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Navy Camp Teaches More Than Just LAX Skills

By Keith Mills

By 10 a.m. the temperature at the U.S. Naval Academy was 90 degrees and rising. Rick Young gathered his troops in a semi-circle and gave them their orders for the next 15 minutes.

"We're going to talk about team offense," said Young, former assistant to Bill Tierney at Princeton and now the lacrosse coach at nearby Anne Arundel Community College. "If you watch the college game, there's a lot of picking going on. Everybody has big strong athletes and they try to get an edge by picking. So we're going over how to pick and how to defend it."

Young is one of the nearly 100 guest coaches Navy's Richie Meade brings in to work with an ever-growing number of young players who not only love to play the game, but want to learn a little bit about life at the academy.

"It's so much fun to see kids come here and take their hats off when they walk into the chow hall," said Meade. "Or wait until everyone's sitting down before they start eating. Or say 'yes sir' and 'no sir.' That's a form of discipline and preparation and that's what we do here at Navy. That's also what lacrosse players do. They're disciplined, they're prepared and they're on time."

From early June to the middle of August, more than 4,000 youngsters, ages 6-18, pass through the gates of the U.S. Naval Academy to play lacrosse. Some, naturally, are from the Baltimore area. Most of the 600 in this week's camp are not.

"We have kids from Hawaii, Alaska, Tennessee, California. We even had a camper fly in all the way from Australia," said long-time Andover and North County coach Jon Appelt. "We hope here the kids take back what they learn to those areas that are not traditionally big lacrosse areas and share it with their teammates."

"How lacrosse is presented to the kids at a young age is going to stay with them for a long time," said Meade, whose teams have made the NCAA playoffs six of the last seven years, including the classic 2004 national championship game against Syracuse. "As coaches, we have a tremendous amount of influence on kids today. And we place a lot of emphasis on leadership. I equate it to D-Day. The success of the operation were the guys on the beach -- me standing next to you. They had to overcome all kinds of stuff to get the job done. They did it through leadership and they did it through caring about the guy next to them."

Talk to Meade for five minutes and you want to enlist. About to begin his 17th year as Navy's coach, he is also a full-tenured physical education professor at the academy and an unbelievable advocate for everyone who has ever served in the military, especially his former players.

Honor. Courage. Commitment. It is more than just the Naval Academy mantra, but a way of life for Meade, who not only preaches that to his players, but to every camper who wears the blue and white practice jersey.

"If we teach these kids a little about the game and how to be better young men, then we've done our job," said Meade. "We believe in fundamentals and discipline and having the right attitude and taking care of your teammates. All of the things that have to do with success besides throwing and catching.

"We tell the kids when you walk into a room, take your hat off. We don't allow them to wear their hats backwards. We want them to be on time and we want them to treat everyone with respect. I don't know if it's the right way, but that's how we do it. We basically run this camp the way my father ran our family. He was a New York City cop and when he told us what to do, we did it."

Growing up in the Williston Park section of Long Island, Peter Meade and his life in law enforcement made quite an impression on young Richie and his brothers, Charlie and Peter. It helped fuel Richie Meade through Mineola High in Garden City and later Nassau Community College and North Carolina. His coaching journey began in Chapel Hill as an assistant in 1979 to Willie Scroggs. He then coached at the University of Baltimore for four years, before landing in Annapolis, first as an assistant to Bryan Matthews, and then eventually as head coach.

Though he never wore the Navy uniform as a midshipman or an officer, he has always looked at coaching at the academy as an honor and a privilege.

"He is one of us," said 1969 Navy graduate Tom Hagan. "He reached out to the alumni in a variety of ways and has done a wonderful job here."

Hagan is one of many former Navy players who still come back during the summer to work the camps. A former player for two years for the legendary Willis Bilderback, Hagan was on a committee to help create the Bilderback-Moore Navy Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

Bilderback coached the midshipmen from 1959 to '72 and led them to nine national championships after William "Dinty" Moore, who preceded him and coached at the academy for 23 years, winning 159 games and a share of six championships.

