ELBRIDGE, N.Y. –
Though the voice was already hoarse by late in the first quarter, the man barking out encouragement and instructions to his players between amusingly frank feedback to the officials was unmistakable to even casual observers of the sport in Central New York.
But the scene was so far removed from previous stomping grounds for the coach with glasses perched atop his salt-and-pepper hair that it was almost beyond comprehension. With barely 60 fans present, the atmosphere as a pair of small-school lacrosse teams squared off was nothing like what you get around here when powers such as West Genesee and Jamesville-DeWitt clash – never mind the carnival atmosphere of Hobart College battling perennial Division I contender Syracuse University.
Anyone needing confirmation of how far removed from big-time lacrosse this game was only had to peer at the far sideline, where the scoreboard was barely large enough to read the goal totals on a cool, overcast April afternoon as Skaneateles (N.Y.) defeated Jordan-Elbridge (Jordan, N.Y.) 18-9.
Could that really be B.J. O'Hara coaching a Class C high school lacrosse game behind the elementary school, replete with one tiny set of bleachers, a softball game in progress in the distance, no concession stand and a scoreboard with a clock that wasn't working?
Yes, it was.
And, as is the case with everything else in the Jordan-Elbridge school district these days, the story of how a man with multiple national title rings got the job is anything but simple despite O'Hara's best attempt to explain.
"Hey, it's fun to have your own team," he said.
"I've learned more from him this month than I probably learned the first two years I was on varsity," says Mo Town, the second-leading scorer on the Jordan-Elbridge lacrosse team this spring.
Rather than a knock on previous coaches, Town's words were a reflection of the reality of O'Hara's resume even discounting his 38-24 record and 2008 Major League Lacrosse championship with the Rochester Rattlers in the world's leading pro outdoor league.
After a distinguished career at Hobart as a two-time All-American, O'Hara served a series of apprenticeships and returned to the Geneva, N.Y., college once more in 1990 as head coach to win three NCAA Division III titles in his first four seasons as the Statesmen extended their run to a record 12 straight championships. Coupled with five triumphs as a Hobart assistant and one with Division I Syracuse in 2002, he's coached or assisted on nine NCAA champions.
Yet, there he was in late March of this year, delighting in watching over one of his sons at Skaneateles as a volunteer assistant to coach Ron Doctor when the phone rang.
Twenty minutes up the road from Skaneateles, the Jordan-Elbridge program was teetering on the brink of collapse as a brutal community squabble decimated the coaching staff. Athletic Director Phyllis Danks told O'Hara she needed him to get the Eagles back on track.
It took less than two weeks for her to realize she'd found the right man.
"The kids are in awe of him," she said. "He has so much knowledge and is such a positive individual."
Don't believe O'Hara is making a difference? Find another coach of a 1-7 team in any sport in the state who's more appreciated at the moment.
"We have a lot of work to do, but we can see the improvement," Town said.