Doyle Smith Provides Motivation for Cavaliers
June 2, 1999
At first blush, it may seem odd that the Virginia men’s lacrosse playerswould dedicate their 1999 NCAA tournament to a frail, bookish55-year-oldguy whose primary job is to keep their stats.
But for anyone who knows Doyle Smith, as everyone in the lacrosse worlddoes, there could be no more fitting source of motivation for theCavaliersthan the man who has devoted so much of his life to both the school andthesport. “We all want to see Doyle go out with a national championship,”saidUVa co-captain Tucker Radebaugh. “Giving him that trophy on the fieldMonday would be awesome.”
After more than three decades as lacrosse’s ultimate statistician andhistorian, Smith is retiring once the final four is over. He doesn’twantto stop doing the job he loves. But because of Parkinson’s disease, withwhich he was diagnosed 15 years ago, he feels he must. A progressivedisorder of the nervous system, Parkinson’s has robbed Smith of much ofhisspeech and motor skills. He sometimes is unintelligible when he talksandhe has trouble performing everyday activities like brushing his teeth.Hismind, however, remains as sharp as ever. And that, more than anything,willbe missed.
“Honestly, we can’t hope to replace him,” said UVa coach Dom Starsia.”Itwould take 10 people to try to fill his shoes. In our sport, he’s anicon.He’s one of those rare people whose single first name tells you all youneed to know. When you say Doyle, everyone in our sport knows who thatis.”
How a guy who never played the game became one of the lacrossecommunity’smost influential and respected figures is a remarkable story. “Moreaccident than anything else,” he said, modestly.
In fact, Smith spent the first 18 years of his life in Oregon,blissfullyunaware that the sport of lacrosse even existed. That changed, ofcourse,when he came to Baltimore to study American history at Johns HopkinsUniversity in 1962.
At Hopkins, lacrosse is like a religion. At the time, each student wasrequired to play it in physical education class. With his slight frame,Smith wasn’t well-suited to wielding a stick. So he found out a way toavoid playing – become the team manager.
In other words, he said, the reason he got involved in thestatistics-keeping, behind-the-scenes side of lacrosse was simple:”Self-defense.” Gradually, though, Smith became absorbed in the sportandhis duties. He was Hopkins’ manager for six years, the last two as agraduate student. When he came to UVa to pursue his doctorate in 1968,hestill did not expect lacrosse would be his life’s work. He figured hewouldbecome a history professor or get involved in foreign affairs -“ambassadorto the UK,” he joked.
Instead, he joined the school’s sports information department as apart-time employee and once again immersed himself in the game. He keptstats for the lacrosse team and was promoted to a full-time sportsinformation position in 1972. Soon after, he was appointed sportsinformation director of the United States Intercollegiate LacrosseAssociation. Somewhere along the way, he became known in the sport’sinnercircle as Mr. Lacrosse for his encyclopedic knowledge of the game’shistory, statistics and rules.
Myron Ripley, who has been an official scorer for Virginia lacrossegamessince the 1980s, recalls one incident during a game against JohnsHopkinsearlier this decade. The Cavaliers had scored a goal moments after aHopkins player was released from a penalty. Ripley and the Hopkinsscorer,a young woman, were arguing whether it should count as an extra-mangoal,since the player did not have time to affect the play. Ripley said yes;shesaid no. “Doyle was standing next to us and you could tell he wanted tosaysomething,” Ripley recalled. “He was fidgeting. Finally, he just said,’He’s right.’ She looked at Doyle a little skeptically and said, ‘Whyareyou so sure?’ He said, ‘I wrote the rule.'” Indeed, Smith wrote theLacrosse Statistician’s Manual, which is included in pages 31-34 of theNCAA Lacrosse Rule Book. Before the NCAA began keeping lacrossestatisticsseveral years ago, Smith did the job by himself for nearly 20 years.
Such work may not seem important. But many current and former collegecoaches say that by creating a historical record and codifying therules,Smith helped confer credibility and legitimacy to a sport long known forbeing clubby and informal. “He brought a discipline and thoroughness toourgame that it really needed,” Starsia said. “There’s always been a lot offun and enthusiasm associated with lacrosse. But to be taken seriously,weneeded a written record, people on the administrative side who wereadvocates for the sport. Doyle was the right man at the right time.”
Over the years, Smith also built a reputation for personal integrity andprofessionalism that has won him universal respect in the lacrossecommunity. He was named the USILA’s Man of the Year in 1984 and 1993 andisalso a two-time recipient of UVa’s prestigious Bus Male Service Award”He’sthe class of the game,” said St. Anne’s-Belfield boys’ lacrosse coachDougTarring, a former Cavalier player who came to UVa at the same time asSmith.
Ever the perfectionist, Smith has held Virginia’s players and coaches tothe same high standards he sets for himself. “When I first came here,thethought of working for Doyle was slightly intimidating,” Starsia said.(Howmany coaches would say they work for their assistant sports informationdirector?) “He’s like that English teacher who you always hated formakingsure your notebook was just right. Your back straightens up and you’recalled to attention when Doyle walks in the room.”
But Starsia quickly discovered that Smith’s rigid personality alsocontained a soft side. “Doyle is the most generous, sincere, loyal,thoughtful person around,” the coach said. “He will do anything forVirginia lacrosse and its athletes.” “Doyle is such a big part of ourprogram,” said senior midfielder Henry Oakey. “People see him keepingthestats, but they don’t see what he does for players. He invites us overtohis house. He always has a good word for us. It’s really special becauseyou can tell he cares about us.” Because of that, the UVa seniorsdecidedlast week to make T-shirts that had the initials EDS (for Edward DoyleSmith) and 1999 NCAA on the front, with the words “This Run’s For You”onthe back. When they presented Smith with the shirt before theirquarterfinal game against Delaware last Sunday, he got choked up. “Veryimpressive thing to do,” Smith said in his typical understated way.
This weekend will mark the end of an era for lacrosse. Smith has beentheofficial scorer at the NCAA Final Four for most of the past 27 years.Because of health reasons, he wasn’t able to attend last year. This yearhewill go as a spectator. And as a fan. Because his code of conductrequiredthat he act impartially as a scorer and statistician, he never let histruefeelings for the Cavaliers show during a game. “This time,” he said,”I’llget to cheer.”
By JOHN GALINSKY
Daily Progress staff writer