April 13, 2009

Garber Lacrosse Legacy Continues at UMass

Massachusetts Sports Information

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By Kevin Henkin

If ever there was a patriarch of New England lacrosse, it would have to be Dick Garber. And if there's a first family of New England lacrosse, it's the Garbers, thanks to the effort by Dick's son and grandson, Ted and Brett, to continue the storied tradition.

Affectionately referred to as "Goose" by his legion of loyal players, Dick Garber compiled 300 wins in his 36 years as the coach of the UMass men's program. Until 2003, when Army coach Jack Emmer surpassed him, Garber's 300 represented the most wins in NCAA Division 1 history. It's not the wins, however, that most people tend to talk about when they recall their dealings with Garber.

"I went to UMass because of Dick Garber," said Brett Jenks, who starred for the Minutemen from 1986-89, "because of my sense that for him the game was as much about character, team, philosophy and meaning as it was about scoring and outcomes."

Lending some insight into why Garber was so revered by his players, Jenks said: "One of his favorite things to do on a fall ball practice was to bring out Popsicles for everybody. It was so simple and innocent, and you knew that it just made his day. Here was a guy who had committed his life to this game, but he made sure we knew that while this was an important part of our lives, it wasn't going to be our entire lives, either. There was something about those Popsicles that brought that point home."

Kelley Carr, another UMass player from that era, echoed that sentiment: "It was such a family atmosphere and he really taught the players from a life perspective. You see a lot of these coaches and schools, it's all about lacrosse, but for the Goose, life was first and then lacrosse was second." Although Garber passed away in 1994, his influence continues to live on through another generation of coaches that learned how to lead and live while playing for him at UMass.

Said University of Virginia coach Dom Starsia, a former player and coach at Brown University who became friends with Garber: "I always considered Dick Garber a role model and a mentor. He was an important figure in my coaching life, especially in all those early years in New England. There's no doubt about that. I consider him to be a very important figure in my coaching evolution.

"The way that Dick carried himself, he was always a gentleman," added Starsia, who, like Garber, is a member of the U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame. "When I'm jumping around on the sidelines making a fool out of myself, I think of Dick Garber periodically and that's something that affects my behavior, because I know the kind of standard that he set for us and how we were capable of behaving. He's never far from my mind, especially on the sidelines."

Starsia recalled a particular moment in 2006 when memories of Garber rose to the forefront. His Cavaliers were about to play against Greg Cannella's UMass Minutemen for the national championship.

Said Starsia: "I went up to Greg and I actually said to him, `I think Dick Garber would be proud of both of us' just before we faced off to start the game."

Cannella offered his own thoughts on the far-reaching impact of his former coach.

"Dick Garber was a huge influence on me," Cannella said. "I think anyone you talk to about Coach Garber will tell you the same. Not just guys that are out there coaching but also guys that are in the business world, on Wall Street, teachers, accountants. In any walk of life that guys chose to take, I'm sure that they bring some of the things that Coach Garber gave to all of us during our time here."

In terms of feeling a high responsibility for protecting the Garber legacy at UMass, Cannella said: "I talk about it almost on a daily basis, about that legacy and about my position to be so fortunate enough to sit in the chair that I sit. My thoughts here are not to set my own legacy but to carry on his and keep people involved and keep people informed of the history of our program, which is his baby. He's the father of the program, so I keep that in mind for our guys and keep the alums involved and show the people here now what this program was built on, which is Coach Garber's values."

That message clearly has been felt by Cannella's players over the years. According to former UMass star Sean Morris, "Coach Cannella would get really emotional talking about Coach Garber, as would former players and alumni. And then you just started to feel that strong bond between the program and what Dick had done."

Of course, no one received more direct and lasting guidance from Dick Garber over the years than his son, Ted, who grew into his own legend.

Ted's turn

In high school, Ted Garber was an exceptional lacrosse player. But upon graduation, he chose to become part of a developing team at the University of New Hampshire rather than play for his father at UMass.

Said Ted: "My dad used to tell people he was the worst recruiter in the country because he couldn't get his own son to go to UMass. But he left it up to me on where I wanted to go to school, and I knew they had a really good school up there at UNH for what I wanted to study. I had a long talk with my dad about it because he really wanted me to go to UMass. Actually, he went to a different high school from where his own father coached back in the day for similar reasons. He told me to be my own person and do what I thought was best for me academically and athletically."

