IN THE spring of 1968, the unbeaten Johns Hopkins University lacrosse team traveled to Charlottesville to play the unbeaten Virginia Cavaliers. As the team bus entered town, Coach Bob Scott recognized an elderly gentleman standing at the side of the road.
It was "Georgie" -- George Pohler Jr. Georgie, then 62, had boarded a 5 a.m. Trailways bus to get to the game. For the next 24 years as Hopkins' ballboy, he would see every Hopkins lacrosse game, home or away. He became an official member of the Hopkins lacrosse family.
Georgie was a true character -- always arriving at practice early, smoking cheap cigars in the locker room with "his" boys, discussing everything from the Orioles to a physics test a player faced the next day. His favorite dress was plaid. He often wore a Sherlock Holmes-style deerstalker hat, better suited to the Scottish Highlands than to Baltimore in the spring. He saw to it that his cleats were shined weekly on Mondays before practice. He wore a solid blue rain suit in stormy weather.
As the ballboy, his job was to retrieve shots that went astray. He had an uncanny ability to avoid misfired balls. As the team warmed up, 20 or 30 balls would be hurled at the goal simultaneously, traveling at speeds of up to 80 mph. Georgie would stand behind the goal fearlessly, shifting left and right, scooping up the shots. He seemed to have a sixth sense of how to avoid being hit.
But accidents happen. At 5 feet 7 inches and 140 pounds, Georgie was not a large target. In 1988, Mike Morrill, an All-American attackman, unintentionally pegged Georgie in the chest. He went down hard. Practice was halted as he slowly rose and was ushered to to the training room. The team was so flustered and worried about the possibility of serious injury that practice was halted for the day. Georgie returned to the field two days later, no worse for wear.
Georgie's most famous moment came in 1981 during the national championship game at Princeton, when a Hopkins goal was disallowed after it went through a tear in the net. Georgie happened to be standing behind the goal. He disgustedly walked on the field and put his hand through the torn twine through which the shot had passed. The referees were forced to stop the action and usher Georgie from the field. But he had made his point.
In 1989, Hopkins traveled to Chapel Hill to play North Carolina. During a cold and rainy Friday practice, Georgie wandered behind one of the goals and somehow became entangled in a barbed-wire fence, his rain gear whipping in the wind. Georgie had too much pride to call for help, but he was eventually missed, and Coach Don Zimmerman led the entire team to the rescue. In a pre-game speech the next day, the coach cited Georgie's devotion and sacrifice. The fired-up Blue Jays won easily.
But Georgie won't be there tomorrow, when Hopkins faces Towson State in NCAA playoff action. He died earlier this week and was buried Wednesday. Team members will wear horizontal black bands on their helmets in memory of George Pohler, and they have dedicated the rest of the season to him. When they see a lacrosse ball go wide of the goal, they'll think of him standing there, ready to put it back into play.
Quint Kessenich was goalie on the Hopkins lacrosse team from 1987 to 1990. He writes from Baltimore.