller, Chappaqua Horace Greeley (N.Y.) 125
2007: Mallori Selliger, Clarkstown (N.Y.) North, 88
2006: Shannon Smith, West Babylon (N.Y.) 129

 

 

 

July 15, 2019 — The story repeats

Last Thursday, John Fickas, a person descriped as an “walk-on, off-campus assistant” coach for the field hockey team at North Salinas (Calif.), was arrested and held on charges of rape and sodomy for actions which reportedly occurred in 2009 and 2015, according to court documents.

According to early news reports, Fickas was the subject of several complaints by parents because of inappropriate touching and even drinking around players.

The school district’s response, in part, is as follows:

The safety and security of our students are a priority. Thus, once we were notified of the investigation we placed this coach on administrative leave, and as a result, he was directed to have no contact with any Salinas Union High School District student. We must respect the rights to privacy and due process of everyone involved, and the District cannot comment further on personnel matters or student information. As law enforcement moves forward we will take the appropriate disciplinary actions which may include termination of this coach. We appreciate the community’s understanding and support as we work through this unfortunate situation.

The optics, thus far, do not look good — especially for the school district. It’s amazing to me that, in an age where there’s a hypersensitivity about who gets access to minor teenagers in a school setting, that Fickas — and perhaps other coaches — were given a status, seemingly through the act of volunteering. It makes me wonder if there was a background check at all, something which, as I’ve come to learn in my reporting on several morals cases surrounding the U.S. field hockey community, has become a forgotten and/or misapplied tool in trying to shield students from predators.

In addition, I’m surprised at the volume of and nature of complaints regarding this assistant coach. Now, I don’t have the handwritten notes of the reporters involved, but if there was a significant pattern, somebody in the school’s athletic department really dropped the ball here.

What’s more, I’m disturbed that stronger action was not taken upon his arrest — especially given the fact that alcohol was involved. He is currently out on $400,000 bail until his arraignment a week from today.

The kicker, however is this: Fickas wasn’t even taken into custody on the rape charges until he appeared in court last Thursday to answer for charges of animal cruelty dating back to 2017.

Makes you wonder exactly where law enforcement’s priorities have been the last decade or so.