Traditions survive in sale of men's club

Bryn Mawr to share lacrosse fields, facilities

May 31, 1999|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

After almost a century of being bound to tradition, the men's Mount Washington Club is turning over the keys to the girls.

But this sale is anything but conventional: The Bryn Mawr School and the men's social and lacrosse club are planning to share use of the club's field and facilities for the next decade at least.

Bryn Mawr, which recently bought the property for $250,000, is prospering in an era when single-sex education for girls is hot. These days, men's clubs are not.

At the signing of the transfer documents, those present agreed seller and buyer would benefit.

The lacrosse, of course, will continue. But so will the monthly dinner dances, women's card games and board meetings that are the main social events of the graying club.

But despite the "Continuing Traditions" T-shirts and the emphasis on sharing, wistfulness was in the air.

John Hott, a 25-year club member, said: "It's the best thing, I feel. It got to the point where we couldn't keep up the membership."

At the recent sale, Rebecca Fox, head of Bryn Mawr, thanked the club members and declared that the two institutions were "merging histories."

In its heyday, the club's men played and beat the best in the college field: Johns Hopkins, Army, Navy, Princeton and Penn.

Such business and establishment leaders as A. B. "Buzzy" Krongard played as a formidable midfielder, and H. Furlong Baldwin, known as "Baldy," made a name for himself as a defenseman long before he became a bank president.

"It was the core of our lives. It meant a lot to me, and I'm sorry to see it go," said Krongard, now counsel to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. "People never missed practice. The best lacrosse in the world was there on Tuesday and Thursday nights."

The men's lacrosse powerhouse, which peaked in the 1960s with a world championship, will continue, but in a different form. From now on, the predominant players on the grass stadium field will be female, playing with a yellow, not a white, rubber ball. The heads of their sticks will be strung tighter. and they won't wear protective equipment.

The girls' game will look more like "a ballet in essence," said Skip Lichtfuss, 47, the Mount Washington Lacrosse Club president who played on or coached six national championship teams between 1975 and 1985. The men's game, he said, is more like "slashing and hacking, much more physical, with battle scars."

The transformation sits well with Lichtfuss. "We used to pack this place," he said the other day, surveying the club's Norris Field south of the Kelly Avenue bridge and tossing a ball with two Bryn Mawr seniors, Elizabeth Knight and Laura Birx, the team co-captains.

Noting that teams in the 1990s haven't been so bad -- with seven club players on the U.S. team in 1994 -- he grinned and said, "We'll still have our share of the best, right, girls?"

The time was right for this generational handover. Lichtfuss, of Lutherville, said the club's membership was not up to keeping up the place: "This is an overwhelming burden," he said.

That's where The Bryn Mawr School and Fox stepped in. Short of athletic fields, the school was looking for more room.

"We had been looking for land for fields for a very long time," said Fox. "The club approached the school first, and we all understood what we needed. That's why we were able to have such a fruitful conversation."

After more than a year of negotiations, the result was a $250,000 price for the 3-acre property. While the club and the school are sharing the use of the ballroom, clubhouse, locker rooms, field and all, Bryn Mawr has the first word on scheduling. The junior class has already voted to hold its prom there next year.

"It gave us a facility and it gave them an opportunity to carry on social functions," said Jean Hawley, Bryn Mawr's projects director.

The men's lacrosse club, founded in 1903, will continue to practice at night and play on weekends, a schedule that does not conflict with Bryn Mawr's weekday practices and games. That arrangement will go on for 20 years, Hawley said.

Bryn Mawr's lacrosse coach, Wendy Kridel, whose team finished second in its league this season, said the new grounds will make a great difference to her kilted athletes.

"To have a stadium atmosphere and lights makes practice exciting and also makes the home games more special," she said. As coach of the under-19 U.S. championship team, she may see some of her Bryn Mawr players perform on their new home turf in a June exhibition game -- if they make the cut.

Lacrosse excellence is nothing new at the school, started by five young Quaker women in 1885. Bryn Mawr established the first female lacrosse program in the country in 1926. The Mount Washington Club was where the first school teams practiced in the 1920s.

"The real fun is exactly that, having our own history and getting to link it to the men's lacrosse," Fox said. "It seems so right."

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