By Evan Wheaton
A large white flag is planted on the chain link fence behind the Springfield College men’s lacrosse bench on game day. As it blows in the wind, it proudly displays a cartoon dog with a lacrosse stick and the words “Chief Dawgs Lacrosse.”
“Even though, because we’re technically with the school and we can’t wear Chief Dawg Lacrosse, it’s kind of our reminder there during the game that that’s who we are and what we represent,” junior Joe Cameron said. “That flag represents a lot more than ourselves, it represents our coaching staff and everybody that played before us.”
Players of years past have all embraced the Chief Dawg culture and what it means to them. The lessons that the Chief Dawg lifestyle has taught them are still valued by every Springfield lacrosse team.
“There are now probably countless alumni with Chief Dawg tattoos on their bodies,” Bugbee said. “It really has been a sort of mantra the guys are super proud of. It’s like a subculture within the general culture of our athletics. It’s all positive, there’s really nothing negative about it, it’s not defying or anti Springfield College Pride or Chiefs or anything like that. It’s really just become a very proud tradition.”
For a school that prides itself on traditions, men’s lacrosse is no different. This one dates back to the very first years of Bugbee’s career at Springfield.
“We used to be the Chiefs when I started back here in the early 80’s,” head coach Keith Bugbee said. “I’m not even sure how it happened, I can’t remember exactly how, but some of the guys just referred to themselves as ‘dawgs.’ Like, let’s go dawgs. It was coined by Earle Morrill, who had a nice southern accent. Being the Chiefs at the time, it just became the ‘Chief Dawgs.”
Much like the team’s official name, the meaning behind ‘Chief Dawg’ has also evolved over the years.
“For me, being a Chief Dawg means that when you’re in a situation and you need help and you need advice or someone to talk to, a Chief Dawg is someone you can go to and trust with anything,” Cameron said. “Family first, drop everything first. When things are going downhill for somebody, they’re the person you go and talk to right away. When things are going well, they’re the first person you want to call and tell them about it. When you think about your best friend, that kind of person you would go to for anything. A Chief Dawg is the first one you think of.”
Cameron, along with the rest of the roster, received an email from Bugbee over winter break with a document. It had five questions on it:
“What does being a Chief Dawg look like as a person? What does being a Chief Dawg look like as a teammate? What does a non Chief Dog look like as a person? What does a non Chief Dawg look like as a teammate? How can you be a better Chief Dawg?”
“I sat down with every guy individually and went over that with them,” Bugbee said. “A lot of guys said the right thing, now we’re trying to get them to live the right thing. It’s one thing to say a Chief Dawg is tough and they buy in the system, which means they intellectually get what it looks like and what it doesn’t look like, like if you’re selfish or about yourself and not the team.
“They put down and verbalized a lot of accurate stuff and even these comments any coach would be proud of. You know, toughness on and off the field, paying attention to academics, paying attention to their social life, and although the right things were said, words are cheap, and I think the next step after that is to live it. When they do live it, it’s pretty noticeable, there’s a big difference between teams that embody it and teams that don’t embody it.”
The exercise isn’t conducted every single year, but once in a while, Bugbee uses it to keep the tradition alive. With a very young team this year, it was important to get the message across.
Bugbee often tells his players that he doesn’t recruit them for four years, rather he recruits them for 40.
“We don’t talk a lot about wins, we talk a lot more about the integrity and toughness issues, the gritty stuff that at the end of the day will make you a much better father, husband, and employee some day,” Bugbee said. “I’m much more concerned with the process of the kind of person they’re becoming. In my opinion a good Chief Dawg will be all of that because they’ll have taken that grittiness, toughness, commitment and accountability factors into life with them.”
Being a Chief Dawg means being there for each other. It’s about being one’s best possible self. Wins and losses are byproducts of the process and what matters is putting in maximum effort for the rest of the team.
Every quality of a Chief Dawg makes the best lacrosse player, the best team player, and the best possible human being. It’s not something to be taken lightly, and it has to be earned.
“With this really young team this year, it may take a whole season to get it going, and they’re not there right now,” Bugbee said. “Maybe it’s a good idea to remind them what they wrote.”
Photo courtesy Joe Cameron