Memories of lacrosse at Morgan

Program: Two authors have captured the long-gone days of the sport at the historically black school in their new book, `Ten Bears.'

May 28, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Of the things that Dr. Miles Harrison Jr. and Chip Silverman envisioned growing out of their book, "Ten Bears," a few have materialized, and others will remain dreams.

On the one hand, Morgan State University has no plans to revive its men's lacrosse program, which the book traces from its founding in 1969 through a momentous upset win in 1975. Morgan's cash-strapped athletic department folded the program in 1980.

On the other hand, the co-authors succeeded in reviving memories of an odd yet significant chapter in Morgan State's history, as well as in the sport of lacrosse, which decides its NCAA Division I championship today.

And the book - a combination of Harrison's interviews with his fellow players and Silverman's memoirs as their coach - also introduced readers to the fact that lacrosse once flourished at the historically black school.

At a book signing this spring, "90 percent of the people had no idea that Morgan State had [ever had] a lacrosse team," says Harrison, a general surgeon at Sinai Hospital and the father of a son, Kyle, a Friends School senior who expects to play lacrosse for Johns Hopkins next year.

The Morgan program got its start when Harrison and classmate Val Emery, who'd played the sport at city high schools during the mid-1960s, approached the athletic department about starting lacrosse when they arrived on campus. The team started as a club sport.

Silverman, who was acting dean of the university's graduate school, became the first coach.

"I had been asked to form and coach the Morgan lacrosse team by default," Silverman writes in the book. "Not only was I one of very few white academic administrators at Morgan at the time, but I was also the only person with any lacrosse experience."

"Hopefully this book will go a long way in making sure that the sport is at least considered" in the future at Morgan, said Harrison, 52. "But it won't be this [team depicted in the book]. It was a unique point in time."

The team's formation occurred amid the civil rights movement. It wasn't unusual for players to participate in sit-ins, or in marches that took place on campus or at the State House in Annapolis. Accordingly, well-known figures from that era, such as activist H. Rap Brown and liberal lawyer William Kunstler, appear in the book.

The timing helped make the team a symbol beyond the campus, as predominantly black Morgan State met lacrosse opponents from predominantly white schools. Other historically black schools did not offer lacrosse.

"That team was an extension of the civil rights movement and the fight for equality," said Clarence Davis, a campus activist and a member of the General Assembly in later years. "That's why I followed the team. It was important what they did. Their response to the racism was to play harder, and get in some good licks."

The struggle for equality, by individuals and by the school as a whole, was less a distraction than a motivation for a group of mostly black players competing in a sport perceived as elitist and white. NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown, a Syracuse attacker in the 1950s, had been one of the sport's few African-Americans.

Morgan State's teams, with experienced lacrosse players such as Wayne Jackson and Dickie Hall supplemented by athletes from the football team, made two NCAA tournament appearances and had a 43-31 record under Silverman.

The highlight of his career was an 8-7 victory over Washington & Lee, the top-ranked Division I team in 1975. The Bears won because they had mastered their opponent's playbook.

"Many of the athletes learned the game there," said Roy Simmons, a Hall of Fame coach at Syracuse. "So it was more credit to [the coaches] to teach raw athletes how to hold their own."

From the time the program ended in 1980, the Bears' achievements were largely forgotten. LaMont Germany, who entered Morgan State in the mid-1980s and now serves as a spokesman for the athletic department, says the school's lacrosse achievements weren't the only ones that are news to today's students.

"Even the fact that we once had a winning football team, that's lost on a lot of people," Germany said. "To a lesser extent than lacrosse, you have people who wouldn't be aware that we had a wrestling program, and that's relatively recent." The school dropped the sport in the 1990s despite its 10 straight championships in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

Rekindling awareness of the Morgan lacrosse era had been a goal for the last two decades for the co-authors, for Harrison as he began his medical career in Baltimore, and for Silverman as he ran the state's drug abuse administration and wrote four other books.

The desire for a book came after former players were honored by the General Assembly in 1990 and Silverman was inducted into Morgan State's Hall of Fame the following year. Harrison said, "That was the point at which we said, `We've got to document this.' "

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