Editor’s Note: The United States Coast Guard Academy, located in New London, CT, will be transitioning from MCLA D2 to NCAA D3 in 2015. The USCGA lacrosse program has a long history of success, but this current group is taking things to the next level, both on the field and off of it. Commander Sean Cross has been helping the team with promotion over the last couple of MCLA seasons, and he has provided us with a great look into the program’s pending transition to the D3 level.
The USCGA is the smallest US service academy, and we’re thrilled to have them playing D3 lacrosse next year! You can read PART 1 of Welcome To D3: Coast Guard Academy Lacrosse, here.
We’ve Come A Long Way in 30 Years – Winning is Tradition
A pair of lieutenants are serving as volunteer assistants with the Bears, LT Mike Higbie and LT Pat Powers. Higbie is teaching Nautical Science to the first class cadets while Powers is serving as Fundamentals of Navigation Instructor.
Higbie, who graduated from the Academy in 2009, was assigned to the DALLAS in Charleston, South Carolina before serving as the XO of CGC TYBEE in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. He had wanted to come back and be involved in the lacrosse program for a few years and he could not have arrived at a better time.
Powers, a 2008 graduate, served as a Deck Watch Officer aboard CGC SPENCER in Boston, Operations Officer aboard CGC BARANOF in Bahrain and Weapons Officer aboard CGC WAESCHE.
Both are former players and have seen the rise of the lacrosse program and remember some of the obstacles the team had to overcome in years past. “Elevating the program to varsity and naming Ray LaForte as the head coach in waiting are two of the most significant moments in the rich 30 year history of men’s lacrosse at the Academy,” said Higbie. “It’s really primed, I think, to be a perennial conference power and a premiere program at CGA in the next few years.”
Powers has been amazed to see how many of the Old Bears (sobriquet for the Coast Guard Academy Men’s Lacrosse alumni) have reached out to him since he has returned to the Academy. “Everyone is really excited about the transition to next season.”
During their playing days, both saw the program elevated each season, but there clearly were some hurdles to overcome being a club sport.
“Unfortunately, most successes were hard won and our biggest hindrances were on board the Academy itself. I remember practicing on Cadet Memorial Field from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. every night, taking our own cars to games and getting chased out of the athletic trainer’s office after asking for some tape, but now the team is fully supported,” said Higbie. “The Department of Athletics is integrating every aspect of team operations into the fold. Players, for the first time, will make a spring break trip with no out-of-pocket expenses, certified athletic trainers tend to players every day and the team practices on Cadet Memorial Field at 4 p.m., the same time slot the other intercollegiate teams practice.”
Powers has similar recollections from his playing days. “The difference between now and then is night and day. We never really had a Defensive Coordinator or Position Coaches. The team just relied on individual talent and players to coach the defense. It was nothing like this season’s staff.
“Looking back on it, I am amazed at how successful those teams were with really just one Lieutenant coaching the team. It is crazy to think they did all the scheduling and organization without any help from the Athletic Department or any assistant coaches.”
As the Bears play their final season of club and prepare for the big leap next season, both Higbie and Powers believe the team is ready.
“The defense has a solid young core that will only continue to develop in the coming seasons as we start to bring in high end varsity recruits,” said Powers. “This year’s defense only has one senior in the two-deep rotation and a freshmen goalie, who is easily the most improved player on the team from Fall Ball to today. I honestly think we’ll be much more competitive playing against other Division III schools of similar size in NEWMAC next spring.”
Higbie added “Under Coach Gary Weller, the program has never been more successful or nationally renowned.”
Meaning and Tradition – from Uniforms to Ceremonies
Interestingly, the Coast Guard Academy Men’s Lacrosse team is wearing orange third uniforms (Coast Guard MH-65Cs helicopters have an orange paint scheme) this year to honor Captain Tom Nelson and the 6505 helicopter crew that included Lieutenant Commander Andrew Wischmeier, AST1 David Skimin and AMT2 Joshua Nichols.
