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.
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.
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.