The Spirit in the Stick: Chapter 11 – The Greatest Ever

Give a boy a stick he can hold
Give a boy a ball he can toss
And you’ve given him something that’s better than gold
The pleasure of playing lacrosse.

Attributed to Douglas C. Turnbull, Jr.

Lewis met the Jones family for lunch at the Mount Washington Tavern in Baltimore. He had previously arranged for a special guest to meet them there. At exactly 12:00, Lewis led Robbie to an older gentleman and introduced him.

“Stewart, this is Robbie Jones.”

“Hi, Robbie, I’m Stewart McLean. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Robbie’s eyes lit up, as did his parents’.

“John, Catherine, Mary, this is Stewart McLean, Naval Academy Class of ’48, the first recipient of the Turnbull Award.”

“It’s quite an honor to meet you, Mr. McLean,” offered John Jones.

“Stewart, please. And the pleasure is mine.”

“I suppose Jim has shared with you the nature of our relationship?” said Mary.

“He has, and it sounds like a truly remarkable one at that. I wasn’t aware that Doug and Jack had passed down a stick to Jim and then to your son.”

“I thought it would be fun to meet Stewart since he actually knew Jack and Doug and saw both of them play. Would you mind sharing a little bit of your relationship with the Turnbull brothers with Robbie and Catherine?” Lewis asked.

“Not at all. Well, it’s been quite a while since anyone has asked me about those two men. They were truly special, as were their parents and sisters.

“I grew up not far from here in the Mount Washington part of town. I played lacrosse at St. Paul’s School. After playing for Hopkins, both Doug and Jack played for the Mount Washington Club. For many years—decades, really—Mount Washington was the best team in the country. We idolized those guys. I was lucky because their field was only a five-minute walk from my house and a ten-minute walk from school. I got to see both of them play quite a bit. By then Doug was playing mostly defense. Jack played everywhere. He faced off and played attack. He was tenacious but fair in everything he did. They were fun to watch. They were always gentlemen on and off the field. We would talk to them after games, and they always took the time to throw around with us.

“Doug was the only four-time first-team All-America for fifty years. A player named Frank Urso from Maryland earned his fourth award in 1975. I remember reading that Doug presented the certificate to him. He was genuinely happy for the young man. Then another player from Hopkins, Del Dressel, accomplished it again in the mid-eighties. Doug worked for many years as an executive at the B&O Railroad here in Baltimore. He was always active in the game.”

Lewis picked up the story, “Mr. Turnbull was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1962—the year I graduated from high school. Many people consider Doug to be the greatest player ever. If you ask him, though, he would be the first to tell you that Jack far surpassed his abilities. The only reason Jack wasn’t also a four-time first-team All America was that he graduated in three years! So did Doug, by the way, but he kept playing while he worked on graduate studies. Had Jack used his fourth year, he certainly would have equaled Doug’s accomplishment.”

Lewis continued, “He often told me how he had used the stick religiously—throwing against his family’s barn, working his skills and then working them some more. He decided to share the stick with his younger brother Jack—actually as a precocious four-year-old Jack had already helped himself to the stick. Doug didn’t fight it because the stick created a special bond between the brothers.

“I was extremely fortunate to have had a forty-five-year correspondence—maybe two or three letters per year—with Mr. Turnbull that has made me who I am today. Well, two or three letters per year for forty-five years has turned into about 120 letters from him. Mr. Turnbull also sent me a book every year on my birthday. My parents were always grateful that he thought so well of me that he encouraged me to read. They were great books, too! The amazing thing is that he sent me a book every year until he died—not just when I was a kid or in school. So I have accumulated quite a library, more than forty books—actually, it’s more like ninety because he sent me the set called The Harvard Classics, which includes about fifty volumes, on my graduation from college. Each book was specially selected by him, and he always inscribed a thoughtful and personal comment and an inspirational quotation in each. It’s quite a collection of letters and books, which meant a lot to me at the time but obviously means even more to me the older I get.

“I learned a lot about the game of lacrosse. What its true spirit was and is. Mr. Turnbull was able to offer me advice about things in my life every step of the way. His role in my life has been incredible—and has very much made me who I am today. He was a truly great man.”

McLean took his cue to continue.

“Robbie, did you know that Jack was a member of the United States Olympic Team?”

“No, sir,” Robbie responded. Then he suddenly connected the figure of the Olympic rings.

“Did he do the carving of the rings on the stick?” he asked of Lewis.

“Yes, Robbie, he did. But I should add that he participated in two Olympic Games—one in lacrosse in 1932 when he captained the team that won the gold medal. He was also a member of the 1936 U.S. men’s field hockey team which competed in Berlin, ironically in front of Hitler.”

Everyone’s eyes lit up.

“Robbie, I think if you look carefully at the carving on the stick, you’ll see that there are actually two sets of rings, one superimposed upon the other,” Lewis offered. “Jack carved one set after each Olympiad.”

Robbie mentally confirmed the fact, “Yes, I thought it looked like two sets!”

McLean continued, “Robbie, if you have half as much fun as Jim and I had playing lacrosse, you’ll be one lucky young man. I think Jim would agree that lacrosse has added something special to our lives. It has provided us with life-long bonds with our teammates and coaches and, in many cases, with some of our opponents as well. It is truly a special game.” Lewis nodded.

After lunch, Lewis drove Robbie and his family to 2111 Sulgrave Avenue in the Mount Washington part of town and identified it as the Turnbull home. Robbie gazed in awe as Lewis stopped to extend their look. They continued on.

McLean met the family at the Lacrosse Museum and National Hall-of-Fame adjacent to The Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood Field. Lewis walked the family to the field and gave them some sense of the history of Johns Hopkins lacrosse and his experience playing on the field.

“This is one of the most historic fields in the game of lacrosse. Many people liken it to Yankee Stadium. Johns Hopkins has won some forty-two national championships in lacrosse. Playing at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium was always a thrill, but it was also an extraordinary privilege to play here. I’ll never forget the game I played here in 1965 when we beat Hopkins in front of their Homecoming crowd of over 7,000. It was particularly special for me due to my relationship with Mr. Turnbull.”

They walked back to the Museum. Lewis paused before the magnificent, life-size bronze sculpture gracing the front entrance. Stretching their sticks for a ball two Indians are frozen for all time.

Robbie stared at the statue, poring over the detail. He noticed the players wearing only breechclouts, moccasins, and war paint on their arms, legs, torsos, and faces. One of the players, the one with the ball in his stick, was jumping. Robbie wondered if the fact that one native had a left-handed stick while the other had a right-handed one was a coincidence. Probably not. He thought of Red Hawk playing the game in this fashion.

The boy read the inscription on the dedication plaque:

DEHONTSHIHGWA’ES

(Creator’s Game)

The game of lacrosse was given by the Creator to the Ho-de-no-saunee (Iroquois) and other Native American people many ages ago. It is from the Iroquois that the modern game of lacrosse most directly descends. May this sculpture forever honor the Iroquois and the origins of Lacrosse.

Donated by Emil A. “Buzzy” Budnitz, Jr.

Lacrosse Hall-of-Fame Class of 1976

June 4, 1992

Robbie’s eyes lit up the instant he walked through the doors of the Museum. Lewis allowed the family to soak in the sights and sounds at their own pace. Robbie and his sister were particularly fascinated by the display case holding a variety of ancient sticks, all in different shapes and sizes, representing different tribes. They also saw the magnificent three-foot-high Turnbull Trophy, housed in its own case. Robbie craned his head to locate the names of Lewis and McLean. His heart jumped when he was able to get the right angle to read Lewis’s.

When the parents saw Robbie fixated on the trophy, they came up behind and realized the significance of his gaze. Lewis offered, “Stewart is too modest to point this out, but that’s his name inscribed on the top.”

McLean proudly led the group to the Hall-of-Fame room, pausing at the entrance to point out the plaque dedicated to his Navy coach, William H. Moore:

The Lacrosse Hall-of-Fame room pays tribute to

“Dinty” Moore

     who served as the first president of the Lacrosse Hall-of-Fame Foundation 1960-67…

     for his ongoing contribution to the preservation and promotion of the sport.

This room serves as a legacy to his leadership and vision.

McLean then pointed out the plaques of Moore and his high school coach, Howdy Myers, among the greats enshrined. “I was extremely fortunate to have such great coaches, Robbie. Oh, and let’s not forget Captain Lewis,” McLean concluded as he gestured toward the 1981 inductees.

John and Mary Jones were as enthralled with the museum as their children. Lewis and McLean patiently answered their questions that arose during the next two hours.

The Spirit in the Stick: Chapter 10 – Het Achterhuis

I want to go on living even after my death.

Anne Frank

Red Hawk came to visit Robbie again on the next full moon.

“Where would you like to go this time, Robbie?” Red Hawk asked.

            “Captain Lewis said that the meaning of the book, Het Achterhuis (The Diary of Anne Frank), would become clear to me. Can you help with that part of the story?”

            “Sure. Let’s go look.”

            Red Hawk took Robbie to Lewis’s home on Long Island on his sixteenth birthday, February 23, 1960. Doug Turnbull made it a point to visit Lewis on this day and had scheduled a business trip to the area. After dining with the family Turnbull was preparing to leave. The unseen guests looked on. As Doug reached the door, he turned to Lewis and handed him a book.

            “Happy Birthday, Jim. I don’t know how familiar you are with this book, but my mother gave it to me shortly after it was published in the United States in 1952. The title of the book literally means ‘the house behind’ referring to the ‘secret annex’ that Anne, her family, and another family occupied for more than two years. She asked me to read it and then the letter at the end. I’ll ask you to do the same. Perhaps after you do so you’ll understand why it’s so important to me. It might be of some use to you.” With that Turnbull headed for his hotel.

            A short while later, as Mr. Turnbull requested, Lewis began to read Anne Frank, dutifully planning to save the letter until he finished. Lewis, however, was not as patient to look for the diary entry on the day of his birth, Wednesday, February 23, 1944. He felt a rush of excitement as he found an entry for that special day. As he read it, he thought of the fact that the Holocaust had actually occurred during his lifetime. He read eagerly:

The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauties of Nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances should be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles….

     Riches can all be lost, but that happiness in your own heart can only be veiled, and it will still bring you happiness again, as long as you live. As long as you can look fearlessly up into the heavens, as long as you know that you are pure within, and that you will still find happiness.

            At this point in his life Lewis hadn’t given a great deal of thought to the majesty, mystery, and, yes, magic of nature, but he was certainly struck by the power and eloquence of this girl, who was nearly his age when she put her thoughts to paper. Spurred by this passage, Lewis began to contemplate the larger issues of Natural Law.

            Red Hawk advanced the scene forward a week, after Lewis had completed reading the Diary. He and Robbie looked on as Lewis slipped the letter from its envelope and read:

August 18, 1952

Douglas,

     It’s difficult to believe that it’s been almost eight years since we lost Jack. At times it seems like yesterday and at others it seems like forever ago. I should start by saying that a mother can never completely reconcile the unspeakable pain of losing a son. I am no exception. Having to do so without your father has made it doubly difficult. I shall never be able to patch the gaping hole in my heart. I have always wanted to believe that Jack’s loss, though, was justified in some way—specifically by helping to end the senseless, heinous, and widespread persecution of so many innocent people. This amazing book has put my heart at some ease, knowing that Jack and his crews, though unable to spare this brilliant young woman, may have prevented a similar loss of even one innocent young girl like her. I have finally achieved some solace.

