The 'Moby Dick' of lacrosse books

BACK STORY

  • Howard "Howdy" Myers Jr., Boys' Latin School Class of 1929, is part of the school's lacrosse legacy detailed in a history.
Howard "Howdy" Myers Jr., Boys' Latin School… (Baltimore Sun file photo )
April 04, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Springtime in Baltimore, and that means lacrosse, high school and collegiate.

A friend of mine, Mary Garson, who lives near Boys' Latin School, told me that as soon as the double-whammy February snowstorms had ended, the lacrosse field at the school had been cleared of 50 inches of snow, even while many Baltimore streets still remained impassable.

Garson reported that she could hear the screech of whistles and shouting as the team practiced for the season while surrounded by mountains of snow.

Imagine my surprise when, several weeks later, while reading Elizabeth Royte's review of John McPhee's latest book, "Silk Parachute," in The New York Times Book Review, I stumbled across the following paragraph.

She wrote that McPhee "quotes from 'The Lacrosse History of the Boys' Latin School,' whose 83,000 words, even without being read, say a great deal about lacrosse in Baltimore."

That stopped me. I had never heard of this book, and even though I have a number of Boys' Latin friends, I had never heard them mention it.

So I called the school and got hold of my friend, Lee McCardell "Mac" Kennedy, a 1976 Boys' Latin graduate. He is currently director of alumni affairs.

Bingo. I had found my source.

"I started this project 10 years ago," said Kennedy, whose grandfather, Lee McCardell, for whom he is named, was a Baltimore Sun correspondent during World War II.

"You know, when you're not a good athlete, you find your niche doing something else," said Kennedy with a hearty laugh.

A decade ago, he got the idea that he wanted to chronicle the history of lacrosse at Boys' Latin. This year marks the 81st anniversary of the interscholastic lacrosse program at the West Lake Avenue school.

"BL's athletic motto is appropriate and seems to fit BL lacrosse well: 'Pride and Tradition.' The rich lacrosse tradition continues today as it has since 1928 when the tiny school on Brevard Street in downtown Baltimore began playing the game," Kennedy wrote in the unpublished book's foreword.

"Since 1929, when Boys' Latin began playing interscholastic games, BL has won nine 'A' conference lacrosse titles and has been runner-up to the league champions on 19 other occasions," he wrote.

Kennedy's enormous undertaking had him at the Enoch Pratt Free Library whenever he had spare time. There he pored over roll after roll of microfilm editions of The Baltimore Sun, The Evening Sun and the News American.

He studied their sports pages and news accounts of BL's lacrosse games, one by one, season by season, year after year, re-creating a play-by-play of each game, not merely compiling statistics.

He sent out e-mails and letters to the old players, who live all over the nation, and acknowledged "getting a big charge" when they responded

"It's insanity, I'm sure," he said, laughing, of his painstaking research. "It's a sickness, I know. But I love high school lacrosse, and I think we're one of the best."

The link to getting Kennedy's manuscript into the hands of McPhee was David Marcus, BL '88.

"He never played lacrosse but was team manager. And he really knew more about the game than almost anyone I've ever met," Kennedy said.

Marcus earned a degree from Princeton in 1992, where for the past 30 years, McPhee, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and essayist, has been the Ferris Professor of Journalism.

"Marcus said he wanted to show the book to McPhee, and I said, 'OK,' and e-mailed it to him," Kennedy said.

At 222 pages, McPhee told Kennedy that his book was the "Moby Dick" of lacrosse books.

"I hope he meant that as a compliment," said Kennedy, with a laugh.

"It's very impressive, and it says as much about lacrosse and Baltimore because of its sheer dimension," McPhee said in a telephone interview the other day, in discussing Kennedy's work-in-progress.

McPhee's own lacrosse career was confined to one championship season at Deerfield Academy, from which he graduated in 1949.

"I was a basketball player, and the lacrosse coach came up to me and asked me to join the team. It was a wonderful experience," he recalled.

McPhee, who had no prior lacrosse experience, spent spring vacation in 1949 at his Princeton home learning how to throw lacrosse balls.

"Playing midfield, my job was to deliver the ball to someone who knew what he was doing," McPhee said with a laugh. "We had an undefeated season. We played such schools as Andover, Exeter, Mount Herman and even the Army plebes. It was so much fun."

Forty years would pass before McPhee resumed his interest in lacrosse.

"For the last 20 years, I've been going to games at Princeton," he said.

"I wanted to write a story called 'Why Baltimore' without the question mark, which was about lacrosse. I came to Baltimore and spoke to Bob Scott, the great Hopkins lacrosse coach," he said.

McPhee's paean to the game, "Spin Right and Shoot Left," is in his new book.

"I wrote 17,000 words on lacrosse in that essay," he said.

However, he remains impressed with Kennedy's 83,000 words.

"It's not finished yet," said Kennedy. "I've got the last five years to do."

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