Calvert Hall lax alums and other admirers honor former coach Dick Edell
In just three years in the early 1970s, the impact Calvert Hall lacrosse coach Dick Edell had on his players still resonates with them today.
It was evident by a beaming group of 50 or so former players and other friends who gathered around the 73-year-old Edell on Saturday afternoon to honor him with heartfelt remarks and reminiscences.
Edell’s indomitable spirit shined throughout the event, despite being planted in a wheelchair because of a muscle disease called Inclusion-body myositis that has withered his body — if not his heart or his mind.
The disease is “one of the inflammatory myopathies, a group of muscle diseases that involves inflammation of the muscles or associated tissues, such as the blood vessels that supply the muscles. A myopathy is a muscle disease, and inflammation is response to cell damage,” according to the Muscular Dystrophy Association website.
Although the disease is incurable, IBM is generally a slowly progressive disease which does nut significantly affect life expectancy, according to the website.
Despite his health woes, Edell was the star of the gathering held at the Phoenix home of Franz Wittelsberger, a standout attackman who played a pivotal role in the Cardinals’ success as a member of the varsity and would later become a four-time All-America performer at John Hopkins.
Edell led the team to two championships in the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference in his brief tenure at the Towson all-boys Catholic School, and did so with grace, honesty, fair-mindedness and — for at least one game against Gilman — an almost unheard of strategical ploy.
In a 2-1 victory over the Greyhounds in 1972 that capped the Cardinals’ first solo MSA championship (they shared their first-ever title a year earlier), Edell figured out a way to not only negate Gilman’s superior midfield speed, but to win the game outright.
The strategy was as simple as it was daring.
Edell’s instruction to his team was to hold the ball for as long as it could, with only brief and sudden attempts to score.
The plan looked like it would quickly unravel, however, when Gilman’s Princeton-bound face-off specialist Peter George grabbed the game’s opening draw and fed attackman Richard Thomas for a 1-0 lead.
After that, it was stall ball all the way for the Cardinals, who scored near the end of halftime to deadlock the score and went ahead late in the fourth quarter on a goal by midfielder Dale Kohler off a face-off.
“We thought we were outmanned a little in the midfield,” Edell remembered. “So we thought (holding the ball) gave us our best chance.”
For most of the game, either Wittelsberger or Kohler held the ball while the stunned Greyhounds made only occasional attempts to gain possession.
“Everybody was so startled, so we just let them stand there,” said George, who said he lost the face-off battle to Kohler, 5-2, that day.
“Their midfield could run circles around ours,” Kohler said. “I’m kind of a competitive guy, so I didn’t want to hold the ball. But coach said that’s the only way we could beat them. He was kind of a pied piper, so we followed him. He got us to believe in ourselves.”
Wittelsberger echoed the sentiment.
“It was a well-executed plan,” Wittelsberger said. “We worked on it in practice for a long time. We had confidence in him and we knew the plan would work.”
George, who came to befriend many of his old Calvert Hall foes, is a great admirer of their coach as well.
In a short speech in front of the group, he lavished praise on Edell.
“Today I simply want to express my appreciation to what Coach Edell not only gave his players, but his opponents. For me, it is hard to imagine life without the great game that he coached so brilliantly, and to also thank him for sharing his great young men with me.”
George elicited a laugh from the crowd when he also said, “Coach Edell, I promise no more midnight phone calls about how I can employ a stall strategy in a championship tilt. No, that ship has sailed.”
Another Edell rival, former Loyola Blakefied coach John Stewart, who coached the Dons from 1970 to 1981, chided Edell about beating the Cardinals in two of their three meetings.
Yet he added that when it comes to character, Edell is a champion’s champion.
“I consider Dick to be one of the finest gentlemen I have ever met in educating young men,” Stewart said. “He is a great motivator and a great role model.”
Tom Murray, an erstwhile defenseman for the Cardinals and, later, at Maryland, helped organize the event with Wittelsberger’s former attack mate Bob Lacy.
Both men spoke to the gathering about their coach and Murray concluded his portion of the informal ceremony by kissing the top of Edell’s head, which was perhaps the most moving moment of the day.
Edell, who was elected to the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2004, also coached soccer and lacrosse at the University of Baltimore and lacrosse at what is now called Army West Point and the University of Maryland.
His words were also well received by the assembled well wishers.
“To spend my whole life, doing something I like doing with the people I was doing it with — it doesn’t get any better than that,” Edell said. “All the things I talked to you about, you know when you get knocked down, get your ass back up. And when we lost a game — how to deal with it. You talked the talk and now it’s time to start walking the walk. It’s helped me get through this situation.”