     I know how much you already adore your children. But I hope that after reading this book you will be moved even more to cherish every single second you have with them—particularly your exquisite girls. I have copies of this book for each of your children. At their young ages they will likely not fully grasp the power of this work—but perhaps they will begin to learn something about the injustices of the world, and, despite reading of the worst aspects of human nature, they may still believe in hope, as young Anne did. I am sure that as they grow older, they will appreciate it as much as I do. It is nearly impossible to believe that such insight, wisdom, compassion, hope, and beauty resided in the heart and mind of a fifteen-year-old girl! We were fortunate to have had Jack for as long as we did. The poor father of this girl must be suffering infinitely more than we are.

     I simply cannot imagine the horrors that were being perpetrated at the hands of the Nazis. My heart breaks for every single person who was “exterminated” simply because of race or religion! War hardly ever seems like the best solution to conflicts between people or nations. But in this case, I can’t see that there was any other way to stop these unspeakable atrocities.

     I know what the loss of Jack has meant to you. I know that you’ve carried your loss silently deep in your heart, unseen by most people. A mother can sense the pain of her children, and I know that you’ve suffered much more than you’ve shown. I know that your feeling of loss is as deep today as it was so many years ago in 1944. But I beg you to continue to carry only the memory of Jack’s goodness and heroism. Don’t carry the pain of his loss. Please continue to channel any of the hurt into something good as you have done so admirably over these last eight years.

     I think of Jack and your father every day—as I know you do. But we continue to bear the obligation of living our lives for today and tomorrow, to love and help our children, and to retain hope in our futures.

     I often think of the only request your father made of his children: that you give more to this country than you take. You’ve all done that so, so well, each in very different, but equally important, ways.

     I couldn’t be more proud of you and all that you’ve done. You are a truly special son, brother, father, and citizen. Your father would have been extremely proud of you.

All my love,

Mum

            Red Hawk then took Robbie to the Turnbull home the day after Mum’s funeral, July 16, 1957. After all of the guests had returned home, Doug finally had some time to himself. He sat in his den and began meticulously inscribing the shaft of the stick with a tribute to his mother and brother—a carving of the cover of Het Achterhuis.

            “It took Doug about eight hours to do that carving,” Red Hawk shared. “I hope that gives you some sense of the role of that book in the history of the stick, Robbie.”

Once again, Robbie shared the dream with his parents and recorded the visit in great detail in his journal.

The Spirit in the Stick: Chapter 9 – Respect the Game

That the young men who use this stadium
May better learn the rules of sportsmanship,
The value of teamwork, and the worth of competition.
Given in memory of our classmates who have died
In our nation’s service.

Class of 1951 Gate
Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium

Lewis visited Robbie again on the third Sunday of the month, and they walked together to the wall.

“What would you like to talk about today, Robbie?”

“I’ve been wondering about what you mean by ‘Respect the Game.’ Can you tell me about that?”

Lewis began his answer as they walked, “Well, that’s a rather difficult question. I must say that my philosophy of the game reflects the many great players and coaches with whom I had an opportunity to work during my career. Most notable among those people were Terry McDonald, my high school coach, who had a tremendous impact on me and countless other high school players, and Willis P. ‘Bildy’ Bilderback, my coach at the Naval Academy, who also taught me a great deal about the game and myself. I was also extremely fortunate to have played with tremendous athletes who were dedicated to improving themselves and their teams. They were always an inspiration to me. And, of course, all of my discussions with Mr. Turnbull and Red Hawk. What I have to say about ‘Respect the Game’ is really the sum of the interaction with all of those wonderful men. I should also say at this point that most of what I will say probably applies to all of your athletic endeavors, most of your schooling, and regular work. So let me give it a try.

“‘Respect the Game’ is a concept that takes some time to understand. I think that its full appreciation is gained over a period of time and usually corresponds to the amount of effort and work you’ve invested in the game. I think at its core, ‘Respect the Game’ means to play the game as it was meant to be played in antiquity, but within the current rules.”

Robbie listened intently as they continued to walk.

“Above all else, the essence of lacrosse was and is its test of endurance and physical strength. So in order to play the game well today, a player must be strong, physical, and in top shape. Only after achieving a sound physical base can a player’s physical courage and skill become useful. Lacrosse of today requires fidelity to the age-old and inherent physical rigors of the game. To play lacrosse at its highest level a player must be strong of mind, body, and spirit and must not yield to fatigue.”

Lewis lobbed a ball off the wall to Robbie as they arrived, and they both began to work the skills Lewis had demonstrated on his last visit.

“Also, to respect the game, a player needs to develop the skills required by the game, to be able to handle his stick as though it were an extension of his arm. Players today need to be adept at throwing, catching, scooping, dodging, and shooting with either hand. This requires a great deal of concentrated and systematic effort. In order for a team to play at its highest level, each player must contribute his best efforts. This means to exercise the proper skill at the right time, which quite often means using the ‘proper’ hand. Like this, Robbie.

“Say you’re running along the left sideline against pressure and need to make a pass to a teammate thirty yards away and upfield. You must throw the ball left handed. If you don’t, your mechanics will suffer and you’ll either throw a poor pass or be checked. So being able to use both hands is important. Back in the old days, most players were restricted to one hand. Mr. Turnbull pointed this out to me when I first met him. He encouraged me to learn to play with both hands, so I worked hard at it. He talked of balance, of equal skill left or right, as balanced as the stick he gave me. I once spoke to Tom Mitchell, a Turnbull Award recipient from the Naval Academy Class of 1961, who told me that he played every fall season at USNA with his left hand exclusively in order to become more comfortable and adept with that hand. Mike Buzzell, another recipient from Navy, told me the same thing. I think there is a lot to be learned from Tom’s and Buzz’s approach. Young players today can exercise that tactic in fall ball, summer league, and camp.

“I think that sportsmanship and team spirit also come into respecting the game. This is perhaps more reflective of the game and the role of athletics in society today. One of the roles of lacrosse in Native American life was to prepare young men to become warriors for combat. As a result, games were often extremely rough and physical. Preparing for war was, and still is, serious business. The elders in the tribes who had engaged in battle with other tribes or with European settlers knew the horrors of such engagements. War is not for the faint of heart or body. A tribe’s entire safety and way of life were frequently determined by the outcome of a particular battle.

“The ancient Greeks knew this as well. You can see from the modern Olympic events that physical strength, speed, endurance, and close hand-to-hand combat skills were highly prized. Again, all of these physical attributes aided the clan’s safety. Warfare has evolved, some might say devolved, quite a bit over the centuries. Today, direct physical ‘mano-a-mano’ engagements don’t play as crucial a role in warfare—though physical rigor is still a critical and necessary element of training and on the battlefield. And there’s no doubt in my mind that long-term physical, mental, and emotional endurance are critical to success in war. When I was a fighter pilot we all knew that there were no points for second place.”

They continued to throw against the wall.

“So sports have evolved from being ancillary training for war to an end in themselves. Our society today continues to place a high value on physical prowess and, I believe, correctly so. It has been the key to the survival of the race. But it seems to me now that knowledge is the real key to power in our world, not necessarily individual physical strength. We now live in a society that generally rewards education more than brawn. Nonetheless, it is not difficult to accept the inherent value of physical strength, speed, and endurance as these can contribute to and be representative of good health.

“Yet despite all of the cruel and barbaric aspects of armed conflict, there has also been a significant human element implicit in war. That remarkable aspect has been reflected in the victor’s treatment of the defeated and prisoners captured in battle. In only the most barbaric instances would entire groups of innocent non-combatants—the elderly, women, and children—be slaughtered after the outcome of a battle had been decided. After hostilities have ended prisoners are likewise treated humanely and repatriated to their homelands. Though there are surely countless historical examples of violations of these general precepts—the treatment of American prisoners-of-war in Vietnam comes immediately to mind—fair treatment of the defeated or captured has long been a part of the human endeavor. And so it is today.

“So as athletics have developed over the centuries from a more direct role in the preparation for combat to what they are today—a means to physical fitness, physical prowess, physical courage, teamwork, and many other laudable traits—sportsmanship has taken on more importance. I think it is important to prepare and play the games as if ‘for battle,’ but to win and lose graciously because it is, after all, a game and not war. It is also important not to attempt to deliberately injure an opposing player. The game should be played within the established rules as hard as it can be played, but at all times fairly. I’ve seen war, and I’ve seen peace. Sports are not war—nor should they be. They should be a physical and emotional test, yes, but they are not war.”

Facing Lewis Robbie listened intently as he worked his skills.

“Robbie, don’t underestimate the significance of the Johns Hopkins University Turnbull-Reynolds Award for Outstanding Sportsmanship and Leadership which is sponsored by the Class of 1932. The men of that class were members of the undefeated Hopkins team that represented the United States in the Los Angeles Olympics and won the Gold Medal. They obviously feel pretty strongly about sportsmanship as it was clearly one of the shining traits of each of those heroic men. You know about Jack Turnbull. Pete Reynolds was an All-America cover point—defenseman—who died on the Bataan Death March, also in World War II.

“Team spirit is another aspect worth mentioning at this point. One of the things that I’ve found over the years, particularly as a naval officer, is that leadership is extremely difficult—much more difficult than I’d ever have imagined when I was your age. It’s far too easy for people to be negative. My high school coach did us a great service by stressing the phrase, ‘Don’t expect anything to be easy. You’re not going to accomplish anything just because!’ He taught us to stay positive and to support each other, regardless of the situation. He always stressed the importance of the team and the value of hard work. He was a big believer in the thought that when talent is roughly equal, the player or team that works harder will always come out on top. We had a lot of average players, but we practiced harder than most teams.

“Vice Admiral Edward C. Waller has established an award for the Navy Lacrosse program which is presented each year to the midshipman who ‘has contributed most to the spirit, morale, and well-being of the lacrosse team.’ I believe that Admiral Waller, who was a multi-sport letterman during his midshipman days as well as the Superintendent later on, has shown great wisdom in establishing this award, very much like the Class of ’32 from Hopkins. As an athlete and naval officer, he knew firsthand how critical individual and group spirit and morale are to the mission of a unit.

“It is quite remarkable to me that in one of the letters Mr. Turnbull showed me from his brother, Jack mentioned that beyond his regular duties he was always concerned about the ‘welfare and spirit of the team.’ I was struck by how he used the term ‘team’ to describe his military unit. There is something to be learned from this individual and collective insight of two great military leaders.”

Robbie was absorbing every word as he pounded the wall with his ball.

“Let’s see, what else? I guess discipline is another aspect of the game that falls into this category. When we talk about discipline, we usually think of parents punishing their children. But in terms of team athletics, discipline means to play the way you practice and practice the way you play. I think that this is one of the most critical aspects of playing a team sport. Each player is obligated to conform to the guidelines set by the coach. There can really only be one vision for the team, and each player must accept that vision. It’s not unlike doing battle in the military. In order for the team to ‘win,’ each person must do what he or she is trained and expected to do. Anything less can spell disaster. In Naval Aviation we had the phrase, ‘train like you fight; fight like you train.’

