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Inaugural Florida GrandMasters Lacrosse Classic

Old Boys Best the HouNDs in Inaugural Florida GrandMasters Lacrosse Classic

Lacrosse in 87 degree warmth in the middle of January. Not many places offer such a treat, but Weston, Florida did as the host of the inaugural Florida Lacrosse Classic on January 18-20. The Classic was a Grandmasters tournament (for players 45 and older) and turned out to be a warm-up exercise for many of the players who will be competing in the Grandmasters Division in the World Games in Australia come July. The tournament was organized by Rich Barba, Don Clinton and Tom McGough, veteran graying club players who reside in Florida and play for the FROGs ("Florida Real Old Guys"). Their goal is to make the tourney in the coming years as attractive as the Vail and Lake Placid Lacrosse Shootouts. Weston is northwest of Fort Lauderdale in a planned community and is easily accessible, except of course, during the infamous South Florida rush hours, from the golden Lauderdale beaches and other attractions.

This year's tournament only saw four teams participate, partly due to the terrible events of September 11 and partly due to the economy. Rich Barba hopes that it will grow in the coming years, and the month of January seems to fit well for the tourney: "we're going to try to set around the three-day King holiday weekend in the future so that the players will have an extra day in the sun without compromising their work schedules". The teams attending this year's tourney were the Washington National Old Boys led by Bob "Moose" Musitano, the Philadelphia Eagles, captained by Bob DiPuppo, the HouNDs, led by TD Paulius from Chicago and the FROGs, organized by Tom McGough and Rich Barba.

For a new tournament, the organizers are to be complemented on their unique touches. The games on Saturday and Sunday were held on an immaculate community football field, manicured to the state where they could be mistaken for a large, striped putting green. The games were announced and the semi-final matches were videotaped. That's uncommon for even established tournaments, let alone an upstart one. Congratulations are in order to the trio of McGough, Barba and Clinton!

Due to the small number of teams, the tournament used a seeding round robin play on Friday night, with each team playing three 40 minute games against the others. This arrangement brought many of the players to the brink of exhaustion, while for some it merely made them stronger as the night wore on. Washington's Old Boys walked through the seeding round unchallenged winning three games, followed by the FROGs, who won two games and then the HouNDs, winning 1 of 3 games. The Eagles rounded out the evening with a record of 0-3. The Old Boys met the Eagles Saturday in the first of the semi-final games and handily disposed of them again. Jeff Singer was stellar in the net for the Old Boys throughout the tournament and turned back the few Philly shots that were made by attackers that made it through the Boys' tough defense of Moose Musitano, Al Brown, Jack Decklebaum, Tom Xenakis and Fred Bargar.

The second semi-final game provided the most excitement of the tournament as the HouNDs let slip an early lead to fall behind 5-3 to the FROGs, but came from behind to tie the game 5 all with a minute remaining to send the contest into overtime. Little more than 60 ticks passed as the HouNDs' Placid top scoring dog, Kevin Davidson, finally listened to his coach and took a feed from top scorer Steve Giblin on the left of the net, and rolled it past the FROGs netminder, Don Goldstein. The game was marred with numerous penalties as the physical play of both teams irritated the other and resulted in two erroneous ejections by the officiating crew who were still trying to figure out which rules governed the play: grade school, high school, NCAA or club. The fracas began when Goldstein came out of the net and was checked down by new HouND, Claude ("Deja vu") Piolet losing the ball to HouND attackman Jimmy ("when are you comin back") Mack. A Florida D-man, John Meiners, then decked Deja Vu from the rear, toppling him onto Goldstein in an attempt to make a frog-hound pancake. Deja Vu retaliated and drew the ire of both the FROGs' Dman and one referee. Mack shot and scored, a flag flew well after the ball rolled in circles in the cage along with a delayed whistle that shrilled out slowly. A 5-10 minute field conference was held with HouNDs coach, TD Paulius and FROGs coach, Don Clinton stymied. Deja Vu and the FROG were ejected, both teams were assessed 3 minute non-releasable penalties and the HouNDs received another minute on Deja Vu. This ejection left the HouNDs low on spare men, leaving them with only 7. Paulius, couldn't find a new jersey big enough to fit Deja Vu and pull a Chicago switcheroo.

Tempers cooled and the game went on, with the HouNDs playing with renewed determination. Their patient attack, which had been rushed in the first half settled into a Notre Dame-style tempo as they worked the ball around probing for the right combination of moves that would pull Goldstein out of the cage. The Holy Cross trio of Mel McKee, Steve Giblin and Davidson tallied the last three goals that tied and won the game for the HouNDs. The HouNDs keeper Towson grad, Rick Fallin, formed the cornerstone of a constantly tightening defense of Hal Whiteman, Moe Beshlian and Willie Garofalo. Fallin was vocal in directing his defenders in and out, on their men and was rewarded for his efforts with a win and election tot he tournament All-Star Team.

The FROGs met the Eagles in the consolation game on early Sunday morning and were lucky to play with an overcast sky, which reduced some of the heat. The FROGs controlled this game, jumping out to a quick 4-1 lead, with Eagle Rich Lewton scoring the lone goal in the first half for Philadelphia. In the second half, Philly played much better, notching 2 goals to match a pair by the FROGs and end the third quarter down 6-3. The FROGs scored quickly in the fourth quarter and Philly woke up too late to score a pair, but end up on the losing side 7-5.

The clouds broke and the sun shone strongly on the title game. The HouNDs came out in their "winning" dark jerseys and perhaps the sun may have played a factor in wearing them down. Hardly the case, because Moose's Old Boys were anything but old this day. The trio of Mike "Nacho" Del Grande, Bo Hickey, Donnie Brown were too fast for the HouNDs defense, receiving passes at the crease and quick-sticking the ball into the net, or driving straight from the restraining line, juking and faking and ending at the crease. The Old Boys were up 5-0 before the HouNDs could penetrate the net and the game ended at 15-3. HouNds' goalie, Rick Fallin, fell victim to the heat and became exhausted midway through the fourth quarter after the Old Boys had nailed him for 13 goals. The HouNDs were tight on their close defense, but failure of their midfield to come back and cover their men hard resulted in sharp feeds to the crease. Washington's Hickey and Brown each had multiple goal efforts. Brown uttered the most notable comment during the game when two HouNDs fell for a fake, went far and on the ground and Brown was heard to say, "Man, I live for this stuff!". Rather than T-shirts, this new tournament awarded trophies to the Old Boys and the HouNDs, potentially delaying Musitano and Paulius passing through security at the Lauderdale airport. Knowing how lacrosse is unfamiliar with the natives of Florida, Paulius easily talked his way through the screening lines at the airport by claiming the trophy was for jai-alai!