Champion coach united fairness, fun

Lacrosse: George Mitchell, who guided St. Paul's to nine conference crowns and three state private school titles, is among the inductees into the Greater Baltimore Chapter of U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

Lacrosse

February 02, 2002|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

George Mitchell wakes up in the resort community of Ocean Pines and prepares for a typical day of tennis in the morning and an afternoon walk with his two dogs.

Long gone are the days when Mitchell, 76, enjoyed one of high school lacrosse's top coaching runs.

His St. Paul's School team won nine Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference championships and three state private school titles in 23 years (1957-63, 1969-1984). He took a four-year break from the high school routine to coach lacrosse at the University of Baltimore from 1964 to 1968.

After retiring from St. Paul's, Mitchell remained in the Baltimore area until he moved to Ocean Pines, near Ocean City, in 1992. Mitchell still loves lacrosse but isn't at ease talking about his accomplishments. Despite all his success, one of the games that occasionally creeps into his mind is a defeat.

A double-overtime loss to City in 1958 forced the Crusaders to share the MSA A Conference championship with City instead of winning the title outright.

"I still think about that game sometimes," said Mitchell, who had a 231-92-4 record at St. Paul's. "All we had to do was clear the ball in the last minute of regulation and we win the title.

"But our player lost the ball in the sun, and it went over to City with 20 seconds left. City scored to send the game to overtime and then we lost it."

It was a rare post-mortem from Mitchell, who doesn't dwell on the past.

Tonight will be different. Mitchell and four other men and four women will be inducted into the Greater Baltimore Chapter of U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame at Hunt Valley Golf Club.

As expected, Mitchell played down the Hall of Fame induction but said: "This will give me a legacy."

Part of the Mitchell legacy is the ever-present attackman's stick he would lean on while coaching all those championship teams. "I used it to warm up my goalies," he said matter of factly. "There was no other significance to it."

However, the sight of the rangy 6-foot-4, 189-pound Mitchell with his stick seemed to be part of the landscape each spring on the field at St. Paul's. At his side for 20 years was volunteer coach Neil Pohlhaus, a retired stockbroker who still lives in Baltimore.

"Neil was a great assistant all those years," said Mitchell. "He wasn't on the school's payroll or anything. He just did it because he loved it."

So just what kind of a coach was the man who won all the championships?

"I was a pragmatist," said Mitchell. "I lived day-to-day. I always believed things weren't as bad or as good as they might seem at the moment in a game."

There was nothing complicated about Mitchell's style of coaching. "I taught fundamentals and liked the kids having fun," he said. "I was just fair. I wasn't big on asking the kids to do a lot of running because most of them were already in condition since they played two and three sports."

If the 1958 loss to City was the most bitter for Mitchell, a 1959 upset of seemingly invincible Sewhanaka of Long Island, N.Y., was the coach's biggest thrill. At home, the Crusaders ended Sewhanaka's 93-game winning streak.

"That was my biggest win," said Mitchell a little reluctantly. "We then went up there the next year and beat them. Before those two wins, they had beaten us a couple of times up there."

Mitchell coached 52 players who became college All-Americans, including brothers Punch and Dick Peterson, both midfielders at the University of Virginia; Jerry Schmidt, attackman at Johns Hopkins; Les Matthews, goalkeeper at Hopkins; Bob Clements, goalkeeper at Washington and Lee; and Peter Sheehan, goalkeeper, Virginia.

Mitchell's son, Steve, made a little bit of lacrosse history himself as a player at Johns Hopkins, being the first longstick midfielder to be named a first-team All-America. But George Mitchell often kids Steve and his two brothers, George and Paul, saying that their sister, Dottie, was the first one in the family "to make it to the NFL."

"Dottie worked as a lawyer for Paul Tagliabue before she moved to California," said George Mitchell.

Even though he played lacrosse, basketball and football at St. Paul's and Johns Hopkins, and was on a lacrosse championship team all three years in high school and college, George Mitchell said: "I made it [Hall of Fame] for coaching, not playing."

His longtime friend and athletic director at St. Paul's, Mitch Tullai, said, "He's one of the most honorable men in lacrosse."

Tullai never played lacrosse but he did play football for Western Maryland against Mitchell and Johns Hopkins. "I hated to tackle him," said the much-smaller Tullai, eliciting this response from Mitchell: "I think he hated it more when I tackled him."

Also going into the Greater Baltimore lacrosse Hall of Fame tonight:

Jeff Cook, one of the most prolific scorers ever to play at Johns Hopkins (1979-82).

Wendy Galinn, a coach at Loch Raven High from 1988 to 2000, winning six state titles and finishing second three times.

Charlie Gilfillan, one of only two lacrosse players to be named to the Duke University (1948-51) Sports Hall of Fame.

Deborah Hutchinson, who coached Essex to eight Maryland junior college championships from 1975 to 1987 and has served the sport in many capacities.

Glenn Norris, one of the first great players produced by then-Salisbury State (1978-1981).

Mary Trumbo, an outstanding official for four years on the international level, eight years on the national level, and six years on the district level dating back to 1976.

Beverly Burnett Snyder, a midfielder in college for James Madison University in the early 1970s and a player for 15 years with the Baltimore Women's Lacrosse Association.

George McGeeney, a star defenseman on UMBC's NCAA Division II champions in 1980.

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