Lacrosse wasn't always Bob Hartranft's favorite sport. In fact, the long-time Farmingdale High School coach never played the game. "I was a baseball-basketball guy," Hartranft said.
But when he was offered a job teaching social studies at a junior high school in Farmingdale in 1966, and also very much wanted to coach, the only position available was the boys lacrosse job. "I made a deal with the athletic director," Hartranft recalled with a smile. "He anticipated a baseball job opening up the following year and said he'd give it to me if I took that lacrosse job. I didn't know anything about lacrosse, but right away, I loved it. It was like playing basketball with a stick. It was fast and it was fun."
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So much fun, in fact, that when the baseball job was offered to Hartranft in the spring of 1968, he said, "No thanks. I'll keep this."
Good call, Coach.
Hartranft eventually got the boys varsity lacrosse job at Farmingdale High School in 1969. He's still there.
And 47 seasons and 694 victories later, Hartranft was voted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame's Class of 2015, and will be inducted at a ceremony on Oct. 24 in Hunt Valley, Maryland. He won the state championship in 2011, won 13 Nassau titles and has reached the county in each of his last 41 seasons.
"It's shocking and kind of overwhelming. It hasn't sunk in yet," said Hartranft, 73, who was notified by U.S. Lacrosse, the sport's national governing body, in late May. "It's not something you'd ever give any thought to. It's an elite club for guys who played the game."
Actually, the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, located in Baltimore, has three categories of inductees for high school and college accomplishments - players, coaches and contributors. Hartranft ranks third in the country in career victories for high school boys lacrosse, behind Hall of Famers Mike Messere (803), still active at West Genesee in Syracuse, and retired Ward Melville and Mt. Sinai coach Joe Cuozzo (747).
"When I first got the job, I picked anyone's brain I could to learn the game," said Hartranft, who specifically cited Fran McCall (Bethpage), Bill Martens (Ward Melville) and Jack Salerno (Elmont) as coaches who greatly influenced his career. "They helped me a lot. And you have to have great assistant coaches to last as long as I have."
One of them, Buddy Krumenacker, still Farmingdale High's football coach, was Hartranft's offensive coach for 34 years, retiring from that position in 2010. "He was a big part of my success. He was very good with the goalies, too. Once Buddy joined me, defense became my specialty," Hartranft said.
But he proved an old coach could learn new tricks by adjusting to his talent over the years. "One of the advantages I had by not playing the game is that I never got locked into a system," Hartranft said. "If we've got the skills to push the ball, we'll do it."
Twice, in 1978 and in 2003, his Dalers lost in the state final by one goal. Both times, Hartranft related, a Farmingdale player's shot hit the crossbar late in a tie game only to see the ball carom out to midfield where Ward Melville in '78 and West Genesee in '03 scored in transition to win.
Reminded of those contests before the 2011 state championship game in Syracuse, Hartranft resorted to gallows humor, saying, "If that happens again, I'll probably step in front of a truck on I-81 South.'"
No such drastic measures were needed, though there was a moment of deja vu for Hartranft. Farmingdale star Sal Tuttle hit the crossbar in overtime and, eerily, the ball again caromed out near midfield. But this time, the Dalers' Pat Starke scored in transition off a feed from Korey Hendrickson to end Hartranft's 42-year state title drought. "Seeing the kids dive on top of each other, wow, that was something special," he said.
That is one memorable moment from a long career that Hartranft intends to cite in his induction speech. Another is his experience as the coach for the USA 19-and-under team that won a world championship in 1992. "Being a history teacher, getting to wear those USA red, white and blue shirts - wow, that was something else," Hartranft said. "When we won the gold medal, watching the kids run around the Hofstra stadium with the flag wrapped around them - that was so great."
Not a bad lacrosse journey for a baseball-basketball guy.