A year later, Ted felt he had made a mistake and asked his father to take him in as a transfer but was encouraged to stay put. According to Ted, "He said to me, `No, you made your decision. They expect you to be there and they're counting on you, so that's where you're staying.' Which was a good decision. He was always good with sage advice. He saw the big picture."

Ted excelled at UNH, graduating in 1975. Not long after his playing days were finished, he took over as coach of the UNH program in 1978, staying for 13 years. However, when his father retired in 1990, Ted heeded the call and succeeded Dick as coach at UMass. During the four years that followed, Ted carried the program forward, leading the way to two NCAA tournament appearances and even finishing with a slightly higher winning percentage than his father.

In 1994, Ted was faced with another tough career decision when he was offered a terrific opportunity at Avon Old Farms, a prestigious preparatory school in Connecticut.

"I would have stayed there [at UMass] except Avon Old Farms School had called me up and asked me if I wanted to be the coach there and do some administrative work and my sons could go there for free. I had a long talk with my dad about that and he said, `Well, you've got to do what's best for your family, not just what's best for your career,' and so I made the switch."

Since then, Ted has coached for several teams in Major League Lacrosse, including a stint as the first head coach of the Bridgeport Barrage and as an assistant for the Chicago Machine and most recently for the Boston Cannons. Although he has since stepped down from his position with the Cannons, he continues to coach prep school lacrosse for Loomis Chaffee in Connecticut. Of note, Ted is recognized as the only individual ever to coach at the professional, Division 1 collegiate and secondary school levels. Looking to the future, Ted also has formalized plans to become heavily involved with one of the expansion teams slated to be introduced to the MLL in 2010. Also noteworthy is the fact that Ted and Dick are the only father and son tandem ever to coach against each other in the Division 1 NCAA tournament. That game took place in 1986 (Dad's team won that one).

On whether he felt any pressure over the years playing or coaching in the shadow of his legendary father, Ted said: "He never put pressure on me as a player to perform at a certain level based on his legacy. He always said, `Don't worry about it. You don't have to live up to any standards of mine. Just do what you can do as best as you can and that's good enough.' I never really tried to compare myself to him. I tried to look up to him and follow his lead because I knew the standards that he had for himself as a coach and how he treated his players, which was probably the most important thing."

Going forward, beyond his own plans, Ted also will have the distinct pleasure of watching the budding career of his son Brett as it continues to unfold.

Brett completes circle

Brett Garber's story represents the Garber family coming full circle with the return to UMass lacrosse. After blossoming as a player under his father's coaching at Avon Old Farms, in 2004 Brett took his considerable skills to the program that his grandfather founded and whose name adorns the field where the Minutemen play.

Recalling that decision, Brett said: "I'd always had a soft spot for UMass itself because of the tradition with my grandfather and my father. When Coach Cannella started to recruit me, I thought it was the best thing in the world."

In 2006, along with fellow star players Sean Morris and Jack Reid, Brett helped UMass reach the NCAA Division 1 championship game for the first time in the program's history. Although the team lost to Virginia, 15-7, the appearance nonetheless represented a watershed moment for the UMass program and legitimized it as a national contender.

Said Reid about Brett`s play at UMass: "He was definitely an offensive player that could grip and rip from up top and get his feet set. He was capable of hitting big outside shots. I think he developed and matured as a player in his time there." On Brett as a person, Morris said: "You can tell that his grandfather and his father instilled a lot of the characteristics that they embody as well. He's such a quality character."

Looking back on his career at UMass, with the exception of that championship game, Brett's favorite memory remains a private tradition involving a statue memorial of his grandfather that stands in the right corner of Richard F. Garber Field.

Describing how the tradition started, Brett recalled, "In my first scrimmage at UMass when I was a freshman, the team went on our ordinary everyday game walk up to the field and it never crossed my mind before, but I walked by that statue and my first reaction was to wink at it. From that point on, I did it every day, every game, and it became a tradition for me. It was kind of funny, it wasn't something that I planned out, but before my first game I just did it and it's something that I'll always remember that I did because it meant a lot to me."

With his college career behind him, Garber has settled in as a professional player with the Boston Cannons and looks to have a strong playing career in MLL. Beyond that, he looks to a future in which he might follow in the revered footsteps of his father and grandfather.

"Coaching is always something that's on my mind," he said. "Right now, I'm very happy with where I am with my work, but I think coaching is something that I have a passion for and I'd like to pursue someday."

As of now, the three generations of the Garber family have collectively been on the scene of New England lacrosse for more than 50 years and counting, with no signs of an end in sight.

In the words of Cannella: "The Garber name is synonymous with New England lacrosse."