“Discipline involves things like making good decisions under pressure, sticking to fundamentals when you get tired, not allowing yourself to let down when things get tough. I think that all of the other things I have mentioned before play into the concept of discipline. It is easy to say and difficult to execute. You often hear; ‘Move your feet’ or ‘Get down’ on ground balls and things of that nature. Well, they’re all true and even more so when you get tired or things aren’t going well for you or your team.

“I’ve also found that talking doesn’t make your team better. Doing does. The only groundball that matters is the next one. The only face-off that matters is the next one. We could say that about every aspect of the game.

“The key to being able to exercise discipline in games is to execute fundamentals repeatedly, correctly, and at full throttle in practice. So everything you do is either a good habit or a bad habit. How well and how hard you do things in practice will dictate how well you do them in games. So when your coaches bark about fundamentals and ‘little things,’ don’t underestimate their significance. They almost always determine the outcome of a contest, and I have also seen the same in my experience as a naval officer.

“I think Mr. Turnbull would have said the same things about the game fifty years ago.

“So ‘Respect the Game’ takes many forms. Appreciating the history of the game, conditioning yourself physically and mentally, developing the skills of the game, sportsmanship, teamwork and team spirit, and discipline. That pretty much covers it. What do you think?”

“I think I understand it a little better now.”

The Spirit in the Stick: Chapter 8 – A True Hero

These laid the world away; poured out the red
Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
That men call age; and those who would have been,
Their sons, they gave, their immortality.

Rupert Brooke
The War Sonnets

Red Hawk appeared to Robbie on the next full moon.

“Would you like to go anywhere in particular, Robbie?”

            “Since I heard Mr. Turnbull say that Jack had died in World War II, I started to wonder what happened.”

            “Well, let’s go take a look.”

            Red Hawk took Robbie to Station 143, North Pickenham, England on October 18, 1944 to the 44th Bomb Group Ready Room.

            “Attention on deck!” called First Lieutenant Michael Taylor, as Lieutenant Colonel Jack Turnbull entered the ready room.

            Turnbull began his briefing quickly, “Seats, gentlemen. This morning our mission is to Leverkusen, Germany, approximately ten miles northeast of Cologne, to attack a chemical works located there. We will have a total of thirty-one B-24’s in our group. We will conduct this mission exactly as we have for the last twelve sorties. Our fighter support will lead us in at exactly 1450. That will provide us five minutes over the target, just enough time to drop our payloads before we expect to encounter resistance. However, be prepared for opposition during the entire sortie. I say again, be prepared for opposition. I’ll fly with Lieutenant Taylor in the lead aircraft of the 67th Squadron. Major McLaughlin, a weather update…”

            “Yes, sir. The weather is expected to be clear over the target area. Clouds will be building from the west during our mission, and we may encounter them on the return flight.”

            “Very well,” Turnbull took charge again, “Any questions?

            “Very well. Chaplain.”

            Robbie looked on as the chaplain led the group in prayer.

            “Lord, give our men the strength, courage, confidence, and skill to execute this mission and return safely. In your name, we pray…Amen.”

            “Amen,” was offered clearly but quietly by all the airmen.

            Lieutenant Taylor caught up to Turnbull on the way out of the ready room. “Colonel, will you be flying in the co-pilot’s seat? I’ll make the arrangements.”

            “No, lieutenant, I generally don’t take that seat. I feel it’s more important for you, as the commander of the aircraft, to remain in the Command Pilot seat. I won’t disrupt the integrity of your crew and their training. Is that satisfactory?”

            “Yes, sir, just wanted to check first. Some Command Pilots insist on taking that seat.”

            “I understand. I don’t. I’ll sit behind your co-pilot.”

            “Yes, sir, Colonel. My crew will be ready in five minutes.”

            Red Hawk then took Robbie into the aircraft during its flight. Robbie immediately noticed the noisy, cold, and cramped quarters. He watched in awe as the men conducted their flight.

            Just a few miles from their target, Technical Sergeant Jerome Anderson startled Robbie, calling across the plane’s intercom, “Fire! We have a fire in the bomb bay!”

            Robbie felt his heart go directly into his throat and looked at Red Hawk.

            “Do you want to leave, Robbie?”

            “I’m O.K.”

            The bombardier, 1st Lieutenant Randall Rollins, requested and received permission to jettison his payload, taking the fire with it.

            “Doors open! Bombs away! Fire is out! Door closed and locked!” Rollins reported to Taylor.

            “Roger. Any idea how it started?”

            “Not yet,” Rollins reported as he strained his eyes through the heavy cloud cover to see where the bombs may have landed and with what effect. “We’ll take a look.”

            Jack Turnbull sat stoically behind the co-pilot as the crew handled the emergency. By the book, Jack thought to himself. Good job. Continue on. Stay focused, lieutenant. Stay focused.

            Taylor continued to lead the formation to the target area. All planes dropped their bomb load as scheduled, and the formation met no resistance. Well, a successful mission so far, Jack thought, despite the fire onboard his adopted plane. Don’t know about losses—no bombing results—tough clouds. Wish I could get some idea. Well, it’s not the first time we couldn’t tell how we did. Continue on. Stay focused.

            Just a few minutes later, Jack saw the storm clouds building quickly before his formation. Just after he noticed it, Taylor reported it to him.

            “Colonel, looks like some bad weather ahead. At least 3-4,000 feet above us and it doesn’t look like we can get around it, either.”

            Jack glanced quickly at the plane’s altimeter, which read 24,000 feet. He knew instantly that there would be no going over the storm. “Clouds will be building—my butt!” he thought. The plane simply could not get that high that fast.

            “Correct, lieutenant. Looks like we’ll just have to split the formation and go through. We’ve done this many times before. Nice and easy,” Jack offered calmly as a confidence-builder for the young New Yorker as they entered the clouds and visibility went to near-zero. Master yourself, Jack thought to himself as he prepared to help guide the young pilot through the challenge.

            Robbie was frozen in fear as he watched the clouds swallow the aircraft and felt the turbulence shake every bit of the plane. Taylor and his crew calmly handled the turbulence and continued flying by their instruments, knowing that the integrity of the formation depended on his smoothness and abilities. Suddenly the plane banked sharply to the left, perhaps struck by another bomber. The pilot struggled to regain stability of the craft. At this point, Jack instructed, “Be strong, lieutenant. Center the needle. Center the needle!”

            Red Hawk took Robbie from the plane at that point seconds before the plane plummeted to the ground and ended the lives of too many heroes.

            “Are you doing O.K., Robbie?” Red Hawk asked as he saw how shaken the boy was.

            “What happened to the plane!?”

            “This is going to be hard to watch….”

            “I can handle it. I need to know.”

            “Are you sure?”

            “I’m sure.”

            “O.K., let’s go to Baltimore.”

            Robbie and Red Hawk next appeared at the home of Jack’s mother, Elizabeth “Mum” Turnbull, 2111 Sulgrave Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland on Election Day, November 7, 1944.

            Mum Turnbull had risen from her breakfast table at 9 a.m. and changed into a dress in order to perform her citizen’s duty to vote in the general election. She proudly clipped on her set of pilot’s wings, a gift from Jack upon his earning his qualification. While it was a task she performed every day—on every sweater, blouse, dress, jacket (and she would eventually be buried with)—today she did so with a great deal of melancholy. She had been notified that Jack had been reported missing two weeks earlier and hadn’t received any more recent news. No news, in this case, she thought, was bad news. With each passing day she had a greater feeling of foreboding.

             She walked to the front closet to get her coat when the doorbell startled her. She looked at her sister May, her housemate since her husband’s passing. She briefly hoped the visitor might be a neighbor coming to walk her to the polling station. That hope lasted but a second, when a chill ran through her body. She knew before she opened the door. She looked at May and said, “This is it.”

            She took a deep breath and opened the door slowly. Her breath left her lungs, and she briefly felt faint. Before her stood an army officer and a chaplain, certain to bear the news she feared most.

            “Mrs. Turnbull?” the officer asked delicately. Mum offered an acknowledgment with a barely perceptible nod.

             “Mrs. Turnbull, I am Colonel Finney. This is Reverend Sheedy. May we come in?”

            Still not speaking, Mum opened the door further, allowing the men to enter. She walked to her kitchen table and gestured for the men to sit. They waited for her and May to do so first.

            Finney began, “Mrs. Turnbull, it is with great regret that I must inform you that your son, Lieutenant Colonel John I. ‘Jack’ Turnbull has been killed in action over a small town called Petegem-aan-de-Leie/Deinze, Belgium, about nine miles southwest of Ghent and near the German border.”

            Mum did not move or respond. Her face betrayed the slightest hint that she wanted to know how and why, so the chaplain continued softly, “Mrs. Turnbull, your son was assigned as Command Pilot for a mission over Leverkusen, Germany. His group made a successful run over the site, but encountered a severe thunderstorm on their return to base. It appears that the aircraft that Jack was in was struck by another in its group, causing both to crash.”

            Mum’s eyes asked for just a little more information.

            Sheedy continued, “Nuns from nearby Convent Gesticht van Den H. Joseph responded to the accident, treating two conscious survivors, Staff Sergeants George Sims and Lawrence Lindsay, who had miraculously been able to parachute out of Jack’s plane. All the others on board the planes, twelve in all, were killed in the crash except for Jack. The nuns found him breathing but unconscious. They were able to transport Jack to their convent and treat him while they awaited proper medical assistance. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Colonel Turnbull died within 48 hours, having regaining only brief periods of consciousness. Our nation mourns his death as he was a fine officer and a loving son. ”

            Mum continued to sit silently, this time her eyes dropping and blinking back her tears.

            The colonel, attending now to the unpleasant business concerning the disposition of the body, continued, “Mrs. Turnbull, your son’s body has been interred at Henri Chappelle Cemetery, Belgium. He and his comrades were briefly buried in the World War I American Cemetery at Flanders Field, until we could arrange for a proper military burial at Chappelle Cemetery. Jack was buried with full military honors.”

            The colonel slid a folder to the middle of the table with all of the pertinent information on the specifics of Jack’s burial. He continued, “Mrs. Turnbull, the United States of America can never know your grief and can never compensate you for this loss. Perhaps it would be of some comfort for you to know that I trained with Jack here in the Maryland Air Corps, and I have never known a finer pilot or a finer person. I share your tremendous loss.”

            Mum continued to sit in silence for several more minutes, still blinking back tears. “Thank you,” she finally whispered.

            “Is there anything that we may do for you, Mrs. Turnbull?” offered the chaplain.

            “No. No, thank you,” Mum whispered again as she stood and escorted the men to her door. As she opened the door, she turned to her sister.

            “Are you ready, May?” Mum asked in regard to their original plan to cast their votes, “Let’s go.”

            Robbie was terribly shaken by those two scenes but persisted in his questions to Red Hawk.

            “Mr. Lewis said that the Turnbull Award was named in honor of Jack Turnbull. Can you tell me about that?”

            “Well, I can show you some of that if you would like to see it. It’s not nearly as hard to watch as what you just saw.”

            “Sure,” Robbie said, trying to be enthusiastic, but he had clearly lost some of his optimism in the last few minutes.

            Red Hawk took Robbie to Homewood Field, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland on June 7, 1946.

