A team from West Hartford’s Conard High School was inducted into the Connecticut Chapter of the U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame on Nov. 11.
By Ronni Newton
For the third year in a row there was a West Hartford induction into the Connecticut Chapter of the U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame, and this year it was an entire team.
The Conard High School 1967 team was inducted Saturday night at a ceremony held at Vazzano’s Four Seasons in Stratford, CT.
Former Conard boys boys lacrosse coach Bill Condon was inducted into the Connecticut Chapter of the U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2015. In 2016, longtime West Hartford Youth Lacrosse volunteer Carl Taylor was inducted.
According to Condon, other inductees with West Hartford ties include Will Hunter, who started the lacrosse program at Conard in the 1960s (and was coach of the 1967 team); and Neville Smith, who helped get lacrosse started in West Hartford and whose son is a 1975 Conard graduate and former All-American player at UMass.
Conard High School had a boys club lacrosse team for four years prior to establishing a boys varsity team for the 1966-1967 school year, funded with through a budget of $628, according to information from the Hall of Fame program provided by Bruce Backus, a 1964 Conard graduate and club team captain.
There were 49 members of that first varsity team, coached by future Hall of Famer Will Hunter.
Perhaps there were multiple reasons why so many boys joined the fledgling sport. The caption in the 1967 Conard yearbook that accompanied the team photo reads: “Play lacrosse and the girls will love you.”
Lacrosse was not a common public school varsity sport at the time, and according to Backus, opponents that first year included Loomis, Avon Old Farms, Choate, Kingswood, and the Wilton Lacrosse Club. A varsity team was added at West Hartford’s Hall High School the following year.
Backus shared the following anecdote, published in the Hall of Fame program:
No one knew who put the copy of Bob Scott’s Lacrosse and the two wooden lacrosse sticks in the library display window at Conard, but it made three of us curious enough to approach our football coach, Bob McKee, to ask about the sport. He was immediately excited about something his lay about football players could do in the spring to stay in some semblance of “shape.” I don’t remember if Coach Hunter was coaching swimming at that time, but Coach McKee contacted him about starting a lacrosse program.
I have no recollection about how things happened from an organizational standpoint, nor do I remember our first meeting with Coach Hunter. I do know that he seemed to move heaven and earth to get the program off the ground. He was a member of the Connecticut Valley Lacrosse Club and was able to beg, borrow, and steal enough equipment for us to get started. The custodial staff built two (600 pound) goals. I know because we had to move them on and off the field after practices. We looked like a ragtag troop, and didn’t have enough players to have full scrimmages, but somehow Coach Hunter fashioned us into a team, playing against what competition he could muster through his connections.
My first (and lasting impression) of Will Hunter was that he was the most soft-spoken and supportive coach I have ever had. He rarely raised his voice, even when frustrated with our thick-headedness; he never argued with a referee’s call; and he was always the epitome of sportsmanship. Most of us didn’t know which end of the stick was the business end, but Coach Hunter was patient and encouraging, teaching us the fundamentals of the Native American game. We learned to scoop, cradle, pass, and shoot under his tutelage, and not that it was important, we won some games!
Backus graduated before lacrosse was a varsity sport, but thanked Hunter for imbuing him, and many others, with a love and respect for the sport which he maintains today.
In addition to the Conard 1967 team, other 2017 Hall of Fame inductees are: JB Clarke, Boyd Harden, Ken McCarthy, Rachel Sanford, Tom Zaccagnino, and John Zinser.
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