Lacrosse’s Lasting Legacy

I arrived at Columbia in fall 2003 puzzled and intrigued by the school’s relationship to men’s lacrosse. Columbia was then — and remains now —the only Ivy without a varsity men’s lacrosse team. Yet I knew some school history with the sport existed. My father, Thomas Reuter ’78 SEAS’79, introduced me to lacrosse in the ninth grade, playing catch using a stick he had bought to play for Columbia in 1979. After trying my hand at rowing for a year, I joined the lacrosse team for the 2005 season. In the 14 years since, I have discovered a rich history of Columbia lacrosse that connects more than a century of players.

The 1908 men’s lacrosse team.

The 1908 men’s lacrosse team.

Courtesy Walid “Wally” Yassir SEAS’88

My first taste of Columbia’s lacrosse tradition came against one of our oldest rivals. In March 2005 we took to the Wien Stadium field to face NYU. I had never played a lacrosse game in front of more than 50 fans, but I found more than four times that number in the stands that day. I soon learned that this was the latest edition of an ancient rivalry dating back to 1881, in which NYU defeated Columbia 4–0 in Columbia’s first-ever organized lacrosse game. That game led to many more, and Columbia became one of the charter members of the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse League, a group that awarded championships in the sport for more than 60 years until the NCAA began sponsoring tournaments in 1971. Nearly 125 years later, my teammates and I set out to defeat our downtown rivals (after losing to them on a last-second goal the year before). We took an early lead, quieted the purple-clad fans and comfortably won the game.

Practicing on South Field in spring 1980

Practicing on South Field in spring 1980.

Courtesy Matt Kennedy ’80

The following fall, I discovered another theme of Columbia’s men’s lacrosse history: renewal. Our team started from scratch with new leadership after briefly falling out of our club lacrosse league due to administrative and financial problems. It was far from the first time that men’s lacrosse had rebooted at Columbia. After winning shares of two conference titles in 1905 and 1909 — the latter team included later-famous Harvey Mudd SEAS 1912 and James Mackintosh CC 1911 — the team disbanded after the 1910 season when its captain unexpectedly resigned. It would take 53 years for lacrosse to return to Morningside Heights, when Ray Rizzuti ’66 and a group of classmates revived the team for an eight-game schedule in 1963. Other than a two-year hiatus in the mid-1970s, the men’s lacrosse club has existed continually since. Rizzuti’s 1963 team played a tough game against a more-experienced Princeton squad before losing; my teammates and I on the 2006 squad did the same.

Columbia takes on Princeton in 2006.

Columbia takes on Princeton in 2006.

Courtesy Thomas Reuter ’78, SEAS’79

My last season of lacrosse is one I will remember forever. After three years of van rides to Baker Field, bus rides to away games and a few nights spent at motels, we finished an amazing regular season at 14–1, surpassing the 1990 team’s record of 11 wins. We made the National College Lacrosse League Final Four after a 10–5 win over Millersville University of Pennsylvania, the team that beat us previously. I vividly remember sprinting onto the field during the Final Four to celebrate a 10–9 win over defending champion Lynchburg College, which featured a winning goal with a minute to play and two point-blank saves by our goalie in the final 30 seconds to preserve the win. The next day, after an easier win over Cortland State, I held the only national championship trophy I may ever hold.

Seven Ivy schools have varsity men’s lacrosse teams, four of which will converge on Wien Stadium in May for the Ivy League Men’s Lacrosse Tournament. I am happy to have found, through reading old Spectator recaps and fundraising for an endowment to support future teams, connections with more than 200 alumni who believe in the proud tradition of men’s lacrosse at an Ivy school. Let’s honor that tradition and “restore the roar” to Columbia men’s lacrosse: Let’s make it eight.