Midshipman Second Class Stewart McLean stood along the sideline of the fabled field, next to his attack mate from the U.S. Naval Academy, freshman phenom J.H.L. “Lee” Chambers. Four other midshipman stood next to Chambers and their coach, William H. “Dinty” Moore, who stood like a proud father next to them all. It was half-time of the 1946 North-South College All-Star game, the annual showcase of the best collegiate lacrosse talent in the country. On this special night Moore had been selected to be the south team’s coach. Both teams were lined up on their respective sidelines for a solemn ceremony. A crowd of some 3,500 spectators stood silent as Mum Turnbull was escorted to the center of the field by her eldest son, Doug. The crowd and the All-Stars were well aware of the significance of Mrs. Turnbull’s presence. They knew that this was to be a tribute to Jack.

            The public address announcer began, “Ladies and gentlemen, today we are honored to have Mrs. Elizabeth ‘Mum’ Turnbull, escorted by her son, Doug, Hopkins’s great four-time first-team All-America, here to present a special award in honor of her son Jack, who perished in service to his country almost two years ago. The Mount Washington Lacrosse Club, Jack’s former club team and, as you well know, the preeminent team in the country, has endeavored to award a trophy in Jack’s honor and memory to the outstanding attackman in the country who ‘best emulated the example of Jack Turnbull in good sportsmanship, fair play, field leadership, ability to both feed and score, and who is able to aide the defense.’”

            The midshipmen stood at attention as Mrs. Turnbull arrived at midfield. McLean thought of his plebe teammate, Lee Chambers, and what a phenomenal player he had been all season, the uncharacteristic poise, and the thirty-five goals, for a freshman. McLean glanced over toward the North sideline and saw Alfred “Shorty” Haussmann, the senior first-team All-America In-home from Army. Surely one of those two players will be honored. McLean then thought of Jack Turnbull, whom his father had known through the Maryland Army Air Corps. He remembered seeing Jack play when he was a boy. What a great tragedy, what a terrible loss.

            The public address announcer continued, “Mrs. Turnbull would like to present the handsome cup which Doug is holding to the inaugural recipient of the Lieutenant Colonel John Iglehart Turnbull Memorial Award…”

            McLean stood poised to applaud Chambers or Haussmann.

            “Midshipman Second Class Stewart McLean, United States Naval Academy.”

            Dazed by the announcement, McLean looked to his left at Chambers who offered him a smile and a nod to proceed to the center of the field. McLean slowly left his post on the sideline and began to make his way to midfield to greet Mrs. Turnbull. He stood at attention in front of her, his chin and lips quivering, vainly attempting to hold back his tears. Mrs. Turnbull greeted him with her characteristic warm smile, extending her hand. McLean noticed the pilot’s wings clipped onto the lapel of Mrs. Turnbull’s dress and immediately understood their meaning. He grasped her hand in return.      

            “Congratulations, Stewart, you have been a credit to this great game. Thank you for being the first player to honor Jack. We could not have wished for a more appropriate choice,” she said with impeccable grace and dignity.

 While valiantly attempting to maintain his military bearing McLean surrendered to his tears. Doug Turnbull shook his hand and presented him the beautiful cup, with his named engraved upon it. McLean was oblivious to the cheers of the crowd, who were clearly in agreement with the choice. A military man seemed only appropriate.

            Still stunned and overwhelmed, McLean was only able to reply, “This will forever be the greatest moment of my life, ma’am. I will cherish this as long as I live.”

            McLean returned to the sideline to the hugs and handshakes of his teammates and coaches. Most notably, Lee Chambers, who would be honored with the same Award three years later, hugged him warmly. McLean had eased Chambers’s plebe year at the Naval Academy and had graciously deferred, and even catered, to Chambers’s immense talent, when less-secure upper-classmen would have attempted to keep the brash, young colt in his place. Dinty Moore then embraced McLean, who said, “Coach, I cannot believe that I deserve this award. They must have made a mistake.”

            Moore looked straight into McLean’s now-swollen eyes, and said, “Don’t ever think that you don’t deserve this Award. Jack Turnbull was a great player and great man, and so are you. You have just placed your own stamp on the history of this game and set the standard for all future recipients. Thanks for allowing me to be a part of it.”

            McLean’s parents were overcome with joy and humility in the stands. His mother saw his father shed a tear for the first time since she’d met him thirty-seven years before. His father made his way to the chain-link fence behind the players’ bench to relieve his son of the Trophy and give him an abbreviated hug. McLean sat down on the bench slumped over to cover his face with his hands. His teammates, particularly his fellow midshipmen, strolled by one or two at a time to pat his shoulder. For several minutes McLean did not move. Then he suddenly shook off his emotions, put on his helmet, and returned to the sideline.

            Robbie continued to watch in amazement as the South team erased a 9-2 deficit at the half and executed a superhuman rally to tie the game at eleven, as Chambers scored with less than a minute left to play. After three extra periods, the teams were knotted at fourteen. Chambers finished the game with a record seven goals.

            Robbie stared at Red Hawk in disbelief at all he had seen during the visit.

            “That’s a little bit about Jack Turnbull, but there’s a lot more. He was a truly special person,” Red Hawk paused when he saw how worn Robbie had become, “but we’ll save that for another time.”

Robbie woke from this visit completely exhausted. This trip had been much more emotional than the others had been. His parents saw the fatigue in his eyes when he conveyed the essence of the dream.

The Spirit in the Stick: Chapter 7 – The Wall

Good stickwork is acquired only by hard, earnest, and sometimes monotonous practice.

W. Kelso Morrill
Lacrosse

As he’d planned, Lewis visited the family about three weeks after the last meeting. He asked Robbie where the nearest wall might be for them to practice their skills. Robbie informed him that there was a suitable wall about four blocks away at an elementary school. They made the short walk and began throwing on the wall.

“Would you mind if I give you a couple of pointers, Robbie?”

“That would be great.”

“I’ve spent thousands of hours on the wall, Robbie. Mr. Turnbull showed me some drills I could practice. He and his brother Jack used to do these on the side of a barn. Maybe I can show you some of the things he taught me. I think they’re still useful today.

“Mr. Turnbull used to tell me that having a system was the key to success. And so he showed me these drills in sets. Sets of tens, twenties, and hundreds, until I started doing them by time. I knew that it would take five or ten minutes to do a certain number. So I’d recommend that you develop a plan and be systematic and disciplined about your approach to this part of your game. Block off a certain time of day or days during the week to do this.

“Mr. Turnbull also used to tell me that in the course of a year with just one hour a week we would get as much work as we would in about eight seasons of regular practices. Looking back at his assessment, I completely agree. You simply can’t get to a high level in this game or any other for that matter, without putting in the time. Mr. Turnbull sometimes called this ‘the work in a vacuum’ with no other players, coaches, or parents—just you, a ball, and the wall. You work and hone your skills here and then get to perfect them in practice and against excellent competition in games. But this is also where you can spend the time to think of new ways—better ways—to play and succeed in the game. It may be a subtle change or an increase in how quickly and accurately you perform the fundamentals. But, in the aggregate, your total grasp of the skills, your performance and your confidence will improve. He also used to talk to me about the obligation a player has to his team to work at improvement. He’d say that a team could not reach its full potential unless all players did. I still think he’s right.”

Lewis went through the array of skills, stopping at each part to observe Robbie’s mechanics and to offer small but meaningful corrections.

They started by throwing straight over the top, then around the clock at two-hour intervals on both hands. Lewis talked as he demonstrated and encouraged Robbie to keep throwing as he offered suggestions. Lewis then backed Robbie away from the wall to about twenty-five yards to work on shooting the ball.

“On this, Robbie, work on macroscopic motion, your arms, shoulders, trunk, and legs. Get your hands up and out. Work on your three-quarter shot. After you get the mechanics, work on refining the shot. Aim for targets. You will ultimately want to shoot on the run. You can do that on the wall, too. This drill is also good for catching hard passes. You can work your shooting around the clock as well.” Lewis demonstrated the skills a few times and then critiqued Robbie again.

Lewis rolled the ball into the wall underhand so that it would return along the ground. “This is a great way to work on your ground ball skills, Robbie. Get your body low as it returns, scoop the ball, and then get your stick up by your helmet as quickly as possible. You should include a few sets of these every time.”

Then Lewis showed Robbie how to work on catching bad passes, a critical skill. “Here, throw to the wrong side of your helmet. You should move a little closer to the wall, maybe six to eight yards. Catch the ball backhanded, and draw it back across your face. You can also throw balls low or wide. When you catch a bad pass, get your stick vertical and to your helmet as quickly as possible, just like on ground balls.”

Robbie listened and worked to absorb all he could. Lewis then showed Robbie a series of alternating-hand exercises, changing hands right to left and left to right unconsciously as he talked. The boy marveled at the speed of the changes and the precision of the man’s throws, exactly where he intended and with a nice zip on each.

“Oh, yeah, have some fun, too. After you’ve completed some strong sets, reward yourself with some fun stuff, behind the back, one hand, between the legs. You know, break up the monotony a little. I used to end my sets by trying to hit the same spot on the wall, say fifty times. I know there is one mark on my wall back home that I hit at least 10,000 times—with each hand. We’ll look at some other skills next time we get a chance, some dodging, maybe. There is much more you can do. Most of it is just a function of your imagination and desire to improve yourself and your team.

“And one last thing…work on deception. Make some fundamentals look similar up to the last moment of execution and then, as a hunter lures his prey, strike with a different movement—as if you have sprung a trap or pulled away the bait as the hunter strikes. This is how you can improve your dodging and scoring.”

Robbie couldn’t believe the depth of insight that Lewis possessed and the value of his assistance. He could feel his improvement immediately.

The Spirit in the Stick: Chapter 6 – Long Island, New York

Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.

 William Jennings Bryan

After another interval of a month, Robbie began to wonder when Red Hawk might return. That night Red Hawk came to Robbie, who was very happy to see his new friend.

            “Hi, Robbie.”

            “Hi!”

            “How about tonight you tell me where you’d like to go?”

            “Really? Anywhere?”

            “Sure. What do you think?”

            “Well, I guess it would be neat to see how Captain Lewis received the stick. Can we do that?”

            “O.K. Let’s go to a town called Uniondale, New York—on Long Island. It’s March of 1959.”

            After a long day of meetings with executives of the Long Island Rail Road, Doug Turnbull drove past a small high school on his way to dinner. As he drove, he saw a boy in the dark under a single light, practicing his lacrosse skills on a handball court. After finishing dinner, Turnbull drove back past the boy who was still working his skills.

            The next night, Turnbull drove past again. This time the boy was practicing under the same light in a steady drizzle. Again Turnbull saw him on his return trip.

            On the third night, Turnbull’s meetings had run much later than the previous days’, and he did not expect to see the boy out so late. Yet there he was, pounding away on the wall. Very impressive, the man thought. He decided to stop and watch the boy. The youngster did not notice that Turnbull had parked nearby and begun to walk slowly toward him. As he watched, Turnbull appropriately kept a respectful distance from the boy. He was most intrigued to see the boy ‘shadow boxing’ an imaginary defender as he practiced his footwork, dodging, and stick position. Though the man had grown up, played, and presently lived in an area famous for its brilliant high school and collegiate lacrosse, Turnbull had never seen these training tactics employed by a youngster.

            The boy executed the moves over and over, dodging and shooting. After all six of his balls had slipped away from him, the boy took a break to recover them. Turnbull took the opportunity to approach the boy.

            “I’ve seen you here three nights in a row. Do you come here every night?” Turnbull opened.

