This friendly rivalry a real family racket

Squash: When Joe Lacy Jr. decided to coach Bryn Mawr, he became a turncoat to his Roland Park daughters, not to mention others in the family.

High Schools

January 14, 2003|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Mary Lacy had a message for her three daughters the last time their Roland Park squash team faced Bryn Mawr: "Erin, Alli and Liza, at least your mother is rooting for you!"

That sign, emblazoned in Roland Park red, aimed directly at the girls' dad, Joe Lacy Jr., who donned a green turncoat last season and took over the Mawrtians program.

"We tell him he must be green with envy," said his wife, who will be on hand this afternoon when the Reds go for a sixth straight victory over the Mawrtians after beating them, 7-2, on Dec. 10.

Joe Lacy is but an island of green in a family sea of red. Not only are his daughters at Roland Park and his wife a Reds alumna, but his brother-in-law Clarke Griffin also coaches the Reds, his niece Betsy Griffin plays for the Reds and his wife's sister Jane Griffin graduated from Roland Park.

Facing those odds on the home front as well as the fierce rivalry between the two neighboring North Baltimore private schools, Joe Lacy acknowledged he hesitated before pursuing the position.

"I was a little skeptical," he said, "because Baltimore's a small town, and with the rivalry and having a niece and three daughters at Roland Park, I did not know how well-accepted I would be over at Bryn Mawr."

At home, Joe Lacy figured he could endure. After all, he had finished two Ironman triathlons. Nonetheless, he fired the first round in the Lacy color wars, showing up at the dinner table to announce his defection decked out in green and yellow and wearing a Bryn Mawr cap.

For Erin, 18, Alli, 16, and Liza, 14, it has been open season on Dad ever since. They bombard him with e-mail teasers, Post-its on the kitchen counter and notes in his appointment book. After the last Bryn Mawr-Roland Park match, there were posters on the door of their Timonium home by the time he got there.

Not that Dad doesn't do his share of antagonizing. The girls managed to peel the first two Bryn Mawr bumper stickers off the family car.

"Now he has this huge one that you can't really rip off," Alli said. "We're going to be driving that car soon when he gets his new car."

Somewhere amid all the comic relief, the Lacys, Griffins and the rest of the Reds and Mawrtians are seriously dedicated to squash. That's the primary reason this unlikely arrangement runs smoothly.

"Joe absolutely makes this work," said Bryn Mawr athletic director Terry Detorie. "He's very into developing the program for girls squash, and he just took off with it. He's so enthusiastic. The players love him."

"I really respect the fact that he wants to make squash better for Baltimore," said Bryn Mawr's Lindsay Moore, who lost to Alli in their last match. "He doesn't see his daughters at a rival school as being a conflict, and neither do we."

Many of the Mawrtians knew Joe Lacy even before he took over their team. A fixture at youth tournaments, he had also played squash with some of their fathers.

Besides, the Lacy name is well-known in the small local squash community. His father, Joseph J. Lacy, and his uncle, James J. Lacy Jr., are in the Maryland State Squash Hall of Fame. His grandfather, James J. Lacy, was also a state champion.

The Lacy girls, as well as many of the other Reds and Mawrtians, play weekend tournaments looking for national rankings. Last year, Erin, now a senior, was No. 28 in the U.S. Squash Racquets Association at under-19. Betsy Griffin, a junior who won the state under-15 championship as a freshman, was ranked in the 20s at under-17. Alli, a sophomore, plays under-17, while Liza, a freshman, competes at under-15.

As longtime players, Joe Lacy and Clarke Griffin look beyond the few existing local high school programs. Squash is stronger and more popular in Philadelphia and points north, but Baltimore has few prep teams, which spend a lot of time on the road. Bryn Mawr, Roland Park and Gilman have established programs, and Boys' Latin and St. Paul's recently added teams.

However, the Maryland State Squash Racquets Club at Meadow Mill Athletic Club drew 135 players in February for its state championship tournament for high school players who live or go to school in Maryland.

"When Joe took this job, we both agreed it was not so much about Bryn Mawr and Roland Park, but about growing the sport," said Clarke Griffin, in his fourth year as the Reds' coach.

Still, Joe Lacy must deftly handle Bryn Mawr-Roland Park matches.

He told the Mawrtians right away that he would not coach any Bryn Mawr player in a match against one of his daughters. He lets JV coach Liz Kelly coach during those matches. However, he does coach against his niece Betsy, who said she doesn't mind.

"He walks that line really well," Detorie said, "but internally he's got to have some stress from what's happening there."

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