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Lacrosse season won't be the same

March 05, 2005|by Demetrios N. Chirgott

With March upon us, many of the area's high school athletes are gearing up for the first day of practice. This season, however, the local lacrosse community will be missing one of its founding fathers. Coach John Chirgott, my dad, will not be fielding a lacrosse team in Hagerstown for the first time in more than a decade.

At the end of the spring 2004 season, Coach Chirgott decided that it was time for him to step down from his position as head coach of North Hagerstown's girls lacrosse team. The events that led to this decision are something that I have had a hard time accepting over the last year. At halftime of the last game of the 2004 North Hagerstown High School girls lacrosse season, Coach Chirgott's team refused to finish the remainder of the game. They were scared to play a superior team and lose.

He had fought the team's request to forfeit the playoff game for weeks, but now, halfway through the game, he was unable to physically get his team on the field. Having personally lost two entire seasons at South High, this is something I cannot possibly comprehend. After addressing the opposing coach and referee, the game was called and the team returned to a very unhappy North High administration.

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They requested a full report from Coach Chirgott on what had taken place, and informed him that the seniors would not be receiving their letters. In an effort to calm the matter, Coach Chirgott wrote a letter to North High in which he accepted full responsibility for the forfeited game and offered his resignation so that the team could carry on and his senior girls could receive their letters.

Coach Chirgott, known as "Papa John" by many of his players, started his coaching career in the fall of 1993 when he formed the South Hagerstown Lacrosse Club with the assistance of Tom "T.O." Moore and the growing Western Maryland Lacrosse Conference. While coaching at South, Chirgott always stressed that lacrosse, like any sport, is just a game. He wanted us to play the sport simply because it was fun, and he never let us lose sight of the fact that we shouldn't take it too seriously.

In the end, that mind-set paid off and the team began to flourish, placing third in the conference my senior year. I, and many others from that 1997 team, went on to play college lacrosse. Keep in mind that back then, lacrosse was still only a club sport and we were not playing for the school system, or outside of Frederick County.

By 1999 Chirgott handed over the South Hagerstown team to another coach, as lacrosse was being introduced into the school system as an official team sport. Coach Chirgott's new project was the formation of Hagerstown United, Washington County's first girls' lacrosse club. A year later in 2000, he became the head coach of North Hagerstown's new girls lacrosse team, where he eventually ended his career.

I went to several practices and games and watched how Coach Chirgott pushed his girls to play from the heart. He wanted them to win, but he taught them the lessons of defeat. He studied the game and fed that knowledge to his players. I was always amazed with his ability to connect with his teams.

When I found a copy of my father's resignation, I was shocked to read how my former coach addressed the situation, stating that he had let down his team, North High and the sport of lacrosse. I know that a coach should be able to lead his team into the toughest of battles, but how do they force a team to play against its will? What happened that day is appalling, especially for a sport that is still finding its identity in the western part of this state. Who is to blame? All I know is that neither a season nor a career should have ended in such a manner.

Coach Chirgott, you have been a driving force in the development of lacrosse in Western Maryland and you have not let us down. You have taught us to have fun and not to take life or athletics too seriously. You have helped us grow as people and showed us how to chase our dreams. You have helped to create memories of that first win, that great save and that special game that will last us a lifetime.

On behalf of all of the lacrosse players at North and South who were privileged to have you as a coach, I would like to thank you for all you have done. Hopefully, we will see you on the sidelines again someday.

Demetrios N. Chirgott is a resident of Baltimore.

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