The American lacrosse community is a tight-knit group. Virtually everyone who has played or coached the game welcomes opportunities to stay involved in the sport by helping raise the level of the 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 American lacross veterans who have ancestral ties to that country. Their involvement helped the team to a thrilling fifth-place finish. They also fueled the growth of the game across Europe and Asia, helping to foster lacrosse camaraderie among a new generation of players.
Team Germany was coached by Jack Kaley, who played or coached the game in New York for a significant portion of his life. He played the game from 1957 to 1960 at Hofstra University and then coached Long Island’s East Meadow High School for 18 years. Kaley spent 17 years, until 2009, at the New York Institute of Technology, where he earned four national championships and had the best winning percentage of any Division I and II school.
“At this stage of my life, I am America’s Von Steuben 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 to help win the Revolutionary War. “Instead of coming here to fight a war for independence, I went there to train lacrosse players and raise the bar in international competitions.”
Lacrosse in Germany is still in its infancy. This year’s team consisted of players ages 19 to 34. They competed against some of the best players in the world as part of the ever-expanding 30-team tournament.
“Lacrosse isn’t just the fastest growing game in America,” said Kaley, “it’s 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 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 for Hofstra (1993-1996).
The main backer 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 joined Hofstra during the 1979 and 1980 seasons. He was named to the 1980 Division I All-American lacrosse team after his sophomore year. During that season, Metzger set a second-school record of 4.9 points per game that still stands. That record also ranked at the time as the second-highest average points per game in Hofstra’s lacrosse history, and it currently ranks fourth all-time with Hofstra.
While the coaches volunteered their time, Metzger’s financial help eased budget concerns. Metzger, along with the others, is all about giving back to the game. 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 at school, Metzger couldn’t refuse Kaley’s request for help for the German team. Kaley told Metzger that his name was already popular all over Germany and that it appeared in every town (“Metzger” means “butcher”). Hearing this, Metzger felt it was destined for him to grow the game in the land where he could trace his paternal lineage.
“Anyone who has been involved in lacrosse as a youth or young adult is told that when they are done 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 because they’ve found success as entrepreneurs, doctors or in other professions. But they can still 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 standings to play in the highly competitive top division. The opportunity arose when a more experienced team, the Iroquois Native American team from the US, had passport issues and never arrived in the UK. The Germans jumped at the offer to play against some of the world’s best teams – Canada, USA, 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 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 be better prepared physically and mentally to future competition.
Much of the German team’s current and future success is attributed to those who joined Kaley this year.
“Metzger, Bergersen and Donovan have all given back to the young players of the sport,” 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 through the next generation.” of lacrosse players.”