The History of Purdue Mens Lacrosse

From the perspective of Club Founder David L. Hoof, 

In January 1969 I came to Purdue out of Cornell to study chemistry. In the spring of 1970 we had organizational meetings to determine the level of interest. Thirty undergrads attended. One, Scott Sumner, was crucial to getting  the club going. Here you need to know that “going” involved a difficulty that I didn’t know about. When I met with the Director of the Corecreational Gym, George Haniford, he shocked me with an opener, “The last thing that Purdue needs is a lacrosse club.” 

Now since you don’t argue with the boss, I just asked, “How can you be so sure of that?” At this point we trekked from his office to a hallway downstairs. He opened a storage closet that was littered with abandoned lacrosse equipment. Sticks, balls, helmets, gloves, arm pads, goal mesh. With smug confidence he said, “It’s been tried and didn’t work out, and I took a lot of heat for buying all of this… stuff.”

I said, “Maybe I could change your mind. I’m not the guy who dropped the ball the first time.”
He said it was pointless. End of discussion.

At our next organizational meeting I mentioned the impasse and opened the floor for ideas. This was the moment when the club became that wellspring of brilliant player ideas. Scott Sumner, eventually a midfielder on the second unit, said that his fraternity roommate was George King’s son, and George King was at that time the Director of Athletics. The Department of Intercollegiate Athletics sets the agenda for the Corecreational Gym. King reversed Haniford, who came to me fuming with, “Don’t you ever try anything like that with me again.”

“Yes, sir, ” I said, thinking I wouldn’t need to. 

George King not only got us permission to play, but had goals made, fields assigned to us. I got us scheduled with Michigan, Illinois, Ball State, Ohio State, Chicago Lacrosse Club, anyone with a lacrosse team, including Lake Forest College in Chicago, where our hosts stole all of our wallets from what we were told we secure locker  rooms. Guys who’d never seen a stick of ball before spent the fall of 1970 building skills from scratch. We funded our own uniforms, helmets, sticks and balls. 

Haniford liked this not and said as much. And more: “If you guys don’t have a winning season your first year out, you’re finished.” 

This was the deal he struck with George King: Full support, then assessment of performance. Haniford reckoned the chances of inexperienced players beating established clubs was slim to none. What kind of guys filled out the roster? I’ve got a list of names and will send it along as an attachment. Ours were guys too short for Big Ten basketball and too light for Big Ten football. We had some great athletic talent who worked like hell to get their stickwork down, including Jerry Withered, who over the summer mocked up a field behind his home from the restraining line to the goal area, and practiced and practiced putting balls in the corners. We had a few guys like Tom Owens, attack, from back east (Baltimore) who was our top scorer. Our first team goalie was a former All American goalie from Delaware, then a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue, Dick Garrett. He was still sharp and fast, stopping one shot when it got caught in the cross bars of his mask (play stopped, ball removed, face-off held behind the goal (the rule)). We had grad students from lacrosse schools like Carl Beta (Hopkins), Gordy “Bronx” Smith (RPI), Jim Culver (Denison) and me (Cornell).

Our neophytes were good at two things: running and quickness. We had cross country runners, milers, quarter milers. We assembled four midfields, used every one in quick rotation. The idea was to run the opposition off their legs. Mostly it worked, if used in conjunction some other tricks. Lacking players with good stickwork in the first year, I advised to get control of the ball. I showed how. At the faceoff then, there was a trick. Your opponent will almost always pivot and sweep left with pressure. With woodies (wooden sticks) the structure of the crosse allowed you to simple flip your stick back flat, offering no resistance. The other guy’s cross pushes the ball down, lifts his crosse hard and sweeps, but the ball is stopped in your crosse, against the gut netting that catches it like a fish. Then you sweep left away from him, pick up the rolling ball and begin a 4 on 3 break. If there is a ground ball, I advised one man take the ball and his closest teammate take out the competition. 2 on 1 wins ground balls. Then it becomes a possession game. Hold the ball, run it or if doubled pass it to the open man, who should be showing you his raised stick. If you have the ball, the opposition cannot score. If they can’t score, they can’t win.

We began to draw crowds, or at least packs of curious onlookers. The word got out. More interest was drummed up because I wrote coverage (with pictures) for the Purdue Exponent under the pseudonym “Hugh Jardon,” which most folks didn’t get. I didn’t know about the King-Haniford deal when I phoned up our schedule: Notre Dame, Ohio State, Illinois, Chicago Lacrosse Club, Lake Forest College, Ball State, Wittenberg, every team with game experience. We’d play anywhere, any time, any weather. At least four games in 1971- 1974 were played in blizzards. We made friends with the weather. One day we were practicing and saw a funnel cloud descend due north, in Kokomo. We kept practicing, betting that the tornado, like most would track northeast at forty-five degrees. It did. We played on. 