            “Yes, sir, just about every night if it’s not raining,” the young Lewis replied.

            “It was raining last night.”

            “Not that hard, sir.”

            “Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Doug Turnbull.”

            “My pleasure, sir. I’m Jimmy Lewis.”

            “Do you go to school here?”

            “Yes, sir, right there,” Lewis pointed, “Uniondale High School.”

            “What grade are you in?”

            “Ninth.”

            “Well, Jimmy, I have to say that I’m most impressed with your training regimen. I’m from Baltimore, and we like to think our boys are dedicated to the game. But the work I’ve seen you do would put them to shame.”

            Lewis did not know how to respond. Turnbull continued. “So, do they give you homework at Uniondale High School?”

            “Yes, sir. I usually go home after practice for dinner, then do my homework for an hour or so, and come back while it’s still light. Sometimes I stay after dark.”

            Lewis had collected all of his balls.

            “Don’t let me hold you up. Keep throwing, son,” Turnbull offered.

            Lewis continued with his drills. Turnbull watched him carefully.

            “Did you play lacrosse, sir?”

            “Yes, but a long time ago. I haven’t played in years.”

            “What team did you play for?”

            “Well, in high school I played at Poly in Baltimore, then Johns Hopkins, then the Mount Washington Club.”

            Lewis felt a new respect for the visitor, knowing that Hopkins and Mount Washington represented the best the game had to offer. He had never seen either team play, but he imagined that his visitor was a famous player.

            “Would you happen to have a game tomorrow?”

            “Yes, sir, we do. We’re playing Massapequa at 4:30 here at home. Right there on that field. They’re pretty good.”

            “Mind if I come and watch?”

            “No. That would be great.”

            Lewis went home very excited to have met Turnbull, and told his mother that the Hopkins player would come watch him play.

            Red Hawk then took Robbie to the game the next day. They saw Turnbull arrive just as the game began.

            Turnbull watched Lewis carefully. He knew the boy had something special and could very well be the one he wanted to pass the stick to. Turnbull’s presence inspired Lewis to play harder than ever. He scored two goals and had two assists in a winning effort. Turnbull congratulated the boy after the game. “Good job, Jimmy. You did an excellent job. And your team played well.”

            “Thank you, sir. But I could have done a lot better. I need to figure out why I lose the ball and why it takes so long to pass or shoot it out of the stick. I practice so much, but the stick and I don’t seem to work at times. I don’t enjoy making mistakes—that’s why you saw me at the wall. I know I can figure this game out.”

            Turnbull was impressed. He had intentionally not made mention of that part of the boy’s performance, though he had noted it.

            “I think that comes as a natural consequence of your aggressiveness, Jimmy. I really liked how hard you tried to make things happen.”

            “Thanks, but I’m still not happy. I’ve tried to work on it, but I’m not really getting any better. I’m working on different ways to carry my stick with one hand so that I won’t lose the ball and also get rid of it quickly, but I just can’t get it to work.”

            Turnbull had noticed the unique style and was glad to hear that the boy was consciously attempting it. At that instant, Turnbull realized that this was, in fact, the boy who needed to have the stick. He had clung particularly close to the stick for several years but knew that eventually he’d have to pass it along. It was time. The stick was not a possession, not someone’s property to be passed within one family. It was a tool, and when in the hands of the right person, it would change his life. The stick was not about the past, grieving, or despair. It was about the future, life, and hope. He had only recently allowed himself to seek the next recipient.

            Turnbull’s searches of the playgrounds, sandlots, and fields of Baltimore had not produced the results he had hoped for. He had finally found the right person. Jimmy Lewis had the energy, talent, imagination, and work ethic. This boy is going to make a difference—Turnbull knew it. He smiled within. It felt completely right for the first time. He mocked himself in a whisper, “A Long Islander! I should have known it would happen like this.”

            Just then Lewis’s mother approached the boy and gave him a hug, which he only grudgingly acknowledged, shaking loose as quickly as possible before his teammates might see it.

            “Mom, this is Mr. Turnbull. He’s the man I met last night, the one from Johns Hopkins.”

            “Doug Turnbull, ma’am,” Turnbull offered as he extended his hand. “Your son is a rather remarkable player.”

            “Thank you. He loves to play, and so does his brother Johnny. He’s on the varsity. I like lacrosse a lot as well, but it’s not always easy for a mother to watch.”

            “I understand. My mother suffered through many, many games my brother and I played.” Turnbull offered with a smile in admiration of his recently-deceased mother.

            “What brings you to town, Mr. Turnbull?”

            “I work for the railroad in Baltimore. I’m here for some meetings with the people of your Long Island Rail Road. I head back tomorrow. With your permission, I’d be honored if I could meet Jimmy at his training spot—the handball wall—for a few pointers that have been passed on to me.”

            “That would be great, sure. Thank you.”

            “O.K., Jimmy, I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

            “I’ll be waiting for you, sir.”

 

            After his morning meeting, Turnbull met young Lewis at the handball court to study his mechanics and to provide some refinements to his training program. When Turnbull arrived, Jimmy was already well along with his regimen. Turnbull marveled at the boy’s ability and focus.

            “So you said that you were trying to work on your vertical stick position?”

            “Yes, sir. I’ve tried to get it to the point where I could use it in a game but it won’t work.”

            Turnbull smiled. “Jimmy, I hope you realize that you are going against the grain. I mean, what you are trying is very different from how we all grew up with the game, and I don’t think anyone has approached playing quite like this. Certainly no one in Baltimore has ever seen anything like this before.”

            “I really wouldn’t know, sir. It just seems like the best way to carry and protect my stick and get rid of the ball. I mean, if I can keep the stick away from the defense, they won’t really be able to check it.”

            Turnbull watched as the boy attempted to hold his stick upright, cradle, then shoot. The boy’s movements were remarkably good, but still not quite effective.

            “Here, let me try for a second,” Turnbull asked, accepting Jimmy’s stick. “You know, Jimmy, back in the 1930’s and ’40’s my brother Jack was a fantastic attackman. He was the only one I’ve ever seen who came close to being able to control his stick like you are attempting. He came upon the thought fairly late in his career and was only beginning to perfect it himself. He died in World War II, so I never got to see him master it. He totally dominated the game when he played—one newspaper-man even called him the ‘Babe Ruth of Lacrosse’—but he never did completely develop his concepts as he hoped he would.”

            Turnbull continued, “How long have you been working on this?”

            “I don’t know. A few months, I guess. My sticks have been difficult to handle. My brother and I even made home-made sticks with a broom handle, string, cloth, and metal wire—just to see if I could get a better feel and balance. Those didn’t really work, but they helped me see where the problems are. So I’ve tried to modify my sticks. I have been able to get it close but still haven’t been able to get it right. It’s been frustrating.”

            Turnbull was amazed by what he was hearing. How could a boy of this age have considered all of these subtle but significant aspects of lacrosse?

            “Jimmy, it seems like some patience would be good here. You’ve certainly taken a good look at this. I have something that might help.”

            With that, Turnbull produced the leather bag which Robbie recognized immediately—his bag, with the same contents! Robbie and Red Hawk continued to watch.

            “Here, try this one,” Turnbull offered as he slid the stick out of its bag.

            Lewis held the stick in disbelief. He instantly sensed his intimate connection with the stick. He slowly cradled a ball, switched hands back and forth and knew that with this he was about to achieve his goal and vision of how he should play the game. He threw the ball at a mark on the wall, striking it several times in a row. Turnbull detected the boy’s new-found inspiration and felt Jack’s presence among them.

            “I’ve never hit the same spot like that—all in a row, Mr. Turnbull,” Lewis said excitedly. The boy hit it several more times, and then looked at Turnbull.

            “Did you know I would be able to do that with this stick?”

            “Well, I had a feeling. Would you like to keep it?”

            Lewis was too stunned to accept. “I can’t, sir. I mean, why me?”

            “Please accept it—you’ll learn why later on. Try cradling behind your shoulder.”

            Lewis tried it for the first time and he felt a perfect balance and fit. He’d been waiting and experimenting for months to attain this feel. He gently rocked the stick back-and-forth. He switched to his left hand with the same perfection. He knew where the ball was without having to make any unnecessary movements or looks at the stick. This was special.

            Lewis suddenly froze as a vision entered his mind’s eye. The dazed boy reported it to Turnbull. “Wow! I just saw a vision of an old-time player dodging a defenseman with his stick tucked behind his shoulder.”

            “Jim, there is a pretty good chance that player was Jack. I told you he had pulled off that move a couple times.”

            “It looked so natural. Why haven’t players been able to do it before?” Lewis asked, as if he had become a master in just a few minutes.

            “I have to believe it’s been a function of the weight and asymmetry of the stick, Jimmy. Players just haven’t been able to control the stick in that position—until now.”

            The self-confidence that overtook Lewis was intense and immediate. He suddenly felt that he had the instrument that would allow him to reach his potential. He thought that he was no longer bridled by the limitations of every stick he’d used in the past. He was a very good athlete, strong, incredibly quick on his feet and with his hands. All these attributes had been hampered on the lacrosse field whenever he picked up the ball. This would no longer be the case. He hoped to have an opportunity to use the stick in the next game. Lewis and Turnbull spent the next two hours tinkering with the stick. Lewis tried to improve his release and found this stick the smoothest he had ever touched. He switched hands from right to left and left to right from the vertical position. Balance, efficiency, quick release, the boy thought. This is so smooth. I can do this!

            Finally, Turnbull presented the wooden box to Lewis. “Jimmy, these gifts have been passed to me—and now I pass them to you. I believe they’ll provide you with insight and wisdom far beyond anything you’ve ever conceived. Please enjoy them while you have them and then pass them along to another at a time of your choosing. And please render the appropriate respect to these gifts and the game of lacrosse.”

            Lewis began his walk home, whispering a bit deviously to himself, “I don’t think I’ll tell Johnny about this just yet. A little more for the sibling rivalry wouldn’t be anything new.”

Robbie awoke from his sleep with nearly the same sense of destiny as Lewis had acquired in the dream. “This stick is really, really special,” he jotted quickly in his journal before he headed to breakfast.

The Spirit in the Stick: Chapter 5 – N-Star

The absolute tests are those we face alone.

Gerald Coffee
Former Prisoner of War
Beyond Survival

The limousine was waiting dutifully when Lewis arrived at the airport, and he quickly jumped in, handing the driver the address. He arrived promptly at 7:00, and the Joneses welcomed him inside.

“Thank you so much for coming, Captain Lewis.” Lewis immediately knew that they had spoken to Ed Charles. That’s good, he thought.

“Thank you for having me. I’m glad to be here.”

The hosts went through the necessary formalities, offering drinks and appetizers and making some small talk about the flight and the weather. Over dinner they informed Lewis that they had spoken to Admiral Charles and that he had filled in some of Lewis’s background for them. Knowing that Charles must have at least covered the basics, and probably exaggerated some of it, Lewis tried to downplay his past by quipping, “I suppose the fact that you allowed me in means that he didn’t tell you everything about me.”

During dinner Lewis politely responded to questions concerning his playing days, providing minimal information and whenever possible deflecting credit to his former teammates. The boy was fascinated. After dinner, the parents politely asked Robbie and his sister to excuse themselves for a little while. The children dutifully left, and Lewis and the parents adjourned to the family’s den, bringing their coffee with them.

