Blog: How I Spent My Offseason
Feb. 19, 2010
By Kevin Scheitrum
Teaming Up For The Community
Fifteen months ago, Virginia lacrosse player Max Pomper had never heard about the UVa HELP Hotline. Then, in November of 2008, his best friend took his life.
Pomper's world, like that of his teammates and that of so many in the Charlottesville community, stopped with the news of Will Barrow's death. Pomper had grown up in the town next to Barrow on Long Island. Pomper and Barrow's fathers would carpool down to games at Virginia. And when Pomper, a senior in 2010, earned a spot on the starting midfield with Barrow - the captain of that 2008 team - he counted it as one of his proudest moments as a Cavalier.
"Every memory I had at UVa involved Will," Pomper said. "I still think about Will very day - it still hurts when we first lost him last November. But with stuff we've been able to do in the community, hopefully Will's passing can serve as help to others."
So last fall, he took action. Organizing a flag football tournament last Nov. 7 to benefit the HELP hotline called "Remembering Will Barrow," Pomper became the hotline's first sponsor almost two decades. Bringing together not only teams from campus, but also squads composed of lacrosse players from Hopkins, Maryland, UNC, Georgetown and beyond - 28 teams competed between the men's and women's tournaments - the event raised more than $8,000 dollars.
"They were ecstatic," Pomper said about HELP. "They were more than willing to help in any capacity - they're so underfunded and shorthanded."
"They were excited to be paired up with the lacrosse team because they didn't have sponsors for the first time in 17 years," he continued. "[The event] helped people around the Charlottesville community, and it can take place for years to come to remember Will."
In December, Pomper received the second annual IMLCA Boston Market Humanitarian Award, recognizing student-athletes for their work in raising money for the community through campus initiatives.
"It was an amazing day," Pomper said of the tournament. "To be honest it was probably the nicest day in the fall, weather-wise.
He laughed, then continued: "I'm not sure if Will had something to do with that."
Meanwhile, Pomper's teammate Ken Clausen was walking around campus with a fresh new moustache.
You get the feeling that the two-time First Team All-American had the itch to wear a lip toupee anyway. But, he figured, he might as well do it for a good cause.
So, working alongside fifth-year transfer Todd Faiella and athletic trainer Rebecca Vozzo, Clausen helped to raise more than $30,000 to benefit prostate cancer awareness and research through his Mustache Madness initiative (stashmadness.posterous.com).
"Looking at statistics and seeing how much it does affect men, chances are at least one of the guys on our team are gonna unfortunately suffer from this," Clausen said. "It's a cause that directly affects us as a team, and men's lacrosse as a whole. There are these great events for breasts cancer - in women's college basketball, you see the pink jerseys - and we felt like we could so something comparable."
The concept was simple: get paid to look ridiculous. And it caught on. Quick. Eighteen lacrosse teams in total got involved, with varying degrees of 'stache, from pure 'stubble' to Faiella's authentic Borat mustache for Halloween, Clausen said.
"A mustache unites everyone doing it," Clausen said. "You can sit there and look like a clown with your mustache, but it's all for a good cause."
And for anybody interested in joining in: they're looking to make it a yearly thing.
"I think the mustache has gotten unfortunately outdated, especially for our age range," Clausen said. "You wouldn't believe the amount of looks I got, people just looking at me, like 'Why do you have a mustache?'
"It's nice to have people be able to laugh at you and embrace the fact that they're laughing along with you," he continued. "I looked up and laughed at myself every day in the mirror. But then people started seeing that it was a worthy cause, the biggest donating point is that is was real, were making a difference. ... By the end people were pretty ready to get it done. A month was long enough for most people."
Virginia's had a big offseason in charity work, but the Cavs haven't been alone, as teams across the country have spent the fall and winter giving back. A small sampling follows:
Cornell hosted its annual clinic fundraiser for the Dream Factory of New York on Feb. 14. Duke and others ran fundraisers for the Jack McGetrick fund, created to help the longtime coach cover his medical bills in treating his prostate cancer. Ohio State, who also participated in aiding the McGetrick fund, also assisted in the "WWII Veteran Honor Flight Reunion," a service that flies veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit their memorialsFormer Navy captain Andy Tormey was deployed to Haiti to help with the devastation after a series of earthquakes rocked the island. Hofstra took part in the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless's 'Have A Heart For The Homeless' Candlelight Vigil on Feb. 11.
0-2 With One Life Saved
A few weeks into the new school year, a group of Jacksonville lacrosse players - still five months away from their first-ever game as a D-I team - decided to do what all reasonable males would do in the wake of a hurricane: they hit the beach.
Figuring it would be a good chance to bond, not to mention a rare opportunity to get after some waves taller than their Jeeps, they drove over from campus.
"We knew the waves were gonna be pretty big," said freshman attackman Dan McNulty. "We were gonna go out to the beach to mess around in the ocean."
About 10 minutes into the swim, McNulty and two of his teammates - Joe O'Rourke and Mike Williams (Williams has since transferred) - a heard a woman screaming. The rip current had pulled her out past them, and she was receding more every minute.