We did post a winning first season 6-4 and the club continued. The worry about another collapse in organization once I got my Ph.D. and left for a postdoc at Georgetown was solved by Bob Hartmann, who expanded the organization of the club to include undergraduate club officers and was even able to sweet talk into allowing us to use Purdue vehicles for travel and other perks. Bob’s intrasquad exhibition game, played at Wisconsin in the mid 70s, invoked a letter of gratitude from the university’s president and resulted in Wisconsin launching its own lacrosse program. Bob gets full credit for this, just as John Milam, a defenseman on the first squad, gets credit for starting the lacrosse club at Indiana, while he was a grad student there, after getting his Purdue degree. Every time you have a struggle with Indiana, you can blame John. Guys who’d never seen a stick or ball before spent the fall of 1970 building skills from scratch. We funded out own uniforms, helmets, sticks and balls. Our home jerseys were gold, away was black. These were snappy outfits and they guys looked great in them.
Memories. Playing Ohio State in the horseshoe. They gave us football practice locker rooms with showers, a masseuse, an assistance who tapped feet, full-sized broad lockers with the names of all of the players that I’d mailed ahead to Ohio State’s Director of Athletics. We lost 14-1 but saw what a team with resources and a program could become. During a time out in the Notre Dame game, 215 pound defenseman Jimbo McCormack (Annapolis, MD) asked, “If I’m clear at midfield, do I still pass off?” I said, “You’ve got the ball, a six foot stick and they’re not interested?  I they don’t pick you up, take it all the way in and shoot.” He did and scored. On an even more superb moment Jim had taken the ball away from an opposing attackman and two of them were harrying him to get it back. They trapped him in a corner behind out goal and Jim screams out, “Gilmor!!” then lines a rocket pass cross field to Tom Owens, who’s been left alone. Tom took the pass (dead on) on a run, spun away and went in for three fakes before he put the goalie out of his misery. Don Harley was known as “The Shot” for his sidearm/underhand shot. It came off his stick in a blur from twenty yards out and either one-bounced low or kept descending and went in. Opposing coaches always asked the ref to check his stick. Don knew this was coming and so gave his strings a tug before handing his stick for inspection. The ref checked it, and it passed fine. Greg Nelson developed a reputation as a midfielder for never losing a ball once it was in his crosse. Head fakes and shifts, spin moves but often just an acceleration into and through traffic.

Rich Leary, Notre Dame’s coach of this era, complimented me on a man-down defense I called the “box and chaser.” It works this way. Resume play after the penalty with one man on the ball carrier picked up only when he’s inside the restraining line. Behind this one man are four other defenders, arranged in a square box tight on the goalie. Two of them guard the corners of the goal, picking off passes from behind and knocking down dodgers trying to turn the corner. Two other defenders stand out front in position to form a square with the guys on the posts. Here’s the trick: As the ball rotates, as it always does on man-up systems, the defender in the square closest to the attacker receiving the pass reacts immediately to advance on the ball carrier, checking all the way. The outside man now moves in to fill the closest him while that position shifts to fill the one vacated by the new chaser. This way there’s always pressure on the ball but no one defender is ever always “chasing” It’s a sticks-up, heads-up square, with the long sticks better able to knock down or intercept passes that might be tried in order to find an attacker moving to the center of the square. The center of the square must be owned by the defense. If someone cuts into it, then when the pass comes, his stick should be checked and he should be leveled. The lesson is that if you try to violate the (four cornered) fort, you’re going to pay a price. At worst an attacker can both lose the ball and get injured. The box-and-chaser works because nobody likes to enter a place where they might be hit by four big guys at the same times. That can be eight hundred pounds of unfriendly contact. Anyway, Rich said he never quite figured it out, and he’s a smart guy. He called it “The Hoof Man-Down,” but let’s stick with box and chaser.

The classroom academics for this group of lacrosse players were always adequate, often superior. They were serious-minded. One even said he stayed in school because of lacrosse, didn’t want to let his “friends” (his word) down. Some never got the knack of woodies, where each stick has its own length, fulcrum, crosse construction (details). When the aluminum and plastic sticks came in, the uniform build of the stick enabled these guys, like Otis Keay, to stop dropping balls and chasing them, and allowed him to blossom as a feeder from behind the net.
Enjoy your experience. More so even than a fraternity, the lacrosse team gives you and opportunity to make friends and know classmates who have all chosen to value the game, and want to work with you as a teammate to make the group better. Thanks to everyone, Purdue lacrosse is now in its 47th year. We are all looking forward to the 50th anniversary. 


David L. Hoof, Ph.D. ‘74