Bates, Skidmore honor McDuffee
Three schools work together to schedule game on anniversary
What began as just a last-minute scheduling glitch in the fall has turned into a fitting way to honor the memory of former Bates lacrosse player Morgan McDuffee, who was killed while breaking up an off-campus fight in Lewiston, Maine, in 2002.
On March 3, the 10th anniversary of McDuffee's death, Bates and Skidmore will meet in a non-conference game dedicated the former captain's life. The game will be held at 2:30 p.m. ET at Tufts in Medford, Mass.
Bates head coach Peter Lasagna was in his second season at the helm of the program at the time of McDuffee's death, while Skidmore head coach Jack Sandler was one of McDuffee's teammates. Since Sandler took over Skidmore's program in 2006, the two have always wanted to play one another but it had not worked out … until this season.
Perhaps a little divine intervention was at work. A late cancellation on Skidmore's schedule started the ball rolling in November and the pieces of the puzzle kept falling into place to get the game set up.
"As we started to talk about it, we realized it was the day of the 10th anniversary," Sandler said. "We needed to make this work."
"It was pretty wild the way this came together," Lasagna said. "There were number of circumstances that had to fall in exactly the right order so that Jack and I could do this. A lot of things came together that made you think there are larger forces at work here."
Once the coaches decided to make the game happen, they needed a site midway between the two campuses in Lewiston and Saratoga Springs, N.Y. They contacted several coaches in the Greater Boston area -- also near McDuffee's hometown of Lexington, Mass. -- and Tufts head coach Mike Daly was able to accommodate the special request.
With the logistics in place, Lasagna and Sandler began enlisting their respective alumni and parent groups for help with the details. McDuffee's family members are traveling from all over the country to attend the game, and will be honored in a pre-game ceremony along with his former teammates.
"(Morgan) was really engaging," Sandler said. "He was a larger-than-life personality. I think that's part of the reason people still feel really strongly about him and his memory. There are people that are coming that I haven't seen in eight or 10 years. It is going to be great to get all these people together in memory of Morgan."
There will also be fundraising opportunities like raffles and T-shirt sales to support the on-going efforts of Morgan's Fund and MetroLacrosse. Morgan's Fund was formed in 2002 by Suzi Andrew, who was engaged to McDuffee at the time of his death. The fund, a part of the Maine Community Foundation, supports educational efforts for non-violent conflict resolution for at-risk youth. MetroLacrosse is a non-profit organization that promotes positive youth development and access to educational opportunities through the sport of lacrosse.
While remembering their former player and team, Lasagna and Sandler will also use the circumstances surrounding McDuffee's death as a teachable moment for their current student-athletes.
"I always talk to my team about being safe and careful because you never really know what you could be getting yourself into until it could be too late," Sandler said. "That's the ongoing message, and it is a very real message for me … I'm not just speaking philosophically."
Ten years have passed, and Lasagna's current players didn't know McDuffee personally, but they know the story from their coach as he gathers them to tell it at the first practice every season.
"They see his name on the scoreboard of our old field and they know they wear his number on our jerseys and we don't issue No. 2 that was his number, but I don't know if they are actually connected to who he was as a person and how significant this all was," Lasagna said.