Frank Merriwell's great tussle with the Johns Hopkins lacrosse team was recounted in the June 24, 1905 issue of Tip Top Weekly. The dastardly Hopkins captain tries to steal Merriwell's girl, get Merriwell drunk and make him smoke. On the field, he smashes a lacrosse stick over the Yalie's head. But right prevails. Merriwell returns to the game, his head swathed in bandages, and, of course, scores the winning goal. "I don't know how you happened to be chosen the captain of the Hopkins team," Merriwell tells his adversary afterward. "You can play lacrosse, but you are a dirty fellow."
Teddy Roosevelt no longer carries a big stick; Eli prowess in lacrosse is as mythical as Frank Merriwell; but Hopkins—which celebrated its lacrosse centennial last Saturday with a 9-6 win over Army to improve its record to 6-1 and is again one of the top contenders for the national title—has a coach who was once a rather untoward captain. Henry (Chic) Ciccarone, 45, is buoyant and beefy, and nearly as boyish as he was as an All-America midfielder for the Blue Jays in the '60s. Beneath his antic, easygoing exterior is an antic, easygoing interior. No drill-sergeant approach to coaching for him. He sees omens in license plates as well as practice rituals. And he believes that games are won at the deli counters of Baltimore's Lexington Market. Who can argue? In his eight full seasons as coach, his Blue Jays have won three national championships and played in an unprecedented six straight NCAA finals.
Winning at lacrosse is not only a tradition at Hopkins, it's also expected. The alumni think anything short of winning the national title is a losing season. The sport is such a big deal on campus that Homecoming is held in the spring. And the game has become so identified with Hopkins that about half the world thinks it was invented there. Saccharin was, and vitamin D was discovered there in 1878, but lacrosse was created by the Huron Indians in the 1600s. "Of course," notes Ken Sokolow, Hopkins 76, who still attends the Blue Jays' home games, "the Hurons didn't win 38 national championships."
About the only tradition as strong as lacrosse at the school is the palate-clearing fruit sherbet the venerable on-campus Hopkins Club serves at every meal. But purists believe lacrosse has been compromised. For one thing, Homewood Field, known as "the Yankee Stadium of lacrosse," has been surfaced with AstroTurf. "Now it looks like a miniature golf course," laments Sokolow.
Ciccarone believes in the old Hopkins traditions, but he's a little iconoclastic when it comes to coaching. "He's loose." says star Midfielder Henry Ciccarone, who happens to be the coach's son, "but on the field he's strictly business." Monkey Business is more like it.
Ciccarone's pre-practice talks are offbeat inspirational. He gathers his players, then breaks into the pert, twisted, slow smile of Chico Marx as he tells about the little old lady who asks the produce man for half a head of lettuce.
"The produce man steps away and says to the store manager, 'Some jerk wants half a head of lettuce.' Then he turns around and sees the old lady has come up behind him. 'And this nice woman,' he says, 'wants the other half.'
"Later, the manager praises him for his quick thinking. 'I'm going to recommend you for a desk job in our office in Detroit,' he says.
" ' Detroit?' says the produce man. 'All they've got there are hookers and hockey players.'
" 'Hold it,' says the manager. 'My wife comes from Detroit.'