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.'
" 'Really?' the produce man says. 'What team is she on?' "
Ciccarone claims this kind of palaver has helped the Jays attain the 101-15 record he has amassed in his nine years.
Born in Annapolis, Md., Ciccarone was in a sense Navy born and bred. His father, an immigrant tailor, made uniforms for officers at the Naval Academy. Young Ciccarone joined the Marines as an enlisted man in 1956 and two years later was accepted at the Academy, a perennial lacrosse power. But he didn't like the "life-style" there. He quit after a semester and transferred to Hopkins. There, he was third-team All-America as a sophomore, second-team as a junior, and first-team as a senior. As a student, he was somewhere outside the Merriwell mold. He spent a fair amount of time winging water-filled balloons with his lacrosse stick at Hopkins deans and the girls from nearby Goucher College.
In the middle of his junior year he took off with his fraternity's grocery money and Sue Gordon, his girl friend from Boston University. They eloped to Las Vegas in her Impala convertible. When the grocery money ran out, they came back. The marriage has lasted 22 years and has produced three lacrosse players (Henry, 21; Brent, 20; and John, 17, still in high school) and one baseball player (Steve, 15). Like their father, all four kids are called Chic. Family reunions are like Old Macdonald's Farm: Here a Chic, there a Chic, everywhere a Chic Chic.
Henry, a senior, was a second-team All-America last season, when he led the Jays' midfielders in scoring, and is a probable first-team choice this year. He turned down a scholarship to North Carolina, which has beaten Hopkins in the NCAA finals the last two years, because, he says, he had friends on the Hopkins team. "I think he didn't want to play against his father," says his mother.
Coaching his offspring—Brent is the Jays' starting crease attackman—hasn't been easy for Ciccarone. "I try to treat my players like sons," he says. Which puts him in the awkward position of having to treat his sons like players. And Henry had to learn to treat his dad like a coach. "This year," he says, "I finally have the guts to say stuff back to him."
Chic the coach has devoted most of his adult life to Hopkins lacrosse. After graduation, he was an assistant to the exalted Bob Scott for eight years. Scott wrote the book on lacrosse. (It's for sale: Lacrosse: Technique and Tradition, Johns Hopkins University Press, $7.95.) A former Army Ranger, he was a straight-arrow taskmaster whose teams won seven national titles in 20 campaigns. Ciccarone took over the year after No. 7 and installed a more mobile system that stressed the passing game. "Free-lancing" he called it. When he didn't turn out a championship team in his first three seasons, some alumni were ready for a new tradition—firing the coach.
Chic responded with some patented Ciccarone chicanery. At the annual preseason "smoker" for Hopkins alumni lacrosse men in 1978, he had 10 members of the varsity dress in gangster suits with white carnations in their lapels. He called them Salvatore, Vito, Giuseppe, etc. and told the disgruntled alumni, "This is my hit squad. If you're displeased with our offense, talk to them." His mafia won the title that year, and the next two also.
Then again, lie hasn't been wholly responsible for those three titles. Chicken livers were. Ciccarone doesn't take many chances. He has his rituals. He ate chicken livers after every Thursday practice during those championship seasons. When he didn't win a fourth, he stopped. "For five years he wore the same pair of black pants to every game," says his wife. "Washed."
This year his rituals have become even more elaborate. On Tuesday afternoons he drives to downtown Baltimore to the Lexington Market, a food bazaar, and he's not after half a head of lettuce. First, he buys a state lottery ticket, the digits on which correspond, in an obscure way, to the Jays' number of wins for the season. Then he gets soup (navy bean or chicken rice) from the J.N.R lunch counter, a sandwich (usually raw beef) from Jerns' meats and a soda (Tab) at Polock Johnny's. It seems to work. The Jays have been grinding out wins the way Polock Johnny grinds out Polish sausage. Until two weeks ago, when they lost in double overtime 14-13 to North Carolina in a midseason game. The Tar Heels seem un-fazed by Chic's ritual. Maybe their coach, Willie Scroggs, is immune to Ciccarone's spell. Scroggs is a former Hopkins midfielder and assistant.
The current two-year title void has not gone unnoticed. "All the sherbet in the world couldn't wash away the bitter taste of those two losses," says Sokolow. For Hopkins' hungering alumni only a national championship will do.