It is with great sadness that I announce another MCLA program is closing up shop. Effective immediately, Willamette University is no longer a member of the MCLA or the Pacific Northwest Collegiate Lacrosse League.
Since I have this soapbox for just a moment longer, you can read on to understand why it came to this.
For those of you who know me, you know full well that these are words I have fought for nine years to not write. You know that I don’t write this with joy, sarcasm, or general disinterest for the league. You know that we would not be in this position had we not taken every opportunity to continue. The men’s lacrosse program at Willamette University did not die for lack of care, passion, or love of the game. In fact, it died in spite of all those things.
People might say that this team should have died long ago, and they might be right. People might also say that teams that can’t keep players interested and in uniform, should never have been involved in the MCLA in the first place. In a vacuum, you may be right. But in the MCLA, we exist in a club sports universe full of unpredictable variables. We exist in an MCLA reality that if we knew every single rostered player would show up to the next game, it wouldn’t be the MCLA after all. We exist in an MCLA reality where the only thing less sure than when the dues money will roll in is if the field we reserved for our game will be filled with varsity soccer players come game-time.
I’m not complaining about these realities, or citing them as reasons for our program’s failure. I’m simply trying to remind everyone that as MCLA Darwinism claims another victim, it is important to remember how fragile our existence can be. If you don’t have to worry about your players getting wasted the night before your next game, or the fraternities holding initiation all week keeping your guys from practice, or the rugby team playing dirty politics and bad-mouthing your intentions to the university president, then more power to you. I’m quite confident you are in the minority, and you don’t see the reality around you that your peers live in every day.
It’s a mean sports world out there. The teams, coaches, players, and sports that survive are the ones that just keep grinding it out. For a long time, my team was in that category. I’m not bitter that my team has now folded, just disappointed that I let it happen. I hope that my team’s failure is your team’s reminder that a similar fate may not be so unthinkable.
If I had one piece of advice, it would be this: Cut out the cancer. Negativity needs to die and leave any program immediately. The second that a player, coach, administrator, or parent cannot remove their fixation from the negative, is the second that you are losing the battle and starting to lose the war. You can vent about the frustrations, but do not let your venting become a habit, and do it with people not associated with the team. Negativity breeds negativity. Sometimes the problem may lie within yourself, as hard as it is to admit.
There are several people I want to thank for their work to keep Willamette Lacrosse alive, without whom the team would have died way back in 2004:
Pat Kabealo, Keith Bondaug, and Nick Christianson (Class of 2004): These were the three seniors who loved the game and spent the time and energy to keep a winless team inspired to show up the next day. They also stayed active as alumni and were positive influences on my development as a player and a person. Thank you.
Andrew Clark, Elliot Bates, and Dan Ulshafer: Four year players were not a common occurrence during my time at WU. Andrew and Elliot played all four years and were committed to this team. Less common, were players who would have their parents host spaghetti feeds and drive players to and from game sites as far away as Ashland. Dan Ulshafer and his parents were as committed to Willamette as I have a seen a family in my time in sports.
The Class of 2010 (Andrew Theis, Andrew Benware, Pete Stonebraker, Morgan Faricy): This class took the program from a 30 game losing streak to the playoffs. To say that these four individuals brought hope, excitement, and a love for each other and those around them would be an understatement. Without them, Willamette Lacrosse would not exist. Thank you all.
Pete Stonebraker (again), Jake Horacek, Ian McAnnis-Entenman, and Sean Harding: These four players were not only men who fit the adage “If I had a daughter I’d hope they’d marry this guy”, but they also served as team president and helped me run the chaos. What is also unique about EACH one of these guys is that they never got the respect they deserved as lacrosse players on the field. Thank you.
Ben Murphy: A player, similar to the above four, who was never appreciated in terms of his skill on the field. He was a four year starter, and returned to coach in 2012. Thank you!
Mark Brown and Bubba Gutherless: Both coaches in the PNCLL that provided me countless good laughs and conversations, in addition to limitless advice on coaching, the league, and life in general. I owe each of you a debt of gratitude that will be difficult to repay. Thank you.
Brian Miller: Last but not least, Brian Miller is a gentleman whose commitment to Willamette Lacrosse, and lacrosse anywhere, rivals any man’s! Brian was the unsung hero of our program, providing guidance, advice, friendship, and of course time-keeping for the last seven years. Brian did all of this, and never received one dime of payment. Brian is as commendable an individual as I have run across in my time in any walk of life. Thank you for your hard work and commitment Brian, it does not go unnoticed, and I can only to begin to repay you in the coming years.
Thank you to everyone who supported Willamette Lacrosse, including LaxAllStars. Time will tell if we can re-grow the game at Willamette.