Skip Lichtfuss didn't know whether to pick up his old lacrosse stick or leave it in the closet when the Pittsburgh Bulls came into being in 1989. They wanted him to play, not coach.
He was 37, retired as a field player for five years and already five years into his tenure as Mount Washington's coach.
Anyway, Lichtfuss was leery of indoor lacrosse. The Bulls were the newest entry in the Major Indoor Lacrosse League, added after the Washington Wave folded.
"The purists said the indoor game wasn't lacrosse, but a sideshow," Lichtfuss said. "I agreed."
He played anyway, and quickly formed a new opinion of indoor lacrosse. Two years as Bulls general manager followed. This month, after the folding of the Pittsburgh franchise and the resignation of John Stewart after six seasons as Baltimore Thunder coach, Lichtfuss was named to replace him.
"This will be the MILL's eighth season, and you simply can't dismiss indoor lacrosse," Lichtfuss said. "It has the best players. They have guts and determination. How can you dismiss it?"
Lichtfuss has been in lacrosse since he was 8, through Towson High School and Washington & Lee and a club career with Mount Washington, the last nine years as head coach.
The MILL considers Lichtfuss an asset who gives the indoor game credibility. He has directed Mount Washington to the U.S. Club Lacrosse Association championship three times in the past four years. He is an assistant on the staff of Tony Seaman, head coach of the U.S. team that will defend its title in the quadrennial World Championships next July in Manchester, England.
"Skip has an exemplary record in field lacrosse," said MILL vice president Russ Cline. "He has a familiarity with the indoor game after doing an excellent job under difficult conditions in Pittsburgh. Most of his players were from Maryland, and practiced there, but played their home games in Pittsburgh."
This year, for the first time, Lichtfuss says, the Thunder won't have to share the Maryland talent with Washington (in the MILL's early years) or Pittsburgh, as it did the last four.
The Thunder's principal catch in the dispersal draft of Pittsburghplayers was Dave Pietramala, the former Johns Hopkins star and MVP in the 1990 World Championships.
"Gary Gait is the most amazing offensive player, but if I were starting a team, I'd pick Pietramala," Lichtfuss said. "He's 6-4, 210, runs like a deer and comes to play.
"I understand Thunder practices last year lacked intensity. Anyone who isn't ready to practice this year will find his butt on the ground, compliments of Pietramala."
In the dispersal draft, the Thunder also got Lindsay Dixon (Towson State), Bob Martino (Washington College), Tim Hormes (Washington) and Adam Wright (Johns Hopkins). Not drafted, but ex-Bulls available to the Thunder as free agents are Kevin Bilger (Maryland), Matt Wilson (Washington), Ron Klausner (Towson State) and Jeff Klodzen (Cortland State).
"We have four guys who are on the U.S. team," Lichtfuss said, naming Todd Curry, Tony Millon, Dixon and Pietramala. "We have the draftees [Loyola's Paul Cantabene and Kevin Anderson, Johns Hopkins' Brian Kelly and Hobart's Tom Gravante] and returnees like Brian Kroneberger, Jeff Jackson, Butch Marino and Tim Welsh."
Lichtfuss, who is a district leasing manager for Eastman Kodak, and his assistant, John Tucker, will welcome 32 players at the opening of practice Oct. 6 at Du Burns Arena.
"Thirty-two candidates for 21 spots," said Lichtfuss. "It will be the most competitive camp these guys have ever been in -- except for the U.S. team tryouts."