Opinion Sports Columns

Wheaton: Thank you, men’s lacrosse, for helping me show up

By Evan Wheaton

This isn’t how I expected this column to go.

With the cancellation of NEWMAC spring sports in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 men’s lacrosse season has come to an end. It goes without saying how much of a disappointment this is for the players, coaches and fans of NEWMAC sports, but I’d rather not get into the negatives.

I’d rather talk about how much Springfield men’s lacrosse has done for me personally.

My initial meeting with head coach Keith Bugbee during this past preseason went anything but expected. We went through my questions and it was back to business like usual, though when we arrived at my final one, Bugbee gave me a very honest, open and transparent response.

It was the first time he opened up to me about Lindsay.

I think it goes without saying that almost everyone in the Springfield College community knows Bugbee’s story. There came a point where I picked up my recorder and shut it off – the rest of the conversation wasn’t meant for anyone outside that office.

Bugbee gave me something raw and real, so I did as well. We didn’t talk about lacrosse. We talked about showing up. It isn’t just the team mantra, it’s something that Bugbee and his players live by.

“Show up” is something I’ve tried to live by ever since that magical 2019 season. Showing up to me is being able to function for the sake of others when you’re hit with the hardest days imaginable.

Springfield men’s lacrosse is a program that’s had to deal with more than their fair share of adversity, yet they never wavered because they all showed up.

As someone who’s struggled immensely with not being able to be there for people, the thought of quite literally showing up is something that’s resonated with me.

I told Bugbee that day how much he inspired me last spring, though he probably didn’t mean to. As anyone close to me can attest, covering this team last year was something positive when I needed it.

This is the team that really made me grow as a journalist. Covering this program is what propelled me to where I’m at now. I wouldn’t be half the journalist I am without Bugbee or the Chief Dawgs.

That being said, Bugbee and I have been on a different level after that meeting in his office. We didn’t end off on the formal handshake – we got up and hugged after a long conversation that opened many doors.

When I met Bugbee on the field before the home opener against Union, we made our formalities before he gave me a concerned look.

“How are things at home?” he asked.

I looked down at my camera, looked at the players warming up on Stagg – the press box, the white Chief Dawg flag blowing and flapping in the wind. I gave him the best answer I could.

“I do this to distract myself.”

Covering the 2019 lacrosse season wasn’t just how I grew as a journalist. It’s how I fell in love with sports journalism and it gave me something powerful to hold on to. It sharpened my skills, but more valuable than that, it was an escape.

That wild NEWMAC semifinal against MIT, working closely with Sam Leventhal for the coverage, being on the scene for the conference championship at Coast Guard and becoming more heavily involved in The Springfield Student was new, exciting and I believe it was something I really needed at the time.

I had so many plans for this year – videos, photos on my own camera and dabbling in graphics were all something I anticipated getting into. I even had my lede ready in case the team won its 13th-straight conference title (call it a baker’s dozen).

But that doesn’t take away from the experiences I’ve already had.

I’ll always remember last spring as an interesting period of time in my life. Despite the place that I’ve been at mentally and emotionally, covering lacrosse games always pulled me out of that in the moment.

I was looking forward to having that feeling again a year later.

To Kyle Murakami – thank you for being a close friend and brother of mine since we transferred in together. It’s been great to see you grow as a player and person on and off the field through our adventures.

This team made me love the sport of lacrosse and led to great opportunities, let me grow as a journalist, and above all else, helped me heal a little – as it did with Bugbee.

I want to thank Jack Margaros and Gage Nutter for allowing me to take on the beat last year.

I also want to thank Sam Leventhal for being by my side the entire 2019 season. Without him, I wouldn’t have the photos, graphics, insight, confidence and learning curve that I received with my coverage.

Thank you coach Bugbee for always meeting with me and answering my questions thoughtfully and sincerely. Coach, thank you for inspiring me to keep fighting on and for teaching me what it means to show up.

To the players I’ve had the honor and pleasure of watching, speaking with and writing about, thank you for being such a great group of people and for allowing me to tell your stories.

Thank you, Springfield men’s lacrosse. Thank you for everything.

Photo courtesy of Kyle Murakami

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