The U.S. lacrosse community is a close knit group. Just about everyone who has played or coached the game welcomes opportunities to stay involved with the sport by helping improve the level of competition and by encouraging young players to excel.
At this year’s World Lacrosse Championships in Great Britain, the German men’s team benefited significantly from several U.S. lacrosse veterans who have ancestral ties to that country. Their involvement helped the team achieve an exciting fifth place finish. They also spurred growth for the game throughout Europe and Asia, and helped instill lacrosse camaraderie among a new generation of players.
Team Germany was coached by Jack Kaley, who spent a considerable part of his life playing or coaching the game in New York. He played the game at Hofstra University from 1957 to 1960, and then coached at Long Island’s East Meadow High School for 18 years. Kaley spent 17 years, until 2009, at New York Institute of Technology, where he delivered four national championships and the best winning percentage among all Division I and II schools.
«At this stage of my life, I am the Von Steuben of America who is going to Germany,» said Kaley, referring to Baron Von Steuben, the military officer from the area of German rule known as Prussia who arrived in America to help win the Revolutionary War. «Instead of coming here to fight a war for independence, I went there to help train lacrosse players and raise the bar in international competition.»
Lacrosse in Germany still is in its infancy. This year’s team consisted of players aged 19 to 34. They competed against some of the best players in the world as part of the ever-expanding tournament that fielded 30 teams.
«Lacrosse is not only the fastest growing game in America,» said Kaley, «it is the fastest growing game in the world. This year, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan were new to the tournament.»
Long Island Supports German Lacrosse
All the support for the German team this year had ties to Hofstra. The assistant coach, Richie Donovan, was an assistant coach at Hofstra (1986-1995) and the only member of the group without German roots. Chris Bergersen played with Hofstra (1993-1996).
The key financial supporter was James Metzger, who earned All-America honors at Long Island’s Half Hollow Hills East High School, where he won the 1977 Ray Enners Award for Outstanding Lacrosse Player in Suffolk County.
Metzger went on to play at Hofstra during the 1979 and 1980 seasons. He was named to the 1980 Division I All-American lacrosse team following his sophomore year. During that season, Metzger established a school sophomore record of 4.9 points-per-game that still stands. That record also ranked as the second highest points-per-game average in Hofstra lacrosse history at the time, and it currently ranks as fourth best all time at Hofstra.
As the coaches volunteered their time, Metzger’s financial assistance eased budget worries. Metzger, along with the others, is all about giving back to the game. As a successful business owner of the independent insurance brokerage Whitmore Group in New York, James Metzger ‘s financial gifts recently completed the renovation of the Hofstra men’s lacrosse locker room and established a new lacrosse office suite for the program. He also funded a permanent exhibit that celebrates the history of Hofstra’s men’s and women’s lacrosse programs along with the school’s football program.
With a history of supporting the game he enjoyed in school, Metzger couldn’t deny Kaley’s request for assistance for the German team. Kaley told Metzger that his name already was popular throughout Germany and that it appeared in every town («Metzger» means «butcher»). Upon hearing this, Metzger felt it was destined for him to help grow the game in the country where he could trace his paternal origins.
«Anyone who is involved in lacrosse as a youth or young adult is told that when they are finished playing the game they need to find a way to give back to the game,» said Kaley. «Some of us can do this with our time as coaches. Others may not have the time as they have found success as business owners, doctors, or in other professions. But they still can help the game grow through their generosity.»
Germans Successful on the Field
At the World Lacrosse Championships, the German team accepted the offer to move up in the seeding to play in the highly competitive top division. The opportunity arose when a more experienced team, the Iroquois Native American team from the U.S., encountered passport issues and never arrived in the U.K. The Germans grasped the offer to play against some of the world’s best teams – Canada, U.S., Japan, England and Australia – and they did very well. They finished in fifth place.
«This was an opportunity of a lifetime for the German players,» said Kaley. «Now, the German lacrosse family has experience competing at the highest level and they have started their preparation for the next tournament in 2014. Now that they have the experience, they will work hard to develop and train to become more physically and mentally prepared for future competition.
A big part of the German team’s current and future success is attributed to those who joined Kaley this year.
«Metzger, Bergersen and Donovan all gave back to the sport’s young players,» said Kaley, «and these young players, when they are successful in their chosen fields, will remember their contributions and will want to continue the tradition by helping the next generation of lacrosse players.»