Hagan; Jack Jackson, class of 1990 and a graduate of Archbishop Curley; Joe Schweitzer, class of '89 and a retired Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps; 74-year-old Don Jahn, class of '57; and Ray Finnegan, class of '75, a former assistant coach under Meade and one of the greatest goaltenders in Navy history, were all back in Navy blue and gold.

Add to that list current assistant coach Mark Goers, the team's former director of lacrosse operations, who helped then-Towson State reach the NCAA Final Four in 1992, and the camp is loaded with former academy players and coaches.

Why?

"Why not," said Hagan. "You see these kids. They just love to play the game. It's all about giving back to the program and the school. What else would I be doing?"

Not patrolling the many fields around the academy in 100-degree heat for one thing, and staying in dorms at Dahlgren Hall for another. Three of the 10 Navy camps are overnight camps, and the players and coaches sleep in the same bunks as the midshipmen during the school year.

That is part of the lure. A big reason why 14-year-old Ryan Morris came all the way from New Orleans to take part in this week's camp. "I wanted to see what it was like," he said.

"I couldn't wait for this," said 13-year-old Matt Hunter of Tampa, Fla. "I'm really just learning the game and I've always wanted to see the Naval Academy. What a better time to do that than at their lacrosse camp."

The Navy camp is divided into four age divisions: Submarines (elementary school), Destroyers and Battleships (middle school and young high school) and Aircraft Carriers (high school). Team names include the USS New Jersey, Lincoln and Intrepid. It's all part of Meade's plan to run the camp like an aircraft carrier.

"I've been on an aircraft carrier," said Meade. "Everybody has a job, everybody has a role. They have to launch the planes, so somebody has to move the planes. They need fuel so somebody has to pump the fuel into the planes. Fuel at this camp are balls and water. They have weapons on an aircraft carrier. Here, our weapons are security. Parents need to know their kids are safe and everything we do is in support of the players and coaches."

There are two sessions of instruction during the day and games at night.

"This is actually as much a camp for young coaches as it is the players," said Meade. "Every single moment is a teaching opportunity. That's No. 1. No. 2 is every kid is here to learn. And you don't have to be a great player. In fact, there aren't necessarily a lot of great players. We don't put stock in where you are. We put a lot of stock in where you're going."

"The single most important thing we do is fundamentals," Appelt added. "Coach Meade is one of the few coaches in the country who runs a camp and still stresses the little things."

Appelt and Paul Shea have been working with the Navy lacrosse coach since Matthews took over for coach Dick Szlaza in 1983. When Meade replaced Matthews in 1995, the two long-time Anne Arundel County high school coaches were asked back. And they're still here.

Shea played for Appelt at old Andover High School in 1971. When Appelt left in 1976 to join Szlaza's staff at Navy, Shea took the job. Three years later Appelt returned to Andover to assist Shea and the two coached together through 1992 when both retired from coaching at North County. Appelt, whose son Garth helped Loyola-Blakefield win back-to-back MSA A Conference championships in 1986 and '87 before playing at Virginia, still teaches at the school and will start his 42nd year in late August.

"It has been very rewarding," said Appelt, who was named the national lacrosse high school Man of the Year in 1998. "Lacrosse has enabled me to become a better coach, be a better teacher and I've been able to develop friendships that have stayed with me my entire life."

Friendships with guys like Young, who played and coached at Cortland State in New York, the same school that produced such outstanding college coaches as Tony Seaman, Bill Tierney and Dave Urick, as well as Bob and Larry Quinn, who are also members of a growing Navy camp coaching staff.

Bob Quinn played at Herkimer Community College and then Penn State while Larry Quinn, who lives now in the Parkton section of Baltimore County, helped Johns Hopkins win two straight national championships under coach Don Zimmerman in 1984 and '85. He is also a two-time winner of the Lt. Raymond Enners Award as the nation's top player, and the Ensign C. Markland Kelly Award as the nation's best goaltender.  In 2000, he was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

"This is a real good camp," said Quinn, whose son Nolan will be a freshman this year at Loyola-Blakefield. "There's a lot of good instruction and a lot of good teaching."

"For those of us not actively coaching on a day-to-day basis anymore," said Shea, "this is fantastic. And it's all about the people. The sport is not about winning and losing. It's about the relationships you make, the people you meet. There's nowhere else I'd rather be."

Posted July 27, 2010