Snowy US Lacrosse Convention Opens in Baltimore
By Paul Krome, Brian Logue and Paul Ohanian
BALTIMORE – The first snowflakes began falling a little before four in the afternoon, but that did little to dampen the enthusiasm of lacrosse participants that were able to make it to the opening of the 2016 US Lacrosse National Convention at the Baltimore Convention Center, which features lead sponsors Under Armour, STX, Nationwide, and Buffalo Wild Wings and has Visit Baltimore as the event’s official CVB partner.
The inclement weather in the area forced a number of schedule adjustments, but there was plenty of knowledge being shared on Friday, highlighted by keynote speaker Amy Van Dyken Rouen. The former six-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer, currently learning to walk again after a 2014 spinal cord injury, mixed humor with a powerful message during a heartfelt address to assembled coaches, officials, and lacrosse leaders.
She recounted a spat of bullying from her own high school teammates that resulted in a defiant and defining motivational phrase: “Who are you to tell me what I can and can’t do?” Van Dyken responded to the mocks of three relay partners while on the starting block as a freshman, to the suggestion from her 1996 Olympic team coaches to go home after a fourth-place finish in her first race, to the decree that a shoulder injury would end her career before she could defend gold, and to the tacit authorization from her husband, former NFL punter Tom Rouen, “to give up” if spinal surgery was too much for her hours after a horrific fall over a six-foot embankment on a June 6, 2014, ATV in the Arizona mountains with equal parts spite, labor and focus.
She led her high school team to state titles and record performances. She became the first woman to win gold medals in four events in 1996. She won two more in 2000. And 18 months after nearly dying from the accident and again on the operating table – when she was leaking spinal fluid and part of her dislocated spine was touching her aorta – she walked 150 steps under her own power, supported by braces that decreased in size and function gradually.
“Those 45 minutes – there was more blood, sweat, tears and cussing than in any of my practices or training sessions,” Van Dyken Rouen said from her purple-laden, skull-emblazoned wheelchair that includes lighted front wheels. “But it was the most rewarding thing that ever happened to me – walking on my own power.”
Van Dyken’s address, which drew standing ovations, concluded a heartfelt opening session, presented by SI Play, that included awards presentations. US Lacrosse CEO Steve Stenersen recognized the 1950 Johns Hopkins men’s team and the 1969 U.S. women’s with US Lacrosse Team of Distinction Awards, and 20-plus year Long Island Metro Chapter volunteer Harry Jacobs with the Homer Schwartz Chapter Leadership Award. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes honored the late Sgt. James J. Regan with its Peter Kohn Award.
One of Friday’s schedule adjustments included Johns Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala filling in for Duke’s John Danowski, who was unable to attend due to a flight cancellation. Pietramala spoke about building a championship culture and noted the differences his style and Danowski’s style.
“Your approach has to fit your program, and it has to fit your personality,” said Pietramala.
Pietramala wants players to help define the culture of the team and each year breaks them up into tables of eight people. Each table comes up with five words and then presents those words to the rest of the group. They come up with a consensus of words that greet them as they enter the locker room each day. Last year’s words were 59 (for the number of people in the program in the locker room on game days), trust, fearless, passionate and grit. Fearless was one of the words Pietramala expanded on.
“When you’re at a place where there’s pressure, you can play not to lose instead of playing to win,” said Pietramala. He thought his team believing in those words helped them get through the tragedy of freshman Jeremy Huber dying last January 26, a day Pietramala described as the “hardest day of his life as a man.”
“What do you say to a group of guys when they lose a game, when they’ve lost a friend,” said Pietramala. “Our commitment to each of these things helped us get through a really challenging time.”
After opening the season slowly with a 4-6 record, Hopkins rallied to win the Big Ten championship and reach the NCAA semifinals. Its Big Ten championship rings had each of the five words and Huber’s uniform number 19 etched on the rings.
Maryland women’s coach Cathy Reese has won three national championships since returning to her alma mater and she turns to another champion coach for inspiration – legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden.
“A leader’s most powerful ally is his or her example.”
That quote from Wooden was a point of emphasis that Reese shared with attendees at her session.
“Set the right example,” Reese said. “How do you treat the officials? Players will feed off the coach’s actions and reactions.” Reese stressed the importance of building confidence in players by putting them in the right environment.
“We have the ability to have a positive environment teaching something we love,” said Reese. “I want my players to love the sport. I want them to love their teammates. I want them to make memories that will last.”
She also noted that coaches should understand the motivational differences in males and females.
“Girls need to understand the reason why you are doing something,” Reese said. “When they understand the reason, there’s a better outcome. Boys’ don’t care. Tell them to run through the wall, and they’ll just do it.”
A mantra that she learned from her college coach, National Lacrosse Hall of Fame member Cindy Timchal, continues to guide Reese in her relationship with players. “Kids don’t care how much you know, they want to know how much you care.”
She also encouraged coaches to keep the proper perspective.
“Live in the moment,” Reese said. “Focus on the process, enjoy the experience, and have fun.”
Updated schedule information for the remainder of the weekend is available at USLacrosse.org/LaxCon