Season of Giving: Dom Starsia on the Phenomenon of Community

Whenever I am presented with an opportunity to speak with younger lacrosse players, I always talk about the sense of community within our game. It is a very real phenomenon not readily found within the foundation of many other similarly diverse organizations. I truly believe it has to do with the Native American roots of the game and the spirituality that accompanies our participation. There is a “Spirit in the Stick” (author Neil Duffy) that extends throughout a life in the game. I am forever repeating the mantra that “if you treat the game with respect, it can be your friend for a long time.”

I have two true stories that touched my life through a relationship with the game that seem appropriately shared during this late November season of giving. If you believe in some form of spiritual accounting, you might consider them related to each other and to a more profound authority than I can adequately articulate.

Dom Starsia
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The first story happened around the spring of 1990. It was after 11 p.m. and my wife Krissy and I were already in bed. The phone unexpectedly rang.

“Coach, you don’t know who I am, but I know your name through lacrosse and there was no one else for me to call. I really need a favor,” the caller said. “My teenage daughter has just flown in to the Providence Airport and her connecting flight to Martha’s Vineyard has been canceled. She is too young to check in to a hotel. Could you please check her in to a hotel and then she can take care of the rest?”

I told him I would take care of it, dressed, drove the 20 minutes to the airport, picked her up, brought her back to the house, put her in the guest room, brought her back to the airport in the morning and never thought more of it. When a gift basket arrived a few days later, I thought it was a nice gesture, end of story.

Less than two years later, it turned out, we were looking to move to Charlottesville, Va. The young woman we picked up at the airport was Paige Perriello, and the voice on the phone was her father Dr. Vito Perriello. The Perriellos lived in Charlottesville and Vito was a pediatrician with a specific interest in children with cognitive disabilities, of which I had two at the time, 6-year-old identical twin girls Maggie and Emma.

Vito became our pediatrician until our four children outgrew his service and his untimely passing from a massive stroke in 2013. If that is not enough, Paige, who played lacrosse and graduated from Princeton in 1994, took over her father’s practice and was the pediatrician for my two grandsons, Lil’ Dom and Luigi. The Perriellos remain good friends.

“If you treat the game with respect, it can be your friend for a long time.”
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The second story began in the summer of 1992. I had just accepted the head coaching position at Virginia and was in the middle of working the final session of our lacrosse camp at Brown. I was on the field when my phone rang. It was my father, who had just been admitted to North Shore Hospital on Long Island. I knew he was going in for a stress test that day, but the doctor had implied that it was just a formality. He had been experiencing some pain in his left shoulder, but he was a big man, a former New York City cop and a self-employed general contractor. The doctor thought my father’s discomfort was likely arthritis, but scheduled the stress test for six weeks later as a precaution. They stopped the test halfway through and told my dad that he needed bypass surgery the very next day.

My father was calling me from the hospital and very anxiously asking what he should do. Should he trust this doctor that he barely knew or take a chance, walk away and gather some additional opinions? Midway through our conversation he interrupted to say, “Wait a minute, Dom, another doctor just entered the room and I will call you back.”

When he called back half an hour later, he had some surprising news. This new doctor was the Chief of Cardiac Surgery at North Shore Hospital. He opened by saying, “Mr. Starsia, are you the father of the lacrosse coach at Brown? He was very kind to my son at his camp and in the recruiting process. I saw your chart downstairs, have looked through the test results, you have a great doctor and he is prescribing exactly the right procedure. Tell you what, I will assist him in the surgery tomorrow.”

As you can imagine, this new information was a great comfort to my dad, who lived a long and healthy post-surgical life. I am forever grateful to this new doctor, who was the father of Princeton attackman Justin Tortolani. We had Justin as a camper at Brown, and I had done a home visit during the recruiting process. I wished him well when he chose Princeton, and while I may have felt at the time that I had not been successful, little did I know it may have been my most productive home visit ever!

Justin went on to become one of Princeton’s best all-time players. He also became an orthopedic surgeon, trained in spine surgery and an expert in the field of terminal disc replacement surgery. Maybe you can still have a life if you don’t come and play for me! I have run in to Justin at a number of lacrosse functions, and we always mention the story of having had our dads meet.

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When I was inducted in to the Legends Society at Lake Placid this past summer, my presenter was David White, my dear friend and college teammate and roommate. Dave is a Mohawk Indian from the St. Regis reservation in upstate New York. During his remarks at the induction ceremony, Dave said that “lacrosse has been Dom’s good medicine, and he has shared it with the lacrosse world.”

I would say that, during my life in the game, I have tried. These two stories touched me deeply and certainly seem to have been influenced by some “good medicine.” I wish for you that some similar tales grace your life, especially during this season of giving.

Dom Starsia, a National Lacrosse Hall of Famer and US Lacrosse Magazine contributor, is one of the winningest coaches in NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse history. Starsia compiled 375 wins in 34 seasons at Brown and Virginia, leading the Cavaliers to four NCAA championships, and is an assistant coach for MLL’s Boston Cannons. He was a two-time All-American defenseman at Brown and played for the U.S. national team in 1978.

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The Hall of Fame coach shares two stories that have touched his life through a relationship with lacrosse.
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Dom Starsia, at center with his twin daughters Maggie and Emma, was inducted into the Legends Society at the Lake Placid Summit Classic on Aug. 2 in Lake Placid, N.Y.
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Starsia receives an honorary wood stick from Dave White, his friend and former college teammate who is of Mohawk descent.

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