A wide range of ranks truly comprises Fort Drums lacrosse team this summer.
From Lt. Col. Robert Ryan, who serves as player/coach, to several other officers, sergeants, enlisted personnel as well as a few civilians make up the squad in its first season in the North Country Lacrosse League.
The 10th Mountain Division contingent is one of five teams competing this year in the NCLL, which has become a summer tradition on evenings on the fields at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds.
Ryan calls staff sergeants Chris McCuiston, who engineered and developed the idea of fielding a team from Fort Drum, and Joe Philbin, as the architects of the squad that represents the sprawling Army base in the north country.
We thought it would be great to have soldiers interacting in the community in a sense that promotes us in a positive light, McCuiston said. It just started as an idea that I had and just through a little hard work it took off from there. Weve got some good participation from soldiers and some civilians as well.
While most teams in the league are comprised of local players who played at the scholastic level such as with Watertown, Carthage, Immaculate Heart Central, Indian River and South Jefferson and then collegiately, most of the Fort Drum players are from around the country, with a bit of local flavor mixed in.
Playing here, were like in the mecca of lacrosse, Philbin said. These guys that we play, they might be five years older than most of our guys, but they play every year and theyre coming from programs like Carthage and Indian River. So for us to get a bunch of guys who cant practice as often to even come and want to compete thats a big deal for us.
These soldiers consider themselves as members of the local community and taking part in the NCLL is another way of reaching out to the community.
We really have a mixture of young guys out here, Ryan said. We have guys who are playing for the first time and we gave guys who were All-Americans at high school and at college so we have a diverse mix of talent. And the good thing is being a part of the lacrosse community here.
Overall, the Fort Drum program drew about 35 players this year, which included 17 that competed in Friday evenings game at the Fairgrounds.
We have a wide swath of ranks here, from privates to sergeants to warrant officers to officers, Ryan said. We have all kinds of personnel, weve got medics and military police we have the whole enchilada of military occupation specialists covered.
In preparing to gear up on the lacrosse field for the first time as a team, the Fort Drum squad was assisted by Lacrosse Unlimited and Jefferson Community College, as well as SUNY Maritime in the Bronx, as between $4,000 and $4,500 in equipment was donated, such as helmets, shoulder pads and elbow pads.
I really feel like weve been embraced by the lacrosse community in a lot of respects, due to the fact that people have donated so much and helped us get up and running, said McCuiston, one of several soldiers who competed for Fort Drums indoor lacrosse team at the YMCA this past winter. Its exciting to see people help us out so we can make this team a reality.
Ryan, an Army veteran, considers serving at Fort Drum like coming home. A native of Camillus, Ryan starred in lacrosse at scholastic power West Genesee before playing the sport at Cornell University.
In the highly structured life of a soldier, any opportunity to take part in activities like a lacrosse league is a valuable one.
This is the highlight of my week, Philbin said. Anytime we can get together like this is awesome, when we talk lacrosse, were like two kids.
I think this is a wonderful opportunity, said 1st Lt. Mike Bertha, a Kansas native who grew up in Virginia. I think we just need to work on being more consistent and that will come in time. ... With the schedule that we all have, its great to be able to make time for this.
The team also includes players with local ties, including Gil Pearsall III, now a lieutenant who played lacrosse at both Carthage and later at Penn State.
We have all kinds of military people here, said Philbin, its not all privates and its not all sergeants. We have a lieutenant colonel right here, we have captains, we have people with high command positions. We all have our jobs and duties, but we all still find time to come out here and adjust our schedules accordingly.
The Fort Drum team has been competitive in the NCLL, but despite a 13-2 loss to Duck Butter Green squad on Friday, the games outcome isnt of primary importance.
I tell these guys I dont care about the score, Ryan said. Its all about building some camaraderie out there, as well as learning from the experience and being better from it.
Were trying to make this an annual thing, Philbin concluded. So when he (McCuiston) leaves and I leave, the program will continue and soldiers can keep coming to play the game here.