For red-white final, lots of shades of gray Most skills sharp as ever among 45-plus crowd

July 22, 1998|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Passes to cutting midfielders were crisp, goalies' endless spiels to teammates about the ball's position sounded ageless, and the action was end-to-end, although a tad slow -- no doubt a function of the mercury pushing 100.

At first glance, the red shirts playing the white shirts as part of the quadrennial World Games lacrosse championships at Johns Hopkins' Homewood Field under yesterday afternoon's wilting sun could have been any of the teams you might normally see.

A second glance, on the benches, revealed many more wrinkles, gray hair and bald spots than usual, and with good reason: This was the first championship game for "grand master" players, men at least 45 years old.

A bunch of exhibitionists embarrassing themselves, right? Far from it. In fact, the event's Coloradan founder was amazed to receive not only more than 120 applications from interested players, but also national-team entries from Canada, England and the Iroquois Nation.

So many American men wanted to play that four full U.S. teams were formed a week ago, with some on a waiting list, no less, assigned to fill out Canada's roster. Tournament play, on the grass at the University of Baltimore's old Speer Field, whittled a field of seven teams to yesterday's title-seeking American pair.

The players came to Baltimore fit, too. In lacrosse, regardless of age, trimness helps achieve glory. The former college and club players, some with international experience, had been working out on their own for several months; no one wanted to be embarrassed.

And to think, said George Brown, 62, a player at Rutgers who has been a Methodist minister, geologist and lawyer and is credited with pushing the plus-45 concept, "Two years ago, when we tried it the first time in Vail, we had two seven-man teams.

"This has been an event, a happening, a celebration," said Brown, who, camera in hand, was bubbling with enthusiasm.

Players echoed his sentiment.

"It was a real thrill, like going back in time," said one, Sam DeCrispino, a Rodgers Forge resident who was on one of Towson University's first teams nearly 40 years ago and still plays midfield with others his age in Jarrettsville.

Added Peter Donovan, a former Maryland midfielder who coaches now at Stephen Decatur High in Berlin: "Everyone was expecting it to be competitive. As we practiced and played, the old habits came back."

For the record, Old Glory won, 7-4, over the U.S.A. Stars. No other statistics were kept, though, except that Old Glory's core was 10 Virginia alumni.

The "masters," for players 35 and older and a program more than a decade old, also decided a title yesterday, with Lax World, basically a team of Marylanders, beating Sailin' Shoe, a fuchsia-clad club of mainly New Yorkers, 12-8. These younger guys were faster and relatively more intense than their elders.

But the grand masters were the memory du jour. One of them was downright inspirational -- goalie Jay Lehr, a lean 62-year-old from Ostrander, Ohio, who played at Princeton and who a mere eight weeks ago had his right shoulder surgically rebuilt.

The game, he said after playing a half, was testimony to what fit older men can achieve. He co-wrote a book, "Fit, Firm and 50," on the subject in 1990 and practices what he preaches.

Lehr has finished nine Ironman Triathlons in Hawaii, plays "young man's hockey," and earlier this month extended his record of sky-diving at least once a month for the past 20 consecutive years.

Oh, he's revising his to-do list because of this tournament, he said, to sharpen some stick skills. "I've learned so much this week from other goalies," he explained. "I can't wait for the next tournament."

Pub Date: 7/22/98

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