In September 2008, Coast Guard lacrosse player Captain Thomas D. Nelson, Class of 1988, was added as the 61st name on WALL OF REMEMBRANCE (which honors Academy graduates who have perished while carrying out operational missions) after he perished aboard Coast Guard MH-65C helicopter 6505 off the coast of Hawaii. “So Others May Live” is inscribed on the inside of the collar and is the official motto of Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers. The Team Captains decided that this motto epitomized the Coast Guard’s mission of selfless service.
The Coast Guard core values – HONOR, RESPECT and DEVOTION TO DUTY – appear on the inner waistband of the shorts. The core values are more than just Coast Guard rules of behavior. They are deeply rooted in the heritage that has made our organization great. Because Cadets represent the Coast Guard to the public, they must embrace these values on the field, in their professional undertakings as well as in their personal lives.
At the beginning of each season, the team also hosts its annual Goal-Flag Ceremony which serves to formally recognize the ultimate sacrifices made by Coast Guard Academy graduates connected to the Lacrosse program. Two commemorative flags are attached to the goals – to be displayed at every home game throughout the season.
One of the flags is white with the initials JMS and the Class of ’83 crest to commemorate LT John M. Senyard for his contributions to the Coast Guard Lacrosse program. John Senyard was one of the key figures in the founding of the Coast Guard Academy Lacrosse team. Unfortunately, LT Senyard was not able to witness the Men’s Lacrosse team grow into the highly competitive team that exists today. He was killed in an aircraft accident while conducting a humanitarian service project in Ilhithi, Kenya in 1989.
The other flag is navy blue with 61 white stars commemorates Captain Thomas D. Nelson as the 61st name on the WALL OF REMEMBRANCE.
“By carrying out this event every year, we honor the dedication and sacrifice of those who came before us,” said Lieutenant Commander Brian Krautler, former Head Lacrosse Coach. “It also reminds us of just how dangerous and unforgiving the Coast Guard’s operating environment can be and serves as a stark reminder of the dangers our young men and women face when responding to mariners in distress and while conducting training in heavy weather. Our Coast Guard crews constantly train and hone their skills to perform challenging maritime missions. And, because they routinely perform them so well, it is easy to forget their complexity and danger.”
Some Final Thoughts
“This season has been another very special one for the Coast Guard Academy Men’s Lacrosse program. Our success fostered many responses and support from former Coast Guard Academy Lacrosse players that remain invested in our program 30 years after it all started. Our OLD BEARS Lacrosse Alumni Network is awesome. Through Facebook, the team received pictures and words of encouragement from helicopter pilots and cutter commanding officers at operational units completing Coast Guard missions and from high-ranking Washington, D.C. brass and other retired officers with their sticks in hand and signs reading “Go Bears Lacrosse.” Their support has inspired our team to play relentlessly and make them proud of our accomplishments.”
“We’re really excited as a coaching staff. I’m looking forward to it,” Weller said. “Our final club season is going right now and we’ve met our goals to win the PCLL Conference Tournament and a bid to the MCLA National Tournament in Southern California. However, we’re actively recruiting for the future and I think we’re getting some really good student-athletes, young leaders of character in here, who want to save lives, serve their Nation, get a top-notch education and win lacrosse games.”
As the smallest of the five U.S. service academies, the Coast Guard Academy offers the elite higher education, rigorous professional development, and honor and tradition of a military academy but with a more personalized approach.
The Coast Guard Academy offers an integrated life experience which emphasizes academics, physical fitness, character and leadership, in order to graduate officers of the highest caliber. Graduates go directly to positions of leadership in “The Shield of Freedom,” one of the most admired organizations in the world. The Academy also features an impressive teacher-student ratio and picturesque waterfront campus that instills a traditional small college feel.
Cadets devote themselves to an honor concept and graduate to work at sea, on land, in the air, and even in space, in meaningful careers of selfless service to others.