Juggling 2 jobs keeps MLL players hopping

Pro lacrosse: Making part-time money means full-time jobs and hard commutes for many of the young league's competitors.

Pro Lacrosse

August 18, 2002|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

They are reminded of their commitment to Major League Lacrosse every day.

Craig Kahoun thinks of his Indianapolis home, where he hasn't slept for a good portion of the summer, and the 11-hour car ride he will occasionally take with his brother so the two can make the Rochester Rattlers' practice on a Friday and play in a game a day later.

For Bayhawks midfielder Kip Fulks, it is the alarm clock that drives him out of bed about 5:30 a.m. and onto a lacrosse field before he begins his 8 a.m.-to-7 p.m. workday as the vice president of manufacturing at an apparel company.

Perhaps, though, the reality hits Boston Cannons defenseman Brian Voelker the hardest. Voelker, the newly named coach at the University of Pennsylvania, coached the Bayhawks last season but resigned and was assigned by the league to the Cannons days later. He can see Ravens Stadium, home of his old team, from his Federal Hill apartment, which he shares with his wife and two sons, 2 1/2 years and 9 months old.

"The other day, my son put on my helmet and all my equipment and said, `I'm going to play lacrosse. I'll be home tomorrow.' I said, `Whoa,' " recalled Voelker.

Welcome to the 2-year-old MLL, for which one of the biggest challenges is its ability to survive being a secondary employer for many of its athletes.

Nearly a third of the league's 150 players face one-way trips of 150 miles or more to get to their home venues. Twelve players live outside the Northeast - where all six franchises are located.

The players will say the travel can be brutal physically and the time spent away from home can wear on them mentally. Several also bemoan the problems practice and game schedules pose for their full-time jobs.

But players say those problems diminish when compared with the responsibility they hold in helping the league grow and the fun they have.

"Whenever I'm really tired and I start to feel sorry for myself, I remember this is all my doing, all my choice," said the Rattlers' Kahoun, who juggles his MLL career with a job as lacrosse coach at Butler University in Indianapolis.

"Every weekend, I'm making another flight, but if I didn't do this, I would have that what-if syndrome for quite a while. Growing up, nobody thought we'd have this opportunity, so to play anywhere is just a great experience."

Said Bayhawks defenseman Brian Reese: "A couple of years ago, we had nothing, so we take what they give us and are thankful for what we have. These sacrifices are ones you have to make."

The juggling act

The league, which runs for three months over the summer and whose regular season ends today, maintains a pay scale of $7,500 to $30,000 a year. The salaries are higher than those in the indoor National Lacrosse League but still not substantial enough to allow most players to live without a primary job.

"We schedule all games from Thursday to Sunday, so that speaks volumes," said Tim Shea, the director of lacrosse operations for the league. "We certainly have travel restrictions, and we work to accommodate players' primary employment."

For Fulks, that job is at Under Armour, a Baltimore-based athletic apparel company that is an official supplier of Major League Baseball and the NHL.

"The hardest part is the work ethic you have to put in to make sure you are competitive," said Fulks, 29, who helped start Under Armour in 1995. "I try to be out the door at 6 a.m. to work out, but it gets tiring. I've debated a retirement tour, but this game is so hard to give up."

Fulks missed a practice this season because of a business trip to California, but his work schedule rarely interferes with Bayhawks games. And for someone whose paycheck reads "Employee 001" as one of the company's founders, it's not as if Fulks couldn't sidestep a few conflicts.

Bayhawks teammate Rob Shek and Bridgeport Barrage attackman Dan Denihan don't have that luxury.

Shek, 33, is a Mid-Atlantic medical representative for Proxima Therapeutics - a company that develops and markets cancer treatment systems for brain tumors. En route to Ravens Stadium earlier this season, he was forced to call Bayhawks player-coach Gary Gait and get his name scratched from the lineup.

Shek had been summoned to York Hospital in Pennsylvania to be a medical consultant for a brain surgery.

"Unfortunately, you're at the mercy of the surgical schedule, but I was ready to play," said Shek.

Denihan, 25, has a television sales job with the Manhattan-based company TeleRep. To get to weekday games or practices on time, he is often forced to ask his boss if he can duck out early.

"Trust me, it's no fun," he said.

Planes, trains ...

Denihan made the All-Star team with the Bayhawks last season, but, unable to make the commute to Baltimore from his Manhasset, N.Y., home, he asked for a trade.

Last year's train ride, a six-hour round trip that often forced Denihan to change clothes in a Baltimore Penn Station lavatory before returning to Long Island about 3 a.m., has been cut in half, now that his destination is New Canaan, Conn.

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