Sticking Around

Family: For many lacrosse parents, following their kids' college careers has become a high-mileage 'addiction' -- and they're delighted.

May 07, 2000|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Sun Staff

The team is four goals down with minutes left to play, and Gary Gill of Lutherville is hurting. He's not on the field. That would almost be easier. That's where his son, Conor, a sophomore and star player for the University of Virginia, is playing lacrosse in an ACC tournament match against North Carolina.

Gill's stuck in the bleacher seats of Byrd Stadium in College Park. The rain is pouring down in sheets. His shoulders are so tense, they ache. He's bitten his nails about as far as he can. He left his seat and paced during much of the first half, but now he's too frustrated even to do that.

His only comfort is this: He's not alone. Nearly every player on the team has at least one parent there, too, and they're all huddled in the rain together. Most have driven hundreds of miles to be there. Some are yelling -- at their sons, the refs, the other team. Others are like Gill: They just scream on the inside.

"Feeling kind of tender," says Gill, the president of a commercial real estate company. (He's talking about his chewed fingertips, but "tender" describes his overall condition, too.) "I don't know how much more of this I can take."

It happens every spring.

From February to May, Baltimore is swept up by lacrosse.

Try explaining that to someone who lives west of the Mississippi or south of the Carolinas and get more than a puzzled stare in return. Historically, only Long Island and upstate New York (where the sport was created by the Iroquois tribes) share the same degree of passion for lacrosse as Baltimore.

At age 4 or thereabouts, Baltimore children are given "soft" sticks by their parents to learn the basics of lacrosse. Then come the recreation league practices and games. Then middle school and high school teams. Private prep schools are hotbeds for the sport. Throughout, there is one constant: Mothers and fathers are the sport's most ardent fans.

You would think that by college, the parents would be fading into the background of their son or daughter's athletic pursuits. You would, of course, be wrong.

"My [players'] parents are calling me in the summer and fall so they can organize their lives and work schedules around preseason tournaments and regular-season games," says Janine Tucker, women's lacrosse coach at Johns Hopkins University. "They're hell-bent on being there no matter what. It's a passion for them."

How passionate does it get? Ask John Boyce, a stockbroker who lives in Butler, and John DiCamillo, a commercial photographer from Hamilton. Boyce's sons, Sandy, 21, and Collis, 20, play for Ohio State University. So does DiCamillo's 19-year-old son John.

Often, they will meet at 5 a.m. to drive more than 400 miles to Ohio State's campus to catch a 1p.m. lacrosse game and be back in Baltimore by 1 a.m. the next morning. That's close to 900 miles of travel to attend a two-hour match.

"I don't want to know how many miles I drive in a season," says Boyce, who rarely misses an Ohio State game. "Usually on the way home, as I'm falling asleep, I do tend to wonder why I did it. You grow up in Baltimore and it's a disease."

DiCamillo calls it an "addiction." How else can he explain the long trips to watch games in sub-freezing weather? For one February game, the playing field was covered in six inches of snow, but that didn't stop the pair.

"We worry we've become lacrosse junkies," he says.

Mary Maschuci of Tom's River, N.J., took a job as a medical assistant in a doctor's office with the understanding she would be allowed to use all her vacation days each spring to attend college lacrosse. Her daughter, Danielle, 22, is a star on the Hopkins women's team.

"I've not missed one of her games since she was 8," says Maschuci. "I've watched her for so many years at so many different levels, I can't imagine not being there."

Same for Marilyn Davis, whose son Damien, 19, a former Gilman School All-Metro athlete, now plays for Princeton. She's missed only two games this season. A typical week may require her to drive to Cornell University one weekend and maybe Syracuse the following Wednesday.

It's not a problem to find Davis at the games. She's the one who has perfected her "Indian call" -- a loud, warbling yell -- so Damien can recognize his mother's support above the noise of the crowd.

"I wouldn't miss it for anything," says Davis, who lives in Cockeysville. "Parents can be as competitive as the kids. I try to outdo them."

Almost miraculously, the top-ranked Virginia team has bounced back to tie the game against a scrappy North Carolina squad, 16-16. Gill hugs the person sitting next to him.

That person, incidentally, is not his wife Laurie. She's sitting one row down and four seats over. The Gills don't sit next to each other during the games -- too much chance they'll make each other more nervous than they already are.

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