In its infancy, varsity lacrosse at Georgetown was a student effort that developed the program from an assembly of friends to a club that became a team. Today one of the premier programs in the nation, Georgetown lacrosse would not have even existed had not three generations of student athletes carried it upon their backs for forty years.

False start

Lacrosse on the Hilltop began in 1949 when an enthusiastic group of players organized a club team and hired a coach. For five years, the club existed sporadically.

In 1955, THE HOYA reported a game in which the club lacrosse team, comprised of 25 students, played George Washington’s club team and won. THE HOYA said the team had “definite signs of survival.”

Then for eight years nothing happened.

In that early era, there was not much space for collegiate lacrosse. There was no NCAA tournament, and few schools had club teams, much less varsity squads. Baltimore was the heart of the sport, and greatness radiated from there. Navy, Army, Johns Hopkins and Maryland were the top teams. It was still strictly a northeastern phenomenon.

Georgetown was also a different place in the 1950s from what it is today. Although it had had a golden age of sports in the beginning of the twentieth century, those days of national football championships and gridiron giants were long gone. It was a small Jesuit university with limited resources and programs.

But as the 1950s drew to a close, organized athletics were reforming at the club level. It would take at least another decade for national interest in lacrosse and university support for athletics to be at the proper level to support collegiate lacrosse on the Hilltop.

The club that became a team

The 1960s ushered in a sea of change at Georgetown. Students demanded the university reflect the times and expand the realm of possibilities for students.

“The `60s were a decade of student interest in the development of athletics,” Pat McArdle (CAS `72) said.

McArdle was a member of the first varsity squad, and he is the only lacrosse player ever to be induced into the Georgetown Hall of Fame.

All efforts to make Georgetown into a more well-rounded school by pushing for more varsity sports, he said, were coming from students.

In the fall of 1962, freshman John Campbell (GSB `66) and sophomores Pete Yapel (CAS `65) and Roger O’Neil (CAS `65) formed the lacrosse club that would one day become the varsity team.

“When starting a team, there are a thousand different things you have to do. Talk to the university, raise money for equipment and uniforms and sort out the transportation. You had to find teams willing to play knowing that your guys didn’t play and it wouldn’t be much of a game,” Campbell said. “But everybody pitched in. If you didn’t contribute and just wanted to play, we weren’t interested.”

They received a small donation from the Alumni Association and hired a part time coach named Tom Daly, who was an all-star at Lafayette and attended Georgetown Law. Two assistant coaches volunteered to assist Daly. The club also received 36 pairs of gloves and helmets from Bachrach-Rasion Sporting Goods of Baltimore. Players supplied their own shoes and sticks.

That spring the club played on Kehoe Field. Their opponents included local universities Towson, GW and Baltimore as well as the lacrosse clubs of Catonsville, Md., and Baltimore.

The greatest obstacle the young club had to overcome was the general ignorance of lacrosse.

Jim Keane (CAS ’72), a columnist for THE HOYA in 1969, summed up the average student at Georgetown in the sixties.

“On the Upper Field last Saturday, they were preparing for a game called lacrosse, a combination of hockey and rioting. I was interested in the game because I had never seen one played. Anywhere. I asked the fellow next to me, `What do they call that stick?’ and the fellow answered, `a lacrosse stick,'” he wrote.

On the first squad, only ten of the thirty players knew how to play lacrosse. They spent “long hours training the neophytes the essentials of the game,” THE HOYA reported.

By season two, the squad had grown to 40 and only half were inexperienced. They upset Villanova, who had started a lacrosse club three years before Georgetown, on their own turf, sparking a rivalry that would last through today. That year, Georgetown finished 4-4, the club’s first non-losing record.

They hoped that a winning season and active student support would bring university recognition, funding and varsity status. The next season they pushed forward with a tougher schedule that included Bucknell, Holy Cross, Villanova, GW and Mt. St. ary’s.

In 1968, interest in spring sports was at an all-time high.

“People actually enjoy attending [sporting events], as the scattered beer cans and the sun burnt backs would indicate,” HOYA columnist Larry Finefrock (GSB ’69) wrote.

Club sports like lacrosse were coming into their own. McArdle, then a freshman, sat in on the club’s fall welcome meeting.

“There was a lot of energy and they were pretty well organized. They had had a few successful seasons, and so their goal was to become a varsity sport,” he said.

