A History of the Denison Lacrosse Program

Miller was among those who straddled the transition from the unaffiliated GLC to an official Denison varsity sport in 1953, a year too late for Bonesteel and McCarter to take part. But their legacy had legs, even if it still lacked success in the record books. Miller still remembers much about Denison's lacrosse debut. "They asked Ken Meyer, a football assistant, to be the coach," Miller says. Meyer "didn't know anything about lacrosse and would freely admit it. Before the season he sat me down and said, 'Tell me all you know.'"

Miller remembers being one of just two players on that '53 squad with any real playing experience, and it showed. "If you knew somebody in your house that was a pretty decent athlete and wasn't playing something else in the spring, you tried to talk to him about playing lacrosse," said Miller. The record book reveals that Denison's first official lacrosse team went 0-7, with two losses apiece to Kenyon, Oberlin, and Ohio State, and one to the Cleveland Lacrosse Club.

The Big Red made a push to legitimize the program by hiring Rix Yard in '54. Though he brought the necessary experience to the program, having played both lacrosse and football at the University of Pennsylvania, Yard did not have instant success with the Big Red. Its combined record was 1-14 in his first two seasons, the only win a 6-5 victory over Ohio State in the opening game of 1955. However, Yard gradually parlayed his teaching ability and knowledge of the game into victories.

Bill Mason '57, a co-captain and MVP of Denison's '57 squad as well as a member of Denison's Hall of Fame, remembers Yard's knack for finding lacrosse talent in other sports' leftovers. Mason was playing basketball at Denison but readily admits he was far from a star player. "I was the only junior playing junior varsity," Mason says.

"Dr. Yard saw me and said, 'You're not going to play a lot of basketball here, but I'll make one heck of a lacrosse player out of you.'" Yard handed Mason a stick, gloves and a ball, instructed him to throw the ball against the field house wall and report back to him as soon as he could pass and catch. "I went back to him and said I can pass and catch, and he said you're going to be a midfielder," said Mason. "The first game I ever saw, I played in."

The Big Red's record steadily improved over Yard's 10 seasons at the helm. DU saw its first winning season in '59 (6-5), its first 10-win season in '62 (10-1), and an undefeated record in '63 (12-0). Yard's 1963 team is one of just two teams in Denison lacrosse history to post a perfect campaign and is heralded as one of the best squads in program history. Led in the back by two-time All-American defenseman Jim Crum ('63), the Big Red held its opponents to just 4.3 goals per game.

Another two-time All-American, Chuck O'Connell ('65), led the Big Red offense. The team's scoring leader struck for 23 goals and 25 assists that season. More often than not, freshman John Beatson '66 fed O'Connell the ball, delivering 31 assists during the perfect season. Beatson, another Denison Hall of Famer, remains the program's career assist leader (135), a noteworthy accomplishment considering the offensive growth of the game over the last 20 years. O'Connell ranks #12 all time in goals scored.

The perfect 1963 season was Yard's last at Denison. The Big Red continued its success over the next two years under one-year coaches Lynn Doherty and Mason, who combined for a 21-4 record, including a Midwest Championship. In 1966, Tommy Thomsen became the head coach, coming from the Rivers School in Massachusetts after a career as an All American goalie at the University of Pennsylvania, and firmly established the Big Red among the nation's elite.

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