As the afterglow of the Loyola University (MD) Cinderella story begins to cool, much has been made of the unlikely convergence of talent at the small Jesuit school at the corner of Cold Spring Lane and Charles Street in Baltimore. It is a testament to the deep roots the sport has in the Free State.
Although the game was first documented by Jesuit missionary Jean de Brebeuf in Ontario in 1636 when he observed the Huron tribe playing the strange sport, other tribes throughout the U.S. and Canada were also playing “The Creator’s Game”. The Iroquois played it for the enjoyment of The Creator and, in special ceremonies, to heal tribal members. But it was the French Jesuits who dubbed the webbed stick “le jeu da crosse” for its resemblance to a shepherd’s crook or a bishop’s crosier. It took another quarter of a century before W. George Beers set down the rules, standardizing the game. And that was 15 years after then-Loyola College had been founded.
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Through the years, Loyola University of Maryland has produced a wealth of fine athletes, in spite of its lack of big money and endorsements. The emphasis is on producing students grounded in spirituality and the Jesuit tradition of service to their fellow man. Recruiting isn’t always easy, competing with the powerhouse machines of much larger universities like Duke, UNC, University of Maryland and many others. Still, this small, private, catholic school has produced over 90 All-American men’s lacrosse players since 1959…and the number is higher if you count the players who were named over multiple years such as the Greyhounds’ coach, Charley Toomey in 1989 and 1990.
Looking over the long list, I recognized several names from my own college years and, in a “where-are-they-now” moment, I decided to track one down. His name is John White, All-American lacrosse middie from 1967. One of the most natural athletes of the 1960s, John played three sports as a 14-year-old freshman: football, basketball and baseball at Loyola High School (Blakefield) during ’59-’60, a year that brought state championship titles in all three of those sports. He modestly describes the achievements as “harmonic convergences, where a couple of outstanding coaches accidentally hooked up with a couple of outstanding players”.
He doesn’t include himself in that group, saying that the championships weren’t due to any efforts on his part. But the real significance of that year was the introduction of lacrosse to Loyola High by coach Eddie Miller and, aided by Gene Corrigan, the enthusiasm that the men brought to the “new” sport made John White want to be both a player and a coach.
Intrigued, John dropped football and basketball in his sophomore year, concentrating on lacrosse and baseball. He laughs when asked about his lacrosse beginnings.
“There’s an old Joseph Campbell quote, ‘Follow your bliss’. I was nuts about lacrosse but could barely cradle the ball, pass or catch. I had no idea what the rules were. But my uncle Harry (Nance) was All American at Hopkins and played crease for the Mount Washington Lacrosse Club. He was one rugged dude and nearly as fast as Gene Fusting. He gave me one piece of advice: learn to go both ways and they’ll never be able to shut you down. It worked. I came up with some stupid moves, but they always got me open. I practiced shooting at my brothers in the backyard.”
And John’s “stupid moves” worked so well that by his senior year, he was named All Maryland midfield. He headed to then-Loyola College and played short stick middie for four years. When asked how his equipment differed from what players use today, John explained:
“We didn’t have the perfectly-balanced replaceable plastic heads. We had old wooden crosiers that you bought at Bacharach Raisin and hoped to hell you didn’t break. We’d stick popsicle sticks in the wall and shellac it overnight. For the pocket, we used Neatsfoot oil.”
Ever-humble, John feels the reason for his lacrosse success was dominated by conditioning. “The only reason I was ok at college lacrosse was because I did a lot of running. I did NOT want to woof my cookies in the 4th quarter with the clock on the field. We ran three midfields. You went both ways in those days – no platooning. I didn’t drink until after I graduated.”
When asked how today’s lacrosse players differ from those of his college years, John replied, “Everybody today has great stick work and generally is buffed. It wasn’t like that when I played. It was more of a party atmosphere. But, make no mistake, the great players of that era would be great whenever they played. My idols (too many to mention) played for Mount Washington, Hopkins, Navy and Virginia.”
John White’s favorite game of his college career was also his last.
“It was at Penn State in ’67. I think we tied 13-13, but I had 5 goals and a couple of assists. A month later I was backpacking through Europe and when I got back to the states, the All American list was out…and I was on it, way down at the bottom with the barely mentionables!”
So what has life held for All American John White since his glory days as a ‘Hound?
“I served in the army and when I was 29, I moved to California and became a tennis pro. I didn’t even know how to play tennis, but if you do something you love every day, all day, it’s amazing how quickly your skill level improves. I’ve been a tennis pro, running clubs and teaching, in California, Arizona and Maryland for 37 years and I absolutely love it. And forty years after Eddie Miller introduced me to lacrosse at Loyola High, he became one of my tennis students! I didn’t pick up a lacrosse stick again until, after 21 years out west, I returned to Baltimore and started “Affordable Sports” where I taught tennis, lacrosse and golf. Shots and dodges were my favorite thing to teach in lacrosse, but nowadays it’s just tennis and golf.”
Today’s lacrosse players often begin as soon as they’re old enough to walk and hold a stick in their hand. When I asked John’s advice for today’s young players and their parents, he offered this:
“As a little guy, baseball was my passion. Then it was basketball, then lacrosse, and now golf. They each had their chapter. I think if there is a secret for kids and parents, it’s to experiment with as many things as possible, whether it’s sports or whatever. When you find your bliss, it’s not work – it’s play. And when it’s fun, you’ll put in twice as much time and you’ll be twice as good at it.”
In closing, when asked what his goals are now, John stated,
“To stay out of trouble and hit a lot of balls…golf and tennis. My project for this year is to get out some ebooks and podcasts, and play a lot of guitar. Guitar started as it did for a lot of guys…a way to get girls, but now it’s because I love it. Another one of those ‘follow your bliss’ things. I’ve always remembered something that Carl Jung said about picking a career. He said it should be about as difficult as falling off a log. Follow your nose. That’s what you’re meant to be doing.”
John White Sports can be found at www.bouncepoint.com