But lack of experience still hindered improvement, with half the roster never having played the sport.

“It was common in those days in lacrosse for them to be inexperienced,” said Coach Jim Feeley. “Some kids just wanted to hit.”

The more experienced players devoted their time to get the novices up to speed.

“We did a lot of drills, worked on stick work and played pickup basketball,” McArdle, one of 17 experienced players on the squad, said. “Lacrosse is basketball on a football field, in terms of the motions on offense and defense.”

Novice players spent the extra time to master the basics. Despite hailing from the lacrosse Mecca of Baltimore, Ed Cotter (CAS `73) had never played. After the first year, he knew he wasn’t any good, so after practice, Ed practiced his stick handling against the wall next to the McDonough generators. “I would throw that ball against the wall until I could handle it,” he said.

McArdle, Cotter and all the other players’ genuine devotion to the sport reaped immediate rewards. The club team enjoyed its first winning record in 1968, going 6-2.

The following season, after another winning record, the Athletic Board gave the lacrosse club varsity recognition.

The team joined the Southern Lacrosse Association, a division of the United States Inter-Collegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA), an organizational body that preceded the NCAA.

A half-baked varsity squad

But recognition came with no additional benefits. No money, no scholarships, no new equipment and no new facilities. They used the same 15-year-old hand-me-down jerseys. Their coach was still underpaid and part-time. An unpaid assistant coach painted the field before games. They used the same general lockers as everyone else in McDonough gym, which at the time was still the main gym for the general student body.

“Imagine: a varsity sport with absolutely no budget. It makes no sense,” Keane wrote in a HOYA column.

The lacrosse team got creative trying to fund their expenses. In 1973 they tried renting out mini-refrigerators to students.

Cotter presented the idea to the team after an owner of a refrigerator company approached him. He would bring in the hundred or so fridges in the fall and return at the end of the year to pick them up. All the lacrosse team had to do was hold a sale, collect the money and make sure the fridges came back clean at the end of the year, and they would get a cut of the profits. It was supposed to be easy money, but it turned out to be too much of a commitment for team members.

“It did not get the support of the team,” Cotter said. “I ended up doing all the work. Pat [McArdle] and some of the underclassmen helped out a bit, but none of the others really. So it was madness for the two or three hours when we were renting them out.”

In the end, enough money was made to make some great Georgetown lacrosse t-shirts.

“That’s all I remember but I’m sure there was more,” Cotter said.

After running the business himself the following year independently, Cotter passed on the fridge rentals to the crew team, another varsity sport struggling with finances.

“They were a highly motivated group of guys. I’m still amazed that they’re still around and doing it,” Cotter said.

Broke and inexperienced, the first years of varsity competition were humbling. In 1970, the lacrosse team went 2-6.

“It was tough. We lost a lot of games,” Head Coach Jim Feeley (1971-1973) said. “We were essentially still a club team.”

Commitment was “optional” or “sporadic” at best, and the players were often “comical in their ineptness,” as Feeley recollects.

A March 1975 HOYA column by Bob Labriola acknowledged that lacrosse was “considered the laughing stock of the Athletic Department” and was listed among a group of sports, such as crew, rugby and baseball that would “never draw national attention to Georgetown.”

But funding and public support for the program increased, despite consistent losing records. In the 80s, the lacrosse team, like the rest of the athletic department, enjoyed additional revenue due to the success of basketball program under John Thompson II. The Hoya Crease Club, the official booster club of the lacrosse team, was formed, providing a steady source of discretionary funds. Their fundraising assured that each player was provided a new stick each year.

The Turnaround

It would take two decades to finally turn around the program. In 1990, university officials, with the support of the alumni, decided to go forward with an ambitious plan to elevate Georgetown lacrosse to national prominence. The team received scholarship funding and hired its first full-time coach, Dave Urick, who still coaches today. With a devoted coach, a varsity team of non-scholarship athletes enjoyed its first winning season. Georgetown lacrosse has not had a losing season since.

“We never expected it to achieve the level it has today. I’m amazed at what it has become,” said John Campbell, the founder of the original lacrosse club.

Reflecting on 15 consecutive winning seasons at Georgetown, Urick is reluctant to take all the credit for turning around the lacrosse program.

“We stood on the shoulders of those who came before. The things that our guys take for granted, those guys had to set that up,” Urick said.

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