For Morgan State's 1975 lacrosse team, stunning upset still resonates decades later

Once upon a time, Morgan State played men’s lacrosse and scored a fairy-tale win over a legendary foe — a victory that, 43 years later, still resonates with the stick world. On March 8, 1975, the Bears — then the only lacrosse team from a historically black college, and one with a shoestring budget — defeated No. 1 Washington & Lee, 8-7, ending the Generals’ 27-game regular-season winning streak.

The win over a Division I opponent who, the year before, had reached the NCAA semifinals, put Morgan State’s young program on the map. The 1975 Bears finished 10-4 and ranked 11th in the Division II poll. They lost in the first round of the NCAA playoffs, 17-8, at Washington College.

On Friday, that squad will be given a “Team of Distinction” Award at the Morgan State Varsity “M” Club Athletic Hall of Fame banquet at the Student Union’s Tyler Ballroom. The affair is sold out.

Organized in 1970, the lacrosse team cracked the top 10 rankings four times, twice reached the postseason and defeated several Division I schools, including Notre Dame, Georgetown, Villanova and Michigan State. A 2001 book, “Ten Bears,” chronicled their success. Morgan State dropped the sport for financial reasons in 1981. But what a fun run it was, say those who suited up in that stellar 1975 season.

The opener, at Washington & Lee, stunned lacrosse fans and set the tone for the Bears’ season to come. The Generals had ended 1974 with a one-goal tourney loss to Johns Hopkins, who then won it all. Who’d have thought Morgan State, which barely had enough sticks and helmets to go around, could do the same?

“We had a feeling it would be our day,” said Courtenay Servary, the Bears’ goalie who turned back 25 shots on that cold and snowy afternoon. “They’d beaten us badly [16-4] the year before, so they were ripe for the picking.”

Afterward, spent from the struggle, Servary simply sank to his knees in front of the net and watched teammates celebrate from afar. His coach thought the goalie had passed out.

“I was so tired that I just sat there, in the mud,” he recalled. “It could have been a cesspool, for all I cared. I just enjoyed the moment; it’s an awesome feeling to win a game like that.”

Trailing, 5-2, at halftime, Morgan State rallied as its attack took charge.

“I don’t think we [the front line] scored at all in the first half,” John Workman said. “I remember that, going back out on the field after halftime, captain Dave Raymond pulled Mike [Walsch] and me aside and said, ‘Listen, we’re the offense and we’ve got to get the job done.’ He made it very clear.”

Workman, Raymond and Walsch each scored twice in the second half, and the Bears triumphed.

Jack Emmer, the Generals’ coach, said his team took the Bears too lightly.

“They thought all they had to do was put on the blue-and-white uniforms to win,” Emmer said. (Washington & Lee would advance to the NCAA Division I tournament semifinals that season before losing to Maryland, the eventual champion).

Servary, one of two white players on the Morgan State team, received the game ball, which now sits in the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Museum in Sparks. At 65, he has always shared kudos for Morgan State’s victory.

“I might have saved a few goals,” he said, “but I didn’t score the eight that we got.”

“He [Servary] played that game with a vengeance,” Workman said. Moreover, the Bears’ back line hounded the Generals mercilessly, forcing off-balance shots with their deft stickwork and speed.

“We’d overhauled our ‘questionable’ defense that winter,” said Mendoza Wallace, then a senior. “I talked three other midfielders [Adam Glover, George Kelley and Paige Beckwith], besides myself, to convert. We weren’t big but we were quick — and we could handle the ball.”

The win rattled lacrossedom. Suddenly Morgan State, a school best known for its football lore past and its recent (1974) NCAA Division II men’s basketball championship, was of interest in spring. That the Bears were the lone predominately black team in lacrosse made news; likewise, their hand-to-mouth funding that forced many players to buy their own gear.

“We had to support ourselves; there were no excesses,” Workman said. “I’d been telling the coach [Howard “Chip” Silverman] that I needed an extra stick in case mine broke, but he kept putting me off. Sure enough, at Washington & Lee, with 1:02 left while I was in a stall, my stick broke. I yelled at Chip, ‘I told you I needed a back-up stick!’ Finally, Jason Green let me borrow his.

“At Monday’s practice, there were two new sticks sitting by my locker.”

Tirelessly, Silverman solicited funds for the program. He knocked on doors, taking Wallace along.

“Chip knew a bunch of businessmen in the community and, because I had decent grades, I was his poster child,” said Wallace, 65, a retired insurance broker. “He’d ask for money and show me off as proof of what their checks could do.”

Morgan State had adopted lacrosse without fanfare. In 1970, football coach Earl Banks approached Silverman, then assistant dean of the college’s graduate school.

“I’ve got some players bugging me like crazy to play lacrosse,” Banks said. “You being white, you must have played lacrosse recently.”

Morgan State christened the program with a 9-7 double-overtime loss to the Community College of Baltimore. Though the Bears lacked finesse, they finished with a 4-3 record, having bruised weary opponents and amassed a slew of penalties.

Never mind that a number of those football players, while intimidating, had never touched a stick.

“Give me the athlete every time and we can teach him how to play the game,” said Silverman, a Forest Park grad.

By 1975, the Bears’ makeup had changed. Players were savvy but still menacing when it mattered.

“They were always tough guys, and they had my back at all times,” Servary said. “Other teams’ players would stand in front of me, at the goal, making comments about me being white and playing with black guys. A couple of them even tried to flip me. But later in the game, my guys would show them that we weren’t happy with what they’d done. Back then, a lot of things were legal that aren’t today.”

Friday night, when the players, all 60-somethings, gather on campus, they’ll share long-treasured stories, rehash the season — including a 9-7 victory at home over Harvard — and mourn the loss of Silverman, who died in 2008. Certainly, they’ll relish the victory over Washington & Lee.

“As a team, we weren’t aware of the historical significance of that game or that season,” said Workman, 63, a real estate broker and doctor of philosophy in Queens, N.Y. “I’m sure we were the only top-10 team where, when we played at home, the stands were absolutely empty. But that didn’t affect me as long as I could hear the 15 guys on our side of the field screaming and yelling for us to win.

“We learned to play within ourselves. We adapted to the quiet of our home games — and that’s a testament to these guys.”

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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