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Golden Celebration for Golden Team

’67 Lacrosse Players Return for Milestone of Championship

By Charlie Wright

Lacrosse

Courtesy of University Archives

Courtesy of University Archives

Fifty years after winning a share of the national lacrosse title, Jack Heim ’68 spends his days running a printing company on Long Island. But for one evening at Maryland Stadium, he again shared the field with the players who changed his outlook on the world.

Team

The 1967 team reunited on Saturday to mark its golden anniversary, cheering loudly as the present-day Terps defeated Johns Hopkins, just as they had done a half-century earlier. But when it came to talking about his own time on the field, Heim became reflective.

“It just made me a very positive person, having the success that we had,” says Heim. “Being a winner, that translated into having positive thoughts and being able to do things in a positive way.”

After the 1975 team returned to College Park a few years ago to celebrate its 40-year championship anniversary, teammates led by Steve LaVaute ’69 decided to put together a reunion of their own. They managed to bring in 25 of the 32 former players. Four are deceased, and LaVaute jokes that the other three must be in the federal Witness Protection Program.

Game

They chose the latest matchup in the storied lacrosse rivalry for the gathering, a fitting opponent, considering they knocked off Hopkins to claim the U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association tri-national championship. Since 1971, the NCAA tournament has decided the national lacrosse champion, but until then, the USILA executive committee had awarded the title to the team with the best record. Maryland had fallen to Navy early in the 1967 season, but then the Midshipmen dropped a game to Hopkins, opening the door for the Terps to beat the Blue Jays and create a three-way tie atop the standings.

On that sweltering afternoon in Byrd Stadium, the Blue Jays had a star-studded lineup featuring three first-team All-Americans, but Terp head coach John “Hezzie” Howard had his men worked into a lather heading into the game.

“We were so psyched up to play that game, we woulda beat anybody,” says Billy Sbarra ’67, third-team All-American.

Stick

“We would have beat the Baltimore Colts that day if they played lacrosse,” added LaVaute, also third-team All-American.

Sbarra still fumes about a would-be goal by Heim that whizzed through the net so quickly the referees didn’t see it. He also noted that the high-tech aluminum shafts and tightly netted pockets used by today’s players are a far cry from the cumbersome wooden sticks used by the three attackman on the 1967 squad.

“I tease Alan Lowe and Jack Heim and Steve LaVaute all the time that if those guys had the sticks back then that those kids have (now), no one would have ever broken their collective record because they were such accurate shooters,” says Sbarra.

Each player was presented with a commemorative ring, and they strode across the field at the end of the first quarter to rousing applause from the 14,353 fans. At the time, earning a piece of the national championship made the players celebrities on campus and in the College Park community. They were recognized wherever they went for years, says Sbarra. The experience also had a profound effect on the individuals after their playing careers had ended.

Bench

“It opened so many doors for me, especially after we won that game,” says Sbarra, a member of the Long Island Lacrosse Hall of Fame. “All of the sudden, people knew who you were. The rest is history.”

Many of the players kept in touch over the years, and Sbarra even held semi-annual luncheons for players and coaches to reminisce and discuss the future of lacrosse. Fierce opponents from Navy, Hopkins and Virginia sometimes joined the Terps to share sandwiches and stories, many of which were exaggerated over the years.

“Lacrosse is a fraternity in a way,” says Sbarra. “Maryland means so much to all of us.”

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Strategic Communications for the University of Maryland community weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.