Forman: Hayes' Humility Helps Spread Lacrosse Worldwide
|Tom Hayes, the Federation of
International Lacrosse's director of development, spearheaded the
FIL's acceptance into SportAccord, the umbrella organization for
Olympic and non-Olympic international governing
© Lee Weissman
Tom Hayes didn't ask any questions, almost like he had known me his whole life.
When I called Hayes to see if Lacrosse Magazine could visit his home in suburban Scranton, Pa., set up a photo shoot and arrange a sit-down interview, Hayes didn't hesitate.
"Sure, of course," said Hayes, the Federation of International Lacrosse's director of development. "But you'll need directions. If you asked me where I lived, I'd have no clue. There is no town."
A week later, Hayes and his wife of 48 years, Gretchen, welcomed photographer Lee Weismann and me into his home perched facing Crystal Lake atop the Endless Mountains in northeastern Pennsylvania. With both hands full, we carried computer bags and photography equipment into his downstairs "man cave," and we started unloading the stuff.
Using metal tripod legs as supports, we assembled a six-plus-foot tall gray seamless backdrop, rearranging his basement furniture by moving a glass-covered coffee table into the corner. Then we plucked precious possessions from his mini-museum of lacrosse and international travels — maps, flags, a globe, a wooden stick — using them as props for the photos.
Gretchen, likely confused by the commotion, couldn't resist: "What is all of this for, anyway?"
It was time to break the news. Tom Hayes was Lacrosse Magazine's Person of the Year.
Surprised, Hayes smirked slightly, exhaled and said, "Wow." Gretchen nearly galloped across the room to give Tom a kiss. "I'm so proud of you, Tom."
Hayes, 72, spent most of the next hour-plus photo shoot diverting attention away from himself. He gave credit to friends and relatives, acquaintances and colleagues developed throughout a lifetime of lacrosse.
But I was prepared for Hayes' humility.
Two days earlier, I asked FIL president Stan Cockerton about Hayes' egoless, unassuming modesty: Will Tom take credit for all his work?
"If he says anything less, tell him I said he's full of crap," said Cockerton, also executive director for Ontario Lacrosse. "You can quote me on that."
I wasn't quite as blunt. But I didn't need to be. Hayes' accomplishments and resume speak for themselves.
A two-time All-American midfielder at Penn State, Hayes later became a Hall of Fame coach. He spent 32 years roaming the sidelines of Rutgers and Drexel, reaching five NCAA tournaments and earning 24 consecutive top-20 rankings before retiring in 2000.
For all intents and purposes, Hayes invented international lacrosse, selecting the first true U.S. men's national team in 1974 and leading them on a 39-day excursion around the world. Five times he was Team USA's general manager. He served in virtually every leadership position on the International Lacrosse Federation board, including president from 1994-2002. And even though he wasn't coaching, Hayes never really stopped working. He kicked his international involvement into overdrive, helping grow lacrosse governing body member nations from four to 45.
"Tom made his livelihood out of the game as a coach, for decades, and then he looked for something that was far bigger than him to continue his involvement in the sport," US Lacrosse president and CEO Steve Stenersen said. "It had nothing to do with him, it was all about him making a contribution to position the game in a better way, and take it to a better place."
Hayes, like any Person of the Year, could have been honored for lifetime achievement. Let's face it: In order to realize anything significant, it takes hard work and dedication, and it doesn't happen overnight.
Where He's Been
This is a page from (one of) Hayes' passports
But in 2012, he singlehandedly spearheaded the FIL's acceptance into SportAccord, the umbrella organization for Olympic and non-Olympic international governing bodies that essentially serves as the unspoken gatekeeper for International Olympic Committee recognition.
"Tom Hayes is not in the pages of Lacrosse Magazine every month. He's not on LaxMagazine.com every month. Relative to the lacrosse mainstream media, he's doing it all behind the scenes. Nobody really knows what he's been doing," Stenersen said. "But his work is enormous. It comprises a monumental foundation of the game that's required to get to the next level of international recognition. And he's never lost his passion and his enthusiasm for doing the little things over time that are required to make significant process."
More specifically, Hayes spent almost every day for five months diligently compiling the roughly 250-page, detailed application to SportAccord, orchestrating the most significant step lacrosse has ever taken toward the Olympics.
"We started our Olympic Dream 10 years ago, and 10 years into it we're a member of SportAccord," Cockerton said. "I don't know where that's going to lead us. But lacrosse being recognized by a satellite body, like SportAccord, shows that we have arrived. In the future, it'll be a huge, huge part of our sport's history."
Previous landmark moments included the merging and unification of the International Lacrosse Federation (ILF) and International Federation of Women's Lacrosse Associations (IFWLA) to form the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) in 2008, and the recognition by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 2009.
The FIL's upcoming timeline, made possible in part by joining SportAccord...
2013 — Apply for membership in the International World
Games Association (IWGA).
2016 — Attend the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
2017 — Participate in the World Games in Wroclaw, Poland. (Currently as an exhibition sport. With IWGA membership, as a full participant.)
2020 — Earliest possibility for Olympic participation.
2024 — Realistic opportunity for Olympic participation.
"For the longest time, we were at the train station," Hayes said. "Now we're on the train. It's just a matter of how many stops we're going to have to go."
After the photo shoot, Hayes and I shared stories over lunch. He spoke about how he first got involved in international lacrosse. He described many of the 47 countries he has visited. He talked about his coaching career. I offered anecdotes shared from influential figures in Hayes' career.
Cockerton couldn't help but chuckle when recounting a game of golf played on an off-day at the 2000 ILF World Championships in Melbourne, Australia, when Hayes birdied a 120-yard, island hole par-3 after hitting driver into a gale-force wind.
Duke's John Danowski, who played for Hayes at Rutgers as a junior and senior, recalled that in 1995 while he was at Hofstra, he decided to quit coaching in the middle of the season on the bus ride back from a difficult game. One of the first calls Danowski received after came from Hayes, who convinced him to reconsider.
Long-time Hayes associate and former Team USA general manager John Phillips, currently an FIL budget committee member, fondly remembers 33-year-old Hayes leading a 46-person cast to foreign countries no one knew anything about, all the while still recovering from a near-death car collision suffered just eight months prior.
Ron Balls of England, FIL's director of finance/operations, praised Hayes' light-hearted approach to meetings, even while keeping order. Hall of Fame and long-time Army coach Jack Emmer, the FIL's director of men's lacrosse, admired Hayes for shaking his hand and remaining a close colleague even after sometimes-physical games. Fields' of Growth founder and director Kevin Dugan, FIL development committee member, called Hayes a mentor for his vision and passion.
They've all known Hayes for varying lengths of time, and for much longer than I have. But Hayes treats everyone the same way. That's why I felt like I've known him my whole life.
"Tom is a special person because he is in every way a gentleman, and has always been in the way he's conducted himself and represented the sport," Stenersen said. "There couldn't be a better person to represent lacrosse, and to personify what the game should be about, than Tom Hayes."
A six-page feature story on Tom Hayes as Person of the Year appears in the December issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.