Gold Standard: U.S U19 GM Flatley Will Retire a Legend
Eyes perfect conclusion to his international career this July
|Tom Flatley, 72, has been a
indispensible behind-the-scenes force for the U.S. Under-19 men's
national team since its inception in 1988. He will retire from his
volunteer role after this July's FIL U19 World Championship in
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
Every team needs a ground ball machine — the guy who can plow into a scrum, do what's necessary to get the ball, and put his teammates in position to succeed.
Tom Flatley hasn't taken the field once for the U.S. Under-19 men's team, but he's been its ground ball machine since its 1988 inception. Friends and colleagues credit the 72-year-old general manager as a big reason why Team USA owns six Federation of International Lacrosse gold medals and a 36-0 all-time record in international play.
Flatley and the 2012 U.S. U19 men's team will shoot for a seventh gold medal July 12-21 in Turku, Finland, after which the longtime high school lacrosse and football coach from Long Island will step away from his volunteer role with US Lacrosse.
"Tom's a longstanding give-back guy to the game," said Jody Martin, former men's game director at US Lacrosse and current executive director of the Charm City Youth Lacrosse League. "He's a pillar, a legend."
US Lacrosse administers all aspects of the men's and women's national teams, but it wasn't always that way considering the organization did not exist until 1998. Flatley first started helping out the U.S. senior teams in the 1970s, serving as head coach of the 1982 world champion team. As a coach at Garden City (N.Y.) High School, the Trojans played games against Australian junior teams in the early '80s. William "Doc" Dougherty, head varsity coach at Garden City, became aware of Australia's interest in beginning an international U19 tournament, and it was then that Flatley moved into a volunteer administrative capacity with the inaugural U.S. U19 team.
"I've always paid attention to detail — some coaches don't do the minor things that make the major things a lot easier," Flatley said. "I don't mind sitting in meetings with people from other countries and debating points. I enjoy working with trainers and equipment guys. If laundry has to be done, I don't mind. You do what has to be done to make it a better experience for the kids."
"Tom would do all the dirty work," said Bob Shriver, head coach of the 2003 U.S. U19 team and an assistant on the 1988 and 1999 squads. "He made sure as coaches we had it very easy — the only thing we needed to do was coach. Because of his coaching background, he knew implicitly what we all needed, and he'd get into trenches to fight for what he thought the team and coaches needed."
Martin recalls receiving hand-written requests from Flatley three years in advance of an FIL U19 tournament. The aversion of email became a Flatley trait, alongside a somewhat stern persona that did not often include pleasantries.
"He would stand on the sideline, never smiling, never saying hello," Shriver, who has known Flatley for about 40 years, said with a laugh. "He was an intimidating presence on the sideline if you were competing against him. We've had some unbelievable personalities like Liam Banks and Gerry DeLorenzo on these U19 teams, and they were intimidated by him. But he appreciated them. Behind closed doors, he laughs at jokes like the rest of us. His bark is way worse than his bite. Tom has as warm a heart and is as wonderful a human being as I've met in lacrosse."
And he has set a gold standard that may never be surpassed.
A version of this article appears in the June issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.
Visit laxmagazine.com/teamusa/u19men/ to follow and support the U.S. Under-19 men's national team all the way through the FIL World Champinships July 12-21 in Turku, Finland. This month, the team will play three exhibition games followed by a youth clinic the next day in each area: Long Island, Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Click here for tickets and more information.