"When I first swam over to her she was so panicked, first thing she did was put both hands on top of my head and push me underwater," McNulty said. "When I got back up I was able to talk to her, hold her by the arm and calm her down and let her catch her breath.
"She wasn't that far out, but we couldn't stand," he continued. "Then, once I got her to calm down, if a wave crashed over her head, she started freaking out again."
This all came just minutes after the trio had already helped to paddle another man struggling to stay afloat closer to shore.
"It was definitely kinda crazy," McNulty said. "We had just gotten [to campus] and we were doing all these news things, interviews - we didn't really think much of it, helping out. But it definitely was a bonding experience."
Jacksonville, at 0-2 after losses to North Carolina and Bellarmine, goes for its first-ever win as a D-I team against Denver on Sunday.
From The Garden to the Rocky Mountain State
When the University of Denver first courted 22-year Princeton head coach Bill Tierney, the old coach was a little skeptical. Princeton had been his life, where he'd earned a reputation as one of the greatest minds in the game while picking up six national championships, 14 Ivy League titles and a nod to the U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
But, he said, every time he came up with a reason why he didn't want to leave the leafy streets of Princeton, the Pioneer athletic department came up with a better reason why, he said.
"Every question I asked, every doubt I had just got answered," Tierney said last May.
He'll be coaching with his son, Trevor, who tended net for Tierney's 1998 and 2001 national championship teams. And he'll be inheriting a team considerably more able to compete for a title - or even a win - than the one he took over in 1987.
"[The program] is in very good shape as far as talent goes," he said. "Jamie Munro did an amazing job bringing it basically from D-II to D-I and to the Tournament twice. ... Compare this to 1987, with the Princeton program where they'd won four games in the prior two years. There was a decisive lack of talent."
After heading out to Denver, Tierney saw the opportunity he'd have to take the Pioneers to new heights. But the clinching point might have been the drive to campus.
"My wife and I have been out here enough in the winters to go skiing, and we've always talked about this being where we settle when all's said and done," Tierney said. "The one thing I realized is I still have my passion, and I was excited that we were gonna go where we're retiring - but I'm just not ready to retire yet."
The Pioneers open their season at No. 1 Syracuse at 7 p.m. ET.
'I wrote him a note, he wrote me a note, and back then in the middle 90s I got to know him'
John McPhee is no stranger to a good yarn.
A staff writer at The New Yorker for 35 years, McPhee's authored more than two dozen books, the most notable of which earned him the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for his study on geology, Annals of the Former World. For more than 30 years, McPhee's taught journalism at Princeton, and remembers when a guy named Bill Tierney took over a team going nowhere.
"The story, as I understand it, is that he came from Hopkins and he was here at the taking over a lacrosse program ... and they'd not been very distinguished for some time," McPhee said about Tierney. "And he takes over and he spoke to the freshmen, as I understand it, and said 'This is what we need to do to win a national championship when you are seniors.' And these guys looked at each other as if they were in the presence of somebody that ought to be certified, but four years later, they were national champions."
Technically, it was five seasons. Princeton won in '92. But such is the type of legendary impact that Bill Tierney leaves behind at Princeton, not only on his program, but on a relationship with his close friend.
McPhee, who's taken to penning stories long and short about lacrosse for the New Yorker over the past few years - including a travelogue about following the team through Spain and Ireland before the 2009 season - joined the team as a faculty fellow in 2008 on Tierney's invitation. Inspired by sociology professor Marvin Bressler's relationship with longtime basketball coach Pete Carril, Princeton AD Gary Walters launched the faculty fellow program on a schoolwide basis.
When McPhee, who played lacrosse at the prestigious Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, started teaching at Princeton, he didn't pay much attention to lacrosse, he said. But, right around the time Tierney got there, he started making his way down to the stadium to re-explore his relationship with the game.
"For quite a while, there was a hiatus [in watching games]," he said. "I loved playing lacrosse when I was in high school, and I decided to follow the Princeton team. I'd go down to the lacrosse games, and then the year was 1992 - I kept going and going and pretty soon I was in the NCAA Tournament and going, and then it was double-overtime and they won the championship.
"That really did it for me," he said. "I haven't missed a lacrosse game since unless I had to."
McPhee took interest in the man behind the bench, the life force behind the rebirth of Princeton lacrosse. So he did what a man of letters would do. He wrote him. They've been friends ever since.
"I wrote him a note, he wrote me a note, and back then in the middle 90s I got to know him," McPhee said. "As it evolved we started having lunch ... and then two years ago he asked me to be a faculty fellow on the lacrosse team."
The day that Tierney accepted the DU job, McPhee - who Tierney called "one of my best friends on campus" - was one of the first people the coach told. And McPhee, who came back to the game he once loved through Tierney's work, understood right away.
"I'm very sorry to see him go," McPhee said. "But I certainly understand what he's doing. He's accomplished such a great deal here, and it's a new kind of mission. The burgeoning of lacrosse, the spread of the game, it means a lot to him."
Princeton starts its new era on Feb. 27 against Hofstra.