By Bill Tanton
You could hardly call the late Nolan Rogers an unsung hero in lacrosse. He’s in the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. That’s as loud as we sing in this sport.
But Nolan was unsung.
In the early 1950s, he was a good player at Duke, a third-team All-American defenseman who played in the 1953 North-South All-Star game. But you don’t get in the Hall of Fame with a resume like that.
Rogers is in it because he earned it for the rest of his life, which ended due to cancer on May 2, he served lacrosse while distinguishing himself as an outstanding lawyer for the state of Maryland.
Rogers was different from a lot of old jocks. He was willing, even happy, to do the grunt work. He was general manager for three U.S. men’s teams. For 12 years, he handled the niggling details of preparing the U.S. for world championships. He was responsible for getting 23 players plus a traveling party to competition sites around the world—and getting them home safely.
Team USA won three world championships—in Perth, Australia (1990), Manchester, England (1994) and Baltimore (1998)—under his watch.
“Nolan could be a pain though,” said former U.S. player Jim Darcangelo, who actually loved the man like a second father. “In Perth, he called our room in the morning all excited and screamed, ‘Get up! We’ve got practice in an hour!’ He called back five minutes later and said, ‘Where are you guys? The bus is out front, ready to leave, and you guys are still in bed!’”
That was pure Rogers, pushing himself and everyone else. He took personal responsibility for the tiniest matters.
Did Peter Kohn have clean towels for the players? Did the bus driver know the route to the practice field? Did John DeTommaso see the doctor about that shoulder? (Rogers never tired of saying, Long Island-style, “Deto’s should-uh.”)
Rogers was the general manager of the Maryland Lacrosse Club in the 1980s, in those pre-MLL days when it annually battled the Long Island Lacrosse Club for the national club championship.
Rogers also served as president of the Lacrosse Foundation, forerunner of US Lacrosse. He made missions to Asia to spread lacrosse. Some of those odysseys he made with current FIL development director Tom Hayes, who coached Rogers’ son, Michael, at Rutgers.
Rogers called Hayes every day when Michael was in college. When I next saw Hayes and began to apologize for Rogers’ intrusions, Hayes said, “Oh, no, I enjoyed those calls. I looked forward to them.”
For the last 10 years, Rogers called me at US Lacrosse just about every morning. He wanted to talk lacrosse, other sports and politics. He was smart and well informed. He was also the most generous man I ever knew.
This spring, the calls stopped. Rogers was weakening from the radiation and chemotherapy.
It is sad to me now, knowing there won’t be any more calls from this very good friend who loved lacrosse.
Nolan Rogers died May 2 of complications from cancer. He was 82. The Rogers family has asked that memorial contributions be made to the National Keeper of Lacrosse Award, which will be named after him. Visit uslacrosse.org/keeper for more on the Keeper of Lacrosse Project.