A Lacrosse Stick Takes The Long Way Home: A Baltimore Lax Story

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stieff #33

It’s May, 1975. Gerald Ford is in the White House, John Denver’s “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” is heading to number one on the charts, and eighth ranked Washington and Lee is on its way to defeating the top-seeded Johns Hopkins in the first round of the NCAA lacrosse tournament at Hopkins — the only time a top-seeded team has ever, in the history of lacrosse, lost in the first round.

That victory over Hopkins was an unbelievable upset, a proud moment for W&L lacrosse, and Charlie Stieff was there, playing midfield for the winning team with his royal blue, W&L- engraved stick — an early STX model with a synthetic head. Despite W&L’s early victory, University of Maryland ended up winning the tournament.  But life goes on. Charlie graduated, hung up his cleats and headed home to Baltimore. Somewhere along the way, the head of the stick got cracked and Charlie stashed it in the basement.

stieff w_ mom
Charlie Stieff and his mom, circa 1975.

That summer, disaster struck when Charlie’s mom, a notorious discarder of other people’s stuff, threw the broken stick into the garbage can in the alley behind the Stieff’s Roland Park house. Charlie never noticed it was missing until it was long gone, and he assumed he’d never see it again. But Baltimore lacrosse works in mysterious ways, and like Lassie, that stick was on its way home, with a long road to go.

Fast forward nearly 40 years to December 2013. Charlie’s wife, Ann, an assistant director of admissions at the Bryn Mawr Lower School, meets James Hamilton, a father of twin girls applying to Bryn Mawr. He asks if she is Charlie Stieff’s wife. Turns out that Hamilton grew up in Roland Park, around the corner from the Stieffs. He tells Ann about the day his father — Dr. Bruce Hamilton, a rugby playing New Zealander who knew nothing about lacrosse — pulled Charlie’s stick out of a trash can in the alley the houses shared.  Being a Roland Parker, Dr. Hamilton decided to fix the stick himself, and bolted the head back together so James could learn to play lacrosse. Which he did. 

In 1989, after playing lacrosse a few years for Gilman School, James Hamilton passed the stick, still bolted together, on as a memento to his good friend Josh Levinson, who was heading to W&L to play lacrosse. Josh, now owner of Charm City Run, had the stick hanging on his dorm room wall all of his four years at W&L — where in 1993, he became an All-American lacrosse player.

After telling the story to Ann, Hamilton indicated that he thought Josh Levinson still had the stick. When she got home that night and related the story to Charlie, he called up Josh — not asking, but secretly hoping, that he might be able to get it back. They agreed to meet at a luncheon a few weeks later that they were both attending, held by the W&L lacrosse coach Gene McCabe. When Josh walked into the room, he was carrying Charlie’s stick with the bolted- together head, and the W&L logo still intact. It had been missing for 38 years, and it was a happy reunion – even a little emotional, although being laxers, no actual tears were shed.

stieff_stick

Oh, and a footnote. James Hamilton, whose dad pulled the stick out of the back, went on to play college lacrosse at Bates with Gene McCabe – now the coach at W&L! All mere coincidence or the mysterious hand of fate? You decide.



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22 COMMENTS

  1. I graduated from Bates College in 1979 and went on to law school at Washington & Lee. Though not a lacrosse player or even an athlete, I very much enjoyed reading this “long way home” story!

  2. Great story. Gives me hope that some of my long lost sticks may someday return to me. Anyone seen a navy (faded to purple) STX Sam with Moses Brown School dye job and a whole lot of white tape holding it together?

    • Jon, my great grandfather was a teacher at Moses Brown. I wasn’t sure it was still open. I’ve never heard of anyone going there. His diary is very interesting.

  3. I graduated in 1978 with Charlie. That game in 1975 was certainly one of the many lax highlights of my four years. Back then -before scholarships and ESPN- W&L played all the powerhouse teams – Hopkins, UVA, UNC- and send them all packing. Not bad for a school with 1000 students to choose from. BTW: it was also astounding that Mr. Wahbe graduated in four. Cheers.

  4. I worked at STX in it’s first years. Great times drilling and stringing the leather and gut. My hands smelled like a 3 week old dead cat at the end of the day. I eventually designed and built the mahogany patterns to make the molds for the Sam, Barney and 76er sticks as well as the “Fiddlestx and the first plastic girls sticks. Having also drawn the old STX logo, I wish I had a penny for each one printed! A fine group of folks (Sollers, Tucker, Lewis, Crawford) from the old Wm T. Burnett Company, started STX down on Bush Street and hired college players to string the sticks alongside some Canadian Indians (can’t say native Americans can I). They were much faster stringers!

  5. the heart of all sports is the conduct of the player. don’t judge the mom, neatness counts. a great story.

    • Charlie Steif was a true gentleman lacrosse player – incredible player, great athlete and zero bombast. I still have my STX “74” midfield stick. (Which was quickly discontinued as I recall.) But my hand-painted maroon & white Boys’ Latin stick is indeed long gone. (Neither of which were ever played in a game of any significance whatsoever.). Nice post.

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