by Joe Sheppard
With a little help from his friends...
Although Joe officially retired in June 2013, he remains active at LA, continuing as a contributing writer and editor for the Academy Journal. We trust you'll enjoy Shep's Place and check back often to read Joe's habitually witty, often poignant, and always insightful vignettes about life at Lawrence Academy.
O’er the Fields
My very first view of Lawrence Academy happened in the fall of 1959, when I was an eleventh-grade bench-warmer on the St. Mark’s JV soccer team and we took a bus to Groton to play this school that I had never heard of.
It had been raining, and the sky was still gray when we turned onto Route 40. As the bus bumped down onto Joy Lane, I could see that everything was still wet — really wet. We pulled over and piled out of the bus and were directed toward the middle of the three fields.
As we squished toward our benches, someone pointed to the center of the field we were to play on. It wasn’t merely wet; it was four inches under water! An older man, who I now know was Norman Grant, was out there in galoshes, trying to push some of the water away with a big janitor’s broom. We couldn’t delay the start of the game, so the teams slogged their way through four periods, raising geysers with every kick. I don’t remember who won, but I do remember that it was a cold, wet and muddy team that returned to Southborough that day.
Little did I realize that I would be coaching freshman soccer on that very same field only six years later! (Yes, I did have a brief but undistinguished career coaching “real” teams before moving up to recreational soccer with David Smith — a level of play much better suited to my particular coaching, uh, attributes.) The drainage had improved by the time I donned my first LA windbreaker and tried to look as if I knew what I was doing in front of a bunch of ninth-grade boys, but it still got pretty mushy at times.
When I graduated to rec soccer and its ongoing round-robin tournament among four teams — the Aardvarks, the Baboons, the Cockroaches and the Dodos — we played in the outfield of the baseball diamond. It was dry enough, but it had another issue: the goal nearest the road was a good six feet higher than the other one, which stood down at the edge of what was then the school’s occasionally malodorous leaching field.
This sloping remnant of the glacier’s caprice meant that whichever team was attacking the Main Street goal had to run uphill (for those guys, more like “jog,” “lope,” or “shamble”) for half of each game if they wanted to score. I remember one kid on the uphill-facing team just plunking himself down in the middle of the field until it was time to change ends. He must have made quite an impression on both David and me, because when I saw David at Reunion earlier this month and told him what I was writing about, he beat me to the punch. “I know exactly where you’re going with this!” he laughed.
Fortunately, the glacier’s little joke on our teams was eliminated when the Shumway fields were regraded and redesigned a few years ago. In fact, it is the current construction on Murbach Field that prompted me to write about LA’s fields as they were back in the day. The Spaulding-Stearns complex was built in 1940; the original Shumway Field, across Main Street, opened in 1900.
Before that, there simply weren’t any, and nineteenth-century outdoor “sports” at LA were limited to walking and running. There was, however, a tennis court, which the Student Aid of June, 1889 called “one of the pleasant features connected with our school.”
Football had been played informally since around 1880, though the principal, Mr. Ball, quickly banned it because of the destruction it wrought on the lawns. He proposed croquet in its place! Too bad it never caught on — imagine ISL croquet finals played under the lights at Fenway Park.
We’ll never have varsity croquet, but varsity field hockey and football will benefit from the new, turf Murbach Field, which will be ready for next fall. If you haven’t seen the new field and the landscaping around it, you should stop by. It really is going to be beautiful.
By the way, I didn’t have to get my feet wet back in ’59. I never got in the game.
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This will be the last Shep’s Place until September. My best wishes to all of you for a happy and relaxing summer.
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