The family was much more at ease now but still extremely curious about the stick and the books. Lewis allowed the parents to initiate the discussion.

“Again, Captain Lewis…”

“Jim, please,” Lewis interrupted.

“Jim, then. We can’t thank you enough for coming. Please forgive our concern, but you have to agree that this whole situation with you and Robbie is quite remarkable. Robbie told us yesterday of a visit he had in which he was taken to your Hall-of-Fame ceremony at the Naval Academy.” Lewis smiled and nodded as they continued.

“Of course, as parents our primary concern is that no harm will come to our son. And from the way he has been talking about this stick, it almost seems that it has magical powers, like some sort of witchcraft. We never would have believed this possible, but he is completely convinced that the stick is responsible for these dreams he seems to be having—and he doesn’t even call them dreams. He calls them ‘visits’ because he claims to be totally awake. We just don’t want him getting all tied up in an occult phenomenon that he can’t get out of. Do you understand?”

“Of course.”

“So you believe that these visions or visits are really happening because of the stick?”

“Well, yes, the visions that you described to me on the phone did not surprise me.” The parents felt a chill go through their bodies again. “I had many, perhaps hundreds, of visions—visits—myself when I had that stick.”

“How is that possible?” Mary pleaded, not wanting to believe that such visions or magical powers were possible.

“Well, you may or may not know that Native Americans believe that the spirits of the dead come back in tangible form. Once you get past traditional thinking on the afterlife, it becomes easier to accept.”

“You’ll have to forgive us for struggling with this,” said the mother.

“At first it was difficult for me to believe and understand also,” Lewis conceded. “My parents never knew the full story of this stick. They mostly left me to my own devices, and I worked hard and kept my nose clean, so they left me alone for the most part. ‘Witchcraft,’ the word you used before, never came into our vocabulary. I was a relatively happy and healthy kid, so my parents never had real cause for worry. I just enjoyed having the stick and the things I learned through it. There is really only one other person who knows of my true relationship with the stick, and it’s no one from my family,” Lewis concluded cryptically.

“Is it possible to describe the effect the stick has had on your life?” asked Mary.

“Well, this stick has been a very special part of my life. It’s helped me achieve a one-ness with the game, with my family, with my job, and that oneness has helped carry me through many challenges in my life. It represents so much to me. I have tried to render honor to the stick, its previous custodians, and the game in the way that I played, and to a greater extent, the way that I have lived my life.

“I was also able to maintain a correspondence with Mr. Turnbull for many years after he presented me the stick. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me for all those years. I would like to be available to your son for such a correspondence should he desire one. Mr. Turnbull was about fifty-five at the time I met him, and he passed away several years ago at the age of ninety-two,” Lewis closed with a reverent smile.

“Do you know the other men who have been custodians of the stick?” the mother asked.

“It took me some time to fully understand the history of this stick. I don’t think I would be able to do justice to its history in a few minutes. What I would like to say, though, is that I’m sure Robbie will gain a great deal of insight into what this stick means—the positive energy, passion, love, respect, and spirit that have been a part of it for all these years.”

“Would you mind if Robbie asked you some questions. We know he really wants to.”

“Not at all. He’s what the stick is all about now.”

Robbie and Catherine came into the den. Robbie dove right into the questions.

“Did you do any of these carvings?” Robbie asked.

“Yes, I did do one of the carvings. Can you guess which one?”

“Was it the top one—the big ‘N’ with the stars?”

Lewis nodded with a smile.

“My dad and I thought that it was some sort of compass pointing to the North Star. Or does it have something to do with Navy?”

“First of all, you should probably know that Native Americans often made carvings or inscriptions on their sticks. The figures, of course, had some sort of personal or spiritual meaning to the player. They also attached various things to their sticks—feathers, claws, teeth and the like. The carving that I did has very special meaning to me.

“Back when I was playing lacrosse and soccer at the Naval Academy, we used to earn varsity letters like most athletes on college and high school teams. But at Navy we also earned what we call an ‘N-Star’ for our sweaters when we beat Army. It was a big deal back then, and it’s still a big deal today. I was fortunate to have earned five such stars.

“I can’t imagine a more spirited rivalry in any sport in any school than any Army-Navy game. I think it comes from a shared bond. The academies are similar in their fundamental challenges and goals, as well as all of us being on the same ‘team’ in defense of our country. We depend upon each other—the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard—when we go into battle. John Feinstein has recently written an excellent book on the history of the Army-Navy football game. It’s called A Civil War, and most of what you learn about the football rivalry applies to nearly the same degree to every other sport at the academies. I just happen to have a copy of that book for you and your parents.”

Lewis pulled the books out of his travel briefcase and handed one each to Robbie and his parents. He also presented Robbie’s sister a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank.

“It’s a great book,” Lewis pronounced in regard to the Army-Navy book. “You should read it when you get a chance.”

The parents and the boy were enthralled. They recalled their discussion with Admiral Charles and were awed by the notion that they were listening to one of the great players of all time talking about his playing days and career afterwards. This was for real. They didn’t want to believe it, but it was.

“Anyway, the ‘N-Star’ carving is not for my playing days but is in honor of one of my teammates who lettered three times each in lacrosse and soccer. His name was Bill Kearns, and he also earned five stars. He exemplified everything that you would want to see in an athlete and in a person. He was a great naval officer who died in captivity in Vietnam after his plane was shot down. His fellow POW’s later told of his extraordinarily noble conduct while in captivity. He was the captain of our team, the consummate team player. He always put other people ahead of himself on the field and in the hall—the dorm. It was no surprise for any of us to hear that when he could ease the suffering of his fellow prisoners of war, he would. He did it in a variety of ways, by mending their wounds, and giving them some of the meager food and water rations he received. In fact, he smuggled his own food to fellow prisoners who were weaker than he was. Late at night, when the guards were sleeping, he found a way to crawl through the ceiling of his cell to cells of his comrades, then return unnoticed. He was one of the most heroic people this country has ever known. His comrades say he died of a severe case of malaria he was too weak to fight off, like a great many other POW’s who suffered a similar fate.

“He left behind a wife and two small children, a boy and a girl. At the time he was captured they were about four and two. Many of our teammates have set up and contributed to a trust fund for their education. He was the greatest person I ever knew. I carved the ‘N-stars’ after I learned of his passing to keep his spirit alive in this stick and in the game. I don’t know if you recognize the outline of the maps on either side of the ‘N,’ but on the left side here,” he pointed out to Robbie, “is Vietnam. On the right side is Long Island, where Bill and I are from. He was from Kings Park, and I’m from Uniondale. He loved the game as much as anyone I’ve ever known. His life has truly inspired me in all that I’ve done since we lost him. You’ll see a lot more about what the ‘N-Star’ means in the Feinstein book.”

As Lewis concluded his story, Robbie felt his whole body tingle again.

It was getting late, and Lewis wanted to let the boy enjoy some of the same excitement he had experienced in discovering more about the stick through the stick itself rather than through him. The boy would learn plenty in due time, he reminded himself. Lewis made overtures that he didn’t want to keep the children up too late. Mr. and Mrs. Jones quickly picked up on the cue and asked the children to prepare for bed because Captain Lewis had to fly back to California early in the morning.

Lewis thanked the family for their hospitality and extended the same offer he had at their first meeting, “I won’t impose anything on you all, but I will answer questions as best I can. If you don’t mind, perhaps I can take the liberty of sending Robbie a book on his birthday.” Then looking at the sister’s wide eyes, “And his sister, as well, as Mr. Turnbull did for me. I’m scheduled to be in town again in about three weeks. I’m in this part of the country about once a month for two or three days on business—perhaps we could meet again?”

The Joneses nodded their assent. As Lewis strode slowly down the walkway toward the waiting limousine, he soaked in the warm breeze and smiled at the waning full moon.

The Spirit in the Stick: Chapter 4 – Simply Phenomenal

And all of them, regardless of what role they played in Army-Navy—big or small, heroic or insignificant—will know for the rest of their lives that they were part of something that is like nothing else in sports. They were part of the best rivalry there has ever been, the best rivalry there is.

John Feinstein
A Civil War

Robbie stared at the stick as it sat against his bedroom wall with the leather-covered ball placed in the pocket as Lewis had instructed. Much to Robbie’s disappointment, for twenty-eight days Red Hawk had not appeared to him. The boy had not calculated the actual interval, noting only that it seemed interminably long. He drifted off to sleep, despairing that he might not see Red Hawk again and that the first visit, as his parents suggested, had just been a creation of his mind. But as the clouds rose in the sky, unveiling a full moon, Red Hawk finally came to Robbie.

“Hi, Robbie!” Red Hawk offered enthusiastically.

            “Hi! I was wondering if you were ever coming back. The last few days I wasn’t sure if we had really met.”

            “We met, that’s for sure. Do you want to take another trip?”

            “Sure! Where are we going?”

            “Would you like to learn a little bit about Captain Lewis?”

            “Yes!” Robbie gushed.

            Red Hawk took Robbie to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, May 1, 1982, for the lacrosse game between Johns Hopkins University and Navy.

            “This is a very special stadium, Robbie.”

            Robbie nodded as he scanned the facades of the stadium containing names of battles and campaigns in which USNA graduates had fought. He recognized at least two, IWO JIMA and PEARL HARBOR, and surmised that the other thirty or forty names carried similar significance.

            Red Hawk brought Robbie near the Navy sideline. Shortly after their arrival, both teams departed the field for half-time. Red Hawk pointed out the ceremony about to begin. A group of people, led by a very tall man, strode several yards onto the field to a microphone that had just been placed there by a maintenance worker. The group included the tall man, retired navy captain J.O. Coopedge, the current athletic director at the Naval Academy; a much shorter man, Willis P. Bilderback, former coach of the midshipmen lacrosse team; a young midshipman escorting the official party; and a commander with his wife and two small children.

            Captain Coopedge took the microphone.

            “Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the induction ceremony for our own Commander Jimmy Lewis ’66 into the National Lacrosse Hall-of-Fame. Tradition has it that the presenter of an inductee has the privilege of offering remarks to the assemblage. Because of his failing voice Coach Bilderback has asked me to offer comments, and I have gladly accepted such a high honor. We thank you for being here to share this special moment with Jim, his family, and, of course, his great coach, Willis Bilderback.    

            “I was extremely fortunate to have seen nearly every game that Jim played for three national championship teams here at the Naval Academy–1964, ’65, and ’66. It would be impossible to share all of Jim’s countless accomplishments with you. We’ll have time to mention only a few.

 “Jim’s play and leadership were simply phenomenal. He was quick, tough, smart, and an unbelievable competitor. He had a self-confidence—I don’t mind saying that some of our opponents might call it cockiness—about himself that made his team better. He simply felt and played as though he and his team could beat anybody.

            “He single-handedly redefined the way attackmen played the game. Prior to Jim, attackmen were content to run around behind the goal and feed to teammates. Jim became the first attackman to really attack the cage, mostly by carrying the stick in one hand and tucking it behind his shoulder. All offensive players do it today in large part because the sticks are much smaller and lighter. Most young players today would never know how that stick position evolved. For three consecutive years Jim received the Turnbull Award as the country’s top attackman, the only player who has ever accomplished such a feat. I’m one of the many people who believe that Jim would have received that Award his freshman year as well, but he was required to play on our plebe team because NCAA regulations prohibited freshmen from playing on the varsity.

