Op-ed column: Dedicated lacrosse coach gives his players lessons in life

Lacrosse, I thought, was a game played in England or possibly by Native Americans. It wasn’t in my s

Lacrosse, I thought, was a game played in England or possibly by Native Americans. It wasn’t in my sports lexicon until a few years ago when two grandsons began playing.

Now I know the meaning of a “face-off”, an “assist,” “long sticks” and “midfielder.” But don’t quiz me on it. What I would like to write about is my gradual understanding of what goes into an undefeated season — motivated players, responsible parents and a top-notch coach.

Michael Vorgang, Niskayuna’s varsity lacrosse coach, brings some qualities to his job that transcend what any school could reasonably expect of a coach. I have never talked with Coach Vorgang, but I have listened to others — players, parents, spectators, reviewers, sportscasters — and the consensus is that this guy teaches more than the sport. He works to instill some personal traits in his players that will go way beyond the lacrosse field.

He demands that players “give 100 percent to the game.” (It’s hard not to fall into cliches when talking sports. Forgive me.)

Personal interest

Unsportsmanlike behavior on the field may result in a comfortable seat on the sidelines for the remainder of a game. He keeps a close eye on his players’ grades and lets them know of his interest in their academic careers while also spending many hours talking to recruiting college coaches. If one of his players suffers an accident or illness on or off the field, he may very well beat the parents to the hospital. If one of his players loses a parent, he will round up some of the boy’s friends on the team and take them to the funeral.

Earlier this year, a Guilderland player lost a parent. The coach knew of a friendship between that boy and one of his players and they attended the wake together. One of my grandsons, in fact, attended his first wake and his first funeral in the company of Coach Vorgang.

On the day of the school budget vote, my daughter reminded her 18-year-old to vote and he said, “Coach already reminded me.”

A star lacrosse player himself at LaSalle and Cortland, Vorgang began coaching lacrosse in 1994. In addition to leading his teams to Section II Class A titles in the last four years, he has been chosen twice to coach at the National High School Senior Showcase. He is a strong family man, married and the father of two. His own parents attend many of his games.

Some of his coaching practices may sound corny. He urges his players to go into the stands after the game and give their parents a hug. In their last year on the team, seniors are given a red rose to present to a parent. There is a mid-season team dinner held at a team member’s house. He fosters strong bonds between players.

A typical day in the life of a varsity lacrosse team member begins at 7 or 7:30 a.m. when he leaves for school. Following a full day of school, he changes into his lacrosse clothes, grabs his equipment and heads out to the practice field. Practice lasts 2 to 3 hours and then the players head for home. How ravenous they must be! I picture them nodding off at the dinner table, but no, now the books are beckoning.

“How do they do it all?” this curious, concerned grandmother asks.

“If they weren’t on the lacrosse field, what would they be doing?” my daughter responds. Watching movies, playing video games, text messaging, using their iPods, BlackBerries, cellphones; I suppose nowadays, using whatever equipment is required, they would be Twittering. They probably wouldn’t be out in the fresh air getting healthy exercise.

And there’s another factor, my daughter reminds me. They are learning, sometimes to their chagrin, a lot about time management.

Highs and lows

So, there are the highs of being on an undefeated team — the camaraderie, the thrill of contributing to a win, the association with an outstanding coach. And there are the days when a grade slips, a paper is not up to par or when a teenage get-together must be sacrificed. This is when the parents, silently or not so silently, must agonize. For they, too, have put in endless hours in the care and feeding of the young athlete, in traveling to out-of-town games, to assisting with team events and in helping their players balance the heavy demands of their schedules.

Was it worth it? Only time will tell. My grandson, Dan McKinney, is heading for Georgetown in the fall assisted by a lacrosse scholarship. His brother, Justin, will be one of the senior players next season and no doubt, Coach Vorgang will be out there teaching a great deal more than the skills of the game.

Ruth Peterson lives in Scotia. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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