James F. “Ace” Adams IV, a three-time All-America lacrosse player at Johns Hopkins University who later coached the sport at St. Paul’s School, West Point, Penn and Virginia, died Monday of pancreatic cancer at his Charlottesville, Virginia, home. He was 91.
“During the 1940s, he was a lacrosse star at St. Paul’s and they never lost a game during his four years on the team, and then he went to Hopkins and they never lost a game. So that’s eight years of never losing a game,” said Bill Tanton, former longtime Evening Sun sports editor.
“Jim was one of the great players of that long ago-era,” said Mr. Tanton, a Tuscany-Canterbury resident. “He was always known as a gentleman who never chastised the referees and was really a genuinely nice person and an amazing coach.”
James Frederick Adams IV, the son of James F. Adams III, a businessman, and Helen Monmonier Rianhard, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Catonsville.
Mr. Adams entered St. Paul’s School in the second grade as a boarder, and lived there until graduating in 1946. During his years at St. Paul’s, he blossomed as an athlete in middle school, and by the time he completed the upper school, was a star varsity athlete who earned three letters in football and basketball, and four in lacrosse where he was an outstanding midfielder.
“His lacrosse teams were among the best ever, and Jim has the distinction of never losing a single game during four years of play,” according to a citation from the St. Paul’s School Athletic Hall of Fame.
“In 1946, he was a key part of the undefeated team which not only won the Maryland Scholastic Association Championship, but also took on and defeated Princeton University not once, but twice in the same season. Overall, Jim was instrumental in winning six championships, including four in lacrosse and one in basketball and football,” according to the citation.
In 1976, Del Langdon, in an “I Remember” feature for the old Sunday Sun Magazine, recalled Mr. Adams’ performance as a member of those memorable St. Paul’s lacrosse teams for which he played from 1943 to 1946.
“How about Jim ‘Ace’ Adams looking taller, leaner and far more serious than anyone else, executing a perfect cut to convert one of [attackman Billy] Hooper’s feeds into a score,” wrote Mr. Langdon.
Mr. Adams entered the Johns Hopkins University in 1946, where he was an end and quarterback on the varsity football team and forward on the basketball team. He brought his skills as a midfielder to the Blue Jays’ national championship teams in 1947, 1948 and 1950, when he was team co-captain.
In 1948, the U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association named him an honorable mention All-American midfielder. The next year, the association named him to its first team, and in 1950, to its third team. He also played in the North/South Collegiate All-Star games both in 1949 and 1950.
During his athletic career at both St. Paul’s and Hopkins, the “6-foot-2 husky,” reported The Baltimore Sun in 1950, earned 21 varsity letters.
After graduating from Hopkins in 1950, he returned to St. Paul’s, where he taught five classes a day and was head coach of the lacrosse and football teams. From 1952 to 1953, he was the school’s athletic director.
“During his three-year coaching stint at his alma mater, St. Paul’s School of Baltimore, the prep school won the Maryland scholastic championship each year,” reported The New York Times in 1958.
Mr. Adams left St. Paul’s in 1953 when he became an insurance salesman, but continued playing lacrosse from 1951 to 1956 for the Mount Washington Lacrosse Club, and served as the team’s head coach in 1957.
Mr. Adams was named head lacrosse coach at Army in 1958, succeeding F. Morris Touchstone, a Baltimore native who had played for the Mount Washington Lacrosse Club and coached at West Point for 29 years, before his death in 1957 from a heart attack.
During his 12 years at West Point, Mr. Adams led Army to four national titles. In his first season, 1958, he led the Black Knights to a perfect record and being named national champions.
“Against Duke, Adams played 33 different players in a failed attempt to hold down the score. Army won, 21-2. ,” according to a National Intercollegiate Lacrosse Officials Association profile of Mr. Adams.
“In 1961, the first nationally televised lacrosse game, Army upset Navy, 10-8, to capture a share of the national championship alongside the Midshipmen. That season, Adams was awarded the F. Morris Touchstone Award as USILA Coach of the Year," according to the profile.
It was his final game as Army coach against Navy in Annapolis in 1969, and Mr. Adams had not forgotten the 18-7 drubbing Navy delivered against his team four years earlier.
“The Middies’ first string poured it on for almost the full 60 minutes and then walked away laughing,” reported Sports Illustrated at the time.
“It was the most humiliating moment of my life,” Mr. Adams told the magazine.
On a June day in 1969, Mr. Adams’ team delivered what has been called a 14-4 “rout” before more than 16,000 spectators at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.
In 1970, Mr. Adams was appointed lacrosse coach at the University of Pennsylvania, where he coached for eight years, and found his Penn teams quite different talent-wise from those he had coached at Army.
“I went from a squad that had two first team All-American attackmen to a team that consisted of mediocre players. They were all nice kids, but they just didn’t have a lot of talent,” he explained in a 1992 interview with The Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia newspaper.
Because of Mr. Adams’ excellent recruitment skills, he was able by midway through his tenure at Penn, to raise player quality. In 1977, he had three first team All-Americans on the team, and had managed to lead the Quakers to several top-10 rankings, including the No. 4 position in his final year.
He coached Penn to its first two NCAA Championship appearances in 1975 and 1977, and during his time there coached 17 All-Americans.
Mr. Adams was hired in 1978 to be the head lacrosse coach at the University of Virginia, and until retiring in 1992, compiled a record of leading the Cavaliers to 12 NCAA tournament appearances and to four semifinals, finishing twice as runners-up, but won no national titles. His record at Virginia was 136-60.
“After 35 years of college coaching, I feel it is time to turn the reins over to a younger coach,” he told The Sun at the time of his retirement.
At the time of his retirement, he had the most wins of any active Division 1 lacrosse coach with a lifetime record of 286-122-1.
In 2012, Penn named its new lacrosse field at its 24-acre Penn Park location the James F. “Ace” Adams Field, making it the first field named for a former Penn coach.
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“Coach Adams taught his student-athletes not only to excel on the field and in the classroom, but also to have a positive impact on the world at large,” said Penn athletic director Steve Bilsky, at its dedication.
Mr. Adams was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1975. He was president of the USILA from 1963 to 1964 and served on numerous NCAA, USILA and Lacrosse Foundation committees.
In his retirement, Mr. Adams followed lacrosse, football and basketball at Virginia. He enjoyed playing golf and was a member of the Boar’s Head Sports Club.
He was a member and a former elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville.
A private interment service will be held Friday at the University of Virginia Cemetery and Columbarium.
Mr. Adams is survived by his wife of 69 years, the former Betty Jane Sparks; five daughters, Linda A. Martin of Cheshire, Connecticut, Sally C. Saxton of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Helen Elizabeth “Beth” McGrath of Charlottesville, Dr. Mary Jo Hill of Williamsburg, Virginia, and Margaret Ann “Meg” Torres of Vancouver, British Columbia; 18 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.