            “Jim was also a standout soccer player here even though he never played the game in high school. He scored the game-winning goal in the 1964 NCAA championship game when he was a junior. It is hard to imagine many athletes who have won national championships in two different sports and who played such keys roles for each!

            “At graduation Jim was presented with the Naval Academy Athletic Sword. Some of you may remember that Roger Staubach had received the Award the year before. As a lacrosse player, Jim enjoyed the highest accolades from players, coaches, fans, journalists, and everyone else involved in the game. Many believe him to be the greatest player ever.

            “Let me conclude by saying that Jim has forever changed the game of lacrosse and will be remembered by all Navy players and fans as the greatest ever. But beyond all of his phenomenal exploits on the field, he has achieved equal status as a navy pilot, a naval officer, and the leader of young men.

            “Now please allow me to introduce Coach Willis Bilderback to present Jim for formal induction into the Hall- of-Fame.”

            Coach Bilderback moved slowly to the microphone, the midshipman escort accompanying him with a large plaque.

            “Jim, words cannot sum up what you have meant to your teammates, your coaches, your school, your family, and the great game of lacrosse. Thank you for letting us be a part of your life.”

            As his coach spoke Lewis stood with his head canted down, as if observing an invocation, then stood bolt upright and proceeded to the microphone.

            “Captain Coopedge, thank you for your kind remarks. Coach, thank you for all that you’ve done for Navy Lacrosse, for our teams, and for me. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your kind attention and warm welcome.

            “Since lacrosse is, above all, a team game, it makes me uncomfortable to be recognized for individual play. I never played the game of lacrosse for awards. I played it because it is simply a great and fun game to play. The game represents so much, mostly the physical, mental, and emotional challenges that it imposes on players and teams to do their best. It’s a game with great history whose roots are grounded in the ancient Native American culture and whose fundamental use, in addition to its recreational value, was to prepare young warriors for battle. The game has been a true gift to me as it has allowed me to be a part of that culture.

            “I could never have enjoyed any success in this game without the support and care of my teammates and coaches, particularly Coach Bilderback and Coach McDonald of Uniondale High School, my family, and a very special guest, Mr. Doug Turnbull, Johns Hopkins, Class of 1924. Thank you.”

            Robbie followed Lewis’s eyes into the first row of the stands, where Turnbull offered a modest wave to Lewis. The boy gazed at Turnbull in amazement, connecting the name Lewis had shared with the actual person.

            Red Hawk and Robbie stayed for the second half of the game, watching Hopkins dampen Lewis’s ceremony with a 12-7 victory. It was the first time Robbie had seen a college game.

            “How would you like to see one of Captain Lewis’s games, Robbie?” Red Hawk asked.

            “Sure—is it possible?”

            Red Hawk took Robbie to Michie Stadium, West Point, New York for the 1964 Army-Navy game. Red Hawk explained that both teams came into the game undefeated and that the National Championship was now on the line. He pointed out the huge crowd of over 7,000—the largest ever at Michie Stadium for a lacrosse game. He told Robbie that the game was about half-way through the third quarter and pointed to the scoreboard which indicated that Navy was ahead 4-3.

            “That’s Captain Lewis, number 22,” Red Hawk said, allowing Robbie to follow his eyes to the sophomore attackman. “This is his first Army-Navy game. He scored a goal in the first half when Navy had a two-man advantage to put them up 4-1. Army scored late in the first half to make it 4-2 and again a couple of minutes ago to make it 4-3. That has given them some much-needed confidence. Army’s All-American goalkeeper, Norm Webb, has been fantastic the entire season. They are an excellent team and have held some very good teams like Maryland, Johns Hopkins, and Syracuse to under four goals per game. So let’s see what happens.”

            Red Hawk allowed the scene to unfold with no further comment.

            A few seconds later Lewis slipped behind his defender and caught a feed about six yards from the goal from his teammate, Pete Taylor, the Navy captain. Lewis released the shot left handed from among three Army defenders and was immediately drilled to the turf by the Army defenseman stationed behind his right shoulder. Lewis did not see the ball go in the goal but heard the referee’s whistle indicating the score. He sprang back to his feet, stared down the Army defender, almost inviting him to do it again next time, and then broke off the gaze, motioning his stick toward the scoreboard, as if to say, You got the hit—but we got the goal.

            It didn’t take Robbie long to become engrossed in the game. He had never conceived of the game being played with wooden sticks. He marveled at the precision of the stickwork. He couldn’t help but notice the extremely physical play.

            A few minutes later, Lewis chased down a loose ball on the sideline in front of the Army bench. Somehow he came out with the ball from between two Army players, eluded another, and fired a thirty-yard pass to his streaking attack- and classmate Owen McFadden for a 6-3 lead.

            Shortly after Army scored to make it a 6-4 game, Lewis drew his defender to the corner of the field, then raced past him, attacked the goal, gave Army’s goalie a dip of the shoulder to draw him down, rose back erect, and neatly rifled the ball over the goalie’s right shoulder. 7-4. Again, he was knocked to the turf but chose not to acknowledge that affront.

            Then, with seven minutes remaining in the game, Lewis danced past three Army defenders before feeding teammate Tom Morris for a lay-up to make the score 8-4, effectively ending the game. Lewis tallied three goals and two assists in the game and he ended the season with 27 goals and 19 assists.

            As the game ended, the players lined up to shake hands. The looks of dejection on the faces of the Army players struck Robbie. Many were wiping tears from their eyes. They had simultaneously suffered two unimaginable fates, a loss to Navy and the loss of their chance at a National Championship. Robbie noted the unspeakable joy of the Navy players and he saw the fine line, a single game, separating total euphoria and total dejection.

            “I hope that you’ve learned something about Captain Lewis, Robbie.”

            Robbie nodded yes.

            “Well, I guess I’d better be going now. I’ll see you soon,” Red Hawk closed with a smile.

When Robbie woke, he shared the vision with his parents. They were stunned to hear his account of Lewis’s career and of the Hall-of-Fame ceremony. John and Mary Jones stared at each other, indicating that they knew there was no way Robbie could have made up—or even dreamed—those facts.

In a much more tolerant tone than the discussion of the first visit, the father proposed, “Robbie, I have an idea. Why don’t you start keeping a journal of what you’ve seen with this Indian boy? We can ask Captain Lewis about it. Deal?”

“Deal.”

The Spirit in the Stick: Chapter 3 – Classmates and Teammates

I can’t help but be grateful for all of the teams, coaches, and teammates I have had in my athletic pursuits. Those people and experiences have prepared me well for this position. For war is a team sport every bit as much as lacrosse is.

From a letter by LCOL John I. Turnbull to his mother
October 18, 1944

Over the following days Robbie insisted to his parents that his dream was different—it was a visit. As the boy persisted, his parents’ concern grew. Did Mr. Lewis know this would happen? Was this stick really that special? What could happen to Robbie?

They continued to caution Robbie that his dream was simply that—a dream—mostly because they were not able to understand, explain, or control such supernatural phenomena. The parents wanted to call Lewis, but they agreed to wait.

Robbie continued his assertions of a visit and, when his parents would not accept his reasoning, he accused them of not understanding him and belittling his thoughts. They finally relented and called Lewis in California, who was not surprised to hear from them.

“Mr. Lewis, this is John Jones, Robbie’s father. You gave him the stick.”

“Yes, Mr. Jones, good to hear from you.”

“Would you mind if I put you on speaker phone with my wife?”

“Not at all. Please do.”

“Well, the reason we are calling is that Robbie has told us some interesting things that are somehow related to the stick, and we were hoping that you might be able to shed some light on his behavior.”

“I’ll be glad to try. What types of interesting things?” Lewis asked, knowing all too well what he was about to hear.

“Well, Robbie seems to think that he was visited by a young Indian named Red Hawk while he was sleeping. Robbie has told us that he has never experienced any dream like this. He said he was wide awake during it, that he knew exactly what was going on, and that he has total recall of every detail.

“It happened about three weeks ago—I believe it was the night that you gave him the stick. He has also mentioned a sort of tingling in his hands every time he touches the stick.” The parents could not see Lewis smiling through the phone.

“Anything else?”

“That’s really about it—do you know anything about this? You said that it was a special stick. Is this what you meant?”

“Well, you will probably find what I am about to say completely incredible, but please bear with me. While I was the custodian of that stick, I beheld similar visions, and many others have as well.”

The parents felt a chill and looked at each other in disbelief. Was this some sort of spell? He should have told us about this. Was this possible? They maintained their composure and allowed Lewis to continue.

“Before you become too alarmed, I can assure you that no harm will come to your boy because of this stick.”

“But you can understand our apprehension?”

“Of course I can. I know what Robbie is going through. I think we’ll need to continue this discussion in person. I’ll be in town this weekend. Would you mind waiting till then?”

“No, we can wait until then, but not longer, please.”

“That would be great,” Lewis responded.

“Can we say Saturday night at seven for dinner?” Mary offered.

“Yes. I’ll be there, but could you please do me a favor before then? If you are concerned about my credibility, please call the Superintendent at the United States Naval Academy, Admiral Ed Charles. He’ll provide you an independent source on my background.”

After they hung up Robbie’s parents were even more uneasy.

 

First thing the next morning the Joneses called the Superintendent.

“Admiral Charles’s office, may I help you?” said the friendly voice of a middle-aged woman.

“Y-Yes, my name is John Jones. May I speak to Admiral Charles, please?”

“Yes, Mr. Jones, the admiral was expecting your call.”

“Good morning, Mr. Jones, this is Ed Charles. Captain Lewis asked me to expect your call. What can I do for you?”

“Admiral, would you mind if I put my wife on the speaker-phone?”

“Please.”

“Well, admiral, we just met Mr. Lewis for the first time about a month ago, but he’s suddenly become a big part of our lives. You see, he chose to make our son the recipient of a very old Native American lacrosse stick he had received many years ago. He said that it was really quite a remarkable gift and—well—it has been so overwhelming. Mr. Lewis asked me to call to ease some of our apprehension.”

“I understand. So you need some confirmation of Captain Lewis’s background, integrity, and so on?”

“Yes, sir, I suppose.”

“Then you apparently know very little about Jim Lewis, is that right?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, let me start by saying that I’ve known Jim since we were plebes—that is, freshmen—here at the Naval Academy in 1962. We were Plebe Summer roommates, classmates, and teammates. That’s almost forty years and counting. I can assure you, Mr. and Mrs. Jones that Jim is one of the finest people I’ve ever known. He’s a truly great naval officer, leader, navy pilot, and person. Everything else I’ll say is simply icing. You said Jim gave your son a lacrosse stick?”

“Yes.”

“So I’ll bet that Jim conveniently failed to share his lacrosse background with you?”

“That’s right. Well, he did say that he had played many years ago and that it had been a big part of his life. I think that is all he said.”

“Well, Jim has never been one to toot his own horn, so let me do it for him a little. Again, keep in mind at this point that none of this really matters because the lacrosse aspect of Jim’s life only helped create the foundation for his future successes. He’s been a leader all of the years that I’ve known him. But it might be good for you and your son to know that Jim is widely considered the greatest lacrosse player ever. When he was at the Naval Academy he revolutionized the way the game was played.

