Nine lacrosse legends — Ryan Boyle, Charlie Coker, Kara Ariza Cooke, Rachael Becker DeCecco, Sarah Forbes, Cathy Reese, Paul Schimoler, Richard Speckmann and Matt Striebel — will be inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame Oct. 19 at The Grand Lodge in Hunt Valley, Md. These are their stories.
There were plenty of reasons to play lacrosse at Nassau Community College when Richie Speckmann arrived on campus in 1968.
It was a time of discontent. The Vietnam War was going on. The economy was tanking. Lacrosse scholarships weren’t exactly plentiful. Kids needed an affordable place to go to school, even for just two years. Some players, a couple that were older than Speckmann at the time, came back from the war and played for him. Nassau cost $200 a semester back then. After two years, a player could transfer wherever he wanted and be halfway to a better life.
Times changed. The war ended. The economy bounced back. Eventually, the reason to play lacrosse at Nassau Community College became Speckmann himself.
Speckmann stayed in community college for 40 years and left a National Lacrosse Hall of Famer. He will be among nine inductees enshrined Oct. 19 at the Grand Lodge in Hunt Valley, Md.
Speckmann arrived at Nassau as a 24-year-old assistant coach. Two years later, he was running the show. Forty years after that, he retired with a 477-158-1 record, 20 NJCAA championships and 39 trips to the final four. The six-time NJCAA Coach of the Year coached more than 200 junior college All Americans and more than 100 players that became NCAA All-Americans after moving on.
And to think, a few years before Speckmann started coaching lacrosse, he was a baseball player. But he’d pitch for his Oceanside High School team and the next day his arm would hurt so badly he couldn’t make the throws from shortstop. Springtime on Long Island can be long and boring for a baseball player. A lot of sitting around and feeling cold.
“When you’re not hitting, baseball isn’t a whole lot of fun,” Speckmann said. “On the field next to us, I was watching the lacrosse kids have a grand old time.”
Speckmann switched sports as a junior and took to it immediately. He played basketball — his coach was Roy Kessinich, father of Quint, the ESPN lacrosse analyst — and said lacrosse felt like basketball with a stick in your hand. He went on to Cortland, where he starred in football (he was the holder on the first 60-yard field goal in NCAA history) and lacrosse. He played under Al Pisano, who helped build Cortland into a Division III power before moving east to run the team at Army.
Fifty years later, Speckmann praises his coaches the same way the legions that played for him do now.
“I was really fortunate to play for guys who really knew the game well,” Speckmann said.
Speckmann quickly showed he too was a coach who knew the game. Even in the early years, Nassau scrimmaged four-year schools and held its own. Speckmann thinks he probably sent 15 kids to Cornell in the 1970s and ’80s. At one point, 1975 he guessed, he looked at the NCAA North/South All-Star game and realized seven or eight of the players had been at Nassau two years earlier.
“We helped them get to some really good schools that without lacrosse, they wouldn’t have had the chance,” Speckmann said. “We developed a tradition. It just got bigger and bigger as it went.”
Nassau sits on what used to be Mitchel Air Force Base, where pilots were trained before shipping off to Europe in World War I and II. Early in the season, when it was too cold outside, they’d practice in the airplane hangars.
The campus changed and so did the players, who won championships, then left to win championships elsewhere. Speckmann stayed, coached and taught physical education.
There were opportunities. Hofstra, just down the road, interviewed him. So did other programs. But he liked Nassau and didn’t see what he had to prove.
“Junior high school kids, community college kids,” Speckmann said. “Coaching is coaching.”
Speckmann knows about coaching. He produced some great players. Richie Meade went from Nassau and North Carolina to run Navy and now Furman. Tom Calder crossed Hempstead Turnpike to play at Hofstra, then coached at North Carolina and became the athletic director at Johns Hopkins. Greg Cannella went from Nassau to UMass, where he’s still the coach. Bruce Arena played lacrosse and soccer at Nassau, then Cornell, then coached the U.S. soccer team in two World Cups.
Speckmann will keep listing names of great players he coached until someone changes the subject.
“That’s the rewarding part,” Speckmann said. “Winning games is nice, but to see what kind of people they’ve become with jobs and families, that’s a heck of a lot more important.”
But don’t think Speckmann doesn’t dwell on his few losses. Nassau reached the final four in 39 out of his 40 seasons.
“One stupid year,” he quickly responded. “I try to forget that one.”
Still, Speckmann never forgot what the real mission was when a kid arrived on campus.
“Down the road, where are you headed?” he said. “This isn’t a career. You emphasize that. It’s a two-year degree, then it’s over, move on. You’re a good lacrosse player, but if you can’t spell and add numbers, you’re going to have some trouble. That was the thing about Nassau. It prepared you.”
When it finally came time for him to move on, Speckmann didn’t follow the well-trodden path from Nassau to Cornell or North Carolina. He went to Florida, where he “retired” by helping coach the new program at Oxbridge Academy, now one of the top high school teams in the area. Last spring, he finally left lacrosse behind.
But that doesn’t mean the lacrosse left him alone. The phone calls and emails have poured in from former players who want to congratulate him on the Hall of Fame and thank him for the decades he spent giving them a shot at something bigger.
“The championships are nice, but there’s nothing more important than the experiences you share with the kids,” Speckmann said. “You may say it’s just junior college. What’s the difference? You could win a Little League championship, [and] the kids are still the greatest thing in the world.”
The National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, a program of US Lacrosse, was established in 1957 to honor men and women who by their deeds as players, coaches, officials and/or contributors, and by the example of their lives, personify the great contribution of lacrosse to our way of life. The Class of 2019 will be officially recognized at the induction ceremony in Hunt Valley, Md., on Saturday, Oct 19. Tickets for the event, sponsored by RPS Bollinger and the Markel Insurance Company, are available at uslacrosse.org/HOF.
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