“If you talk to many lacrosse people about the players who dominated the game over the years, most would single out Jim. Paul and Gary Gait of Syracuse University, Mark Millon of the University of Massachusetts, and one or two others have certainly achieved greatness in the modern era. But the game is different now. Back when Jim played, no one had seen anyone like him. Prior to Jim, I guess you’d have to mention Jim Brown—also of Syracuse—Class of ’57. If you’re wondering, yes, he is the Jim Brown of football fame. He was a tremendous lacrosse player also. It is difficult to compare any of these players directly since they were all so fantastic. But it is fair to consider Jim in a class of his own. He was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall-of-Fame in 1982.”

The Joneses stared at each other in disbelief.

“Jim and I played together for all four years here. Our first year was on the plebe team. Then we won three straight national championships, and our record was something like 35-1. Not many people know or believe this, but in 1963 our plebe team defeated our varsity in a pretty formal scrimmage. Under most circumstances that would be impressive but, in this case, that varsity team won the national championship! We love to ride those guys about that, and we continue to do so after all these years. We had several excellent players and coaches, but Jim was central to our success. He was a phenomenal player. Jim was first-team All-America and received the Turnbull Award three consecutive years.”

“The Turnbull Award?” the father asked, recognizing the name that Lewis had mentioned when they first met.

“Oh, forgive me. That’s the award given annually to the top attackman in lacrosse. Division I players back then, and nowadays in Division II and Division III, I believe.”

The parents remained speechless.

“Hello…?” the admiral inquired as he heard the silence.

“Y-Yes, we’re still here,” the father offered.

“Should I continue?”

“Please do.”

“Well, in 1991 Jim was honored by the NCAA with their Silver Anniversary Award. Jim’s high school background is probably worth noting as well. On Long Island, Jim was a member of a team that came out of nowhere and won many lacrosse championships. When he graduated, he was considered a unique lacrosse player. He played at a level that no one was familiar with. He was playing the game in a different way and with remarkable results. He once scored ten goals and had eleven assists in less than half of one game. He also collected a number of very prestigious awards. By the time he left Long Island his reputation as a player was spreading to the major centers of lacrosse. Recently, he was the first name mentioned for a mythical All-Century team. Should I go on?”

“Please, if you don’t mind.”

“Well, from there Jim went on to become a top-notch naval aviator and test pilot. He was a superb pilot and naval officer.”

The Joneses didn’t want to ask the next question, but the mother could not hold back. “Did Mr. Lewis ever mention anything about the old Native American stick that he had?”

“I know he kept an old stick in a leather bag. But he never talked about it or used it when anyone was around. He was pretty protective of it. I’d be a little surprised that he gave that stick away. I wonder if that is the one he passed to your son.”

“I think it probably is,” said the father.

“Well, that is very interesting. I never knew much about his stick, but I did know at the time when we were roommates that the stick contributed to his fascination with the game and its ancient history. I’m sure that his knowledge of the game’s history accentuated his magnificent skills. He studied every aspect of the game. He loved—and thrived on—the game’s ancient roots and often referred to its warrior nature.

“What else can I help you with?”

“Nothing, you’ve been very helpful. Oh, how should we address him?”

“Jim retired as a captain, but he would probably wish to be called just Jim. If you insist on being formal, he is technically Captain Lewis.”

“Thank you very much, admiral. We can’t tell you how much we appreciate this.”

“You’re quite welcome. Please let me know if I may be of further assistance. Good luck.”

“Thank you again, admiral. Good bye.”

The parents stared at each other again. They intentionally did not share the contents of this discussion with Robbie and began to make preparations for Lewis’s visit.

 

The Spirit in the Stick: Chapter 2 – A Visit from Red Hawk

To penetrate the Indian game, one must enter a world of spiritual belief and magic.

– Dr. Thomas Vennum, Jr.
American Indian Lacrosse: Little Brother of War

     Robbie was too excited to sleep that night. He tossed for hours, staring out his window at the light from the full moon and dreaming of the endless possibilities of the stick. His imagination spun questions and answers concerning the carvings and writing on the shaft. Finally, after drifting off, he was met in a dream by a young Indian boy. Though asleep to the rest of the world, Robbie was completely awake in his dream, fully aware of what was happening to him.

           The Indian boy approached Robbie and introduced himself. “Hello, I’m Red Hawk. You’re Robbie, right?”

            “Yes,” Robbie said, stunned that the stranger knew his name.

            “And you are now the custodian of the stick?” Red Hawk asked with a broad smile.

            Robbie smiled back, “Mr. Lewis gave me the stick this afternoon.”

            “Well, it’s nice to meet you,” Red Hawk offered sincerely.

            “Same here,” gushed Robbie, overwhelmed by the notion that he might be talking to someone who had lived two-hundred years before. Though Robbie didn’t ask, based on their similar heights he could tell that Red Hawk was about his age, perhaps fourteen.

            “When he gave me the stick, Mr. Lewis told me that it was special, but I had no idea that this is what he meant.” Robbie continued. “This is unbelievable!”    

            “Well, I know this is hard for you to believe, but through the stick I have been able to visit several other boys, and all of them had the same initial response. They have all been great boys and men!”

            “What am I supposed to do with the stick?” Robbie posed as an obvious first question.

            “That’s up to you. You can do whatever you want,” Red Hawk smiled again.

            Robbie wasn’t sure what was in the realm of possibility, so he asked a more pointed question. “Mr. Lewis told me that I would be able to find out more about the history of this stick through the stick itself. Did he mean that someone like you would be able to teach me things?”

            “That depends on what you want to learn,” Red Hawk replied cryptically.

            “Can you tell me how you got the stick, then?”

            “Sure. But perhaps we should talk about some other things first. I should start by saying, Robbie, that we’ll be able to visit people and places of the past. We’ll be able to see and hear all around us, but none of the people of those earlier times will notice us. We’ll be there, but we’ll be completely unknown and invisible to anyone involved,” Red Hawk explained.

            Robbie’s dream was so real and so clear and he went deeper into its magic.

            Red Hawk thought it best to begin with a narrative on the nature of the game of lacrosse in his culture.

            “For any young man in our Cherokee tribe, these sticks symbolized a great deal. As soon as we touched the sticks, every one of us could immediately feel the power and spirit of the warriors, living and deceased, in our tribe. What the French named lacrosse, we called stickball. The game was a central part of our lives as boys, a way for us to be accepted as men. When we were still too young to go into battle with our older brothers, uncles, and fathers, stickball substituted as a means to show our strength, skill, and courage—the same traits that would make us successful as hunters and defenders of our tribe. When we became older, we still played with passion, mostly to invite the favor of our gods, to strengthen our boys, to earn respect for our clans in contests with others, and to continue to parade our physical prowess and courage. It was a game but also a tool that helped us become men. Would you like to see what the game looked like for my people?”

            “Sure!”

            Red Hawk walked Robbie through a small stand of shade trees which ran into the shadows and burst out into a bright, sun-lit meadow. This was Robbie’s first trip through time and it was to a Cherokee village on the Little Tennessee River in current-day Smoky Mountain National Park on the western edge of North Carolina. The year was 1835.

Red Hawk began, “This is the clan of my grandfather, the Bear Clan. They are preparing for a stickball game with the Wolf Clan, who issued a challenge earlier in the summer.”

            Robbie soaked in the lush green scenery, the gentle mountains all around. Red Hawk led Robbie to a small stream where they saw about twenty Cherokee young men waist deep in the water. Red Hawk described the scene.

            “These players are undergoing preparations for the contest tomorrow. They must cleanse themselves completely. Our tribe calls this ritual ‘going to water.’ It is conducted almost exactly like the ceremony for warriors going on the war path. It is necessary for each combatant, each player in this case, to cleanse and purge themselves.”

            Some of the youngest warriors drank strong spirits from a jug and immediately vomited in the stream.

            “That man,” Red Hawk pointed out the older man, “is the village conjurer or shaman. He is responsible for invoking the proper spirits and rituals to ensure success.”

            Robbie watched as the man wiped ointment on the small sticks and then prayed over them. The boy noticed the interesting shape of the sticks. They were much smaller than he expected, and they were used in pairs. They were not quite like the one he had just inherited.

            “The conjurers play a great role in determining the outcome of a contest,” Red Hawk shared. “They perform many rituals over the players. They even cast spells on the opposing team to impose poor play on them.”

            The young men left the stream and began to march to the village center, where they were received by a large assemblage. “This is the ball play dance, Robbie. To energize their team all the villagers come out to offer chants, to beat drums, and to dance. These events will go on well into the night.”

            Red Hawk then took Robbie to the events of the next morning. They observed the players wearing only breechclouts around their waists and feathers in their hair, marching in single file with sticks in hand to the river. “They are going to water again, Robbie. Each player has fasted at least since yesterday. Now once more they will cleanse themselves.”

            The players dipped their sticks in the water and then bathed themselves. As the players waded out of the water, the conjurer ‘scratched’ each player. Robbie was shocked to observe the blood seeping out of the shallow gashes. Red Hawk brought Robbie closer. The boy stared at the scratching implement. It looked like a comb with about six or eight teeth. The teeth, however, were rattlesnake fangs inserted into a feather’s quill. The shaman dipped the comb into a pot of sacred plant juice and meticulously etched the body of each warrior. Some of the players requested scratching in two or three areas—the chest, the arms, and the legs—with the hope that this would strengthen their lungs and limbs for the contest. After scratching, the conjurer rubbed all of the players with ointment.

            The players then again formed a single file and began their march to the field in step with the beat of a war drum. Some of the players bellowed whoops as they marched. Most focused silently within themselves, invoking the Great Spirit to provide strength and courage.

            Before the contest started, the conjurers of each team escorted the players to the center of the field, where they faced each other. Robbie marveled at the similarity to the pre-game lineup of his games. The conjurers then offered instructions on the rules of the contest and on fair play. Robbie noticed the goals were about three hundred yards apart and marked by two sticks set about ten feet apart.

            Play began with two center men battling for a ball tossed in the air. A face-off, Robbie thought. Play was intense. The ball was often picked up with one stick and then carried with the second stick placed on top of the first. It seemed as though the fastest, strongest, and smartest players were the most successful. Passing did not seem to be an integral part of the game—many players simply ran with the ball until they were stopped by force, resulting in a mad scramble for a loose ball. Robbie watched in amazement as several pairs of players dropped their sticks and wrestled each other.

            Play went on for a few hours, the Bear Clan scoring fifteen goals to the Wolf’s twelve. After the game, the players again adjourned to the river for cleansing and finally to the village center for the Victory Dance.

            “You can see, Robbie, these ceremonies are as important as the games themselves. The Victory Dance is similar to the one we perform when warriors return from battle.”

            Robbie remembered that Red Hawk had said that his people were the Cherokee and Mr. Lewis had told him that the stick was from the Iroquois.

            “Did you say that your people were the Cherokee?”

            “Yes. Why do you ask?”

            “Well, Mr. Lewis told my family and me that this stick was from the Iroquois.”

            “Oh, right. Well, we will have plenty of time to discuss that. I’ll be back to see you soon. We must go now.” He gestured to the shadows, and they quickly moved into the trees. “I really just wanted to introduce myself tonight. I’ll see you again soon.”

The next morning Robbie woke none the worse for having been engaged in such a real and passionate dream. He shared the experience with his parents, who rather quickly dismissed it as a fantastical trip brought on by the excitement of the previous day.