As a lacrosse player at Washington & Lee University in the 1980s, Jeff Mandak likes to say that he had a great seat to watch the game; up close on the sideline.

Now, some 30 years later, Mandak, a board certified cardiologist in central Pennsylvania, is still awed with his seat as a member of the US Lacrosse Sports Science & Safety Committee.

“We have some of the top medical experts in the world that serve on this committee, all dedicated to making the sport of lacrosse safer,” Mandak said. “I’m so impressed and overwhelmed during our meetings that I’m working side-by-side with these experts.”

Don’t be fooled, Mandak is more than qualified to be a contributor. 

As the resident cardiologist on the committee for over 15 years, he provides valuable input to his colleagues on all discussions related to cardiovascular issues, including sudden cardiac arrest, heart safety, and the rare phenomenon of commotio cordis. In fact, it’s safe to say that no US Lacrosse volunteer has done more to advocate for the presence of automated external defibrillators (AED) at lacrosse practices and games than Mandak.

“We really have an obligation to educate people about catastrophic injuries,” Mandak said. “Part of that obligation is to increase the availability of AEDs and to encourage all lacrosse teams and programs to have a documented Emergency Action Plan (EAP).”

Ironically, it was a series of tragic sudden cardiac arrest deaths to lacrosse players in 2000, including a 14-year-old youth goalie named Louis Acompora, that initially brought Mandak to the committee.

“Those deaths in 2000 were a wake-up call, and the committee realized that US Lacrosse needed to address the issue,” Mandak said. “When they asked me to join, I was happy to do so because it was my chance to give back to the sport.”

He credits Vito Perriello, one of the core members of the committee when Mandak first joined the organization, as playing a critical role in helping him to find his voice.

“He was the guy who taught me what to do on the committee,” Mandak said. “He was a mentor.”

Mandak’s passion for lacrosse has not waned since first playing the game as an eighth-grader in Clifton, N.J. He remained active as a post-collegiate club player throughout his time at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, and well into his adult years. In fact, Mandak, 51, still suits up on occasion to play master’s level lacrosse, although he is more likely to spend his time these days following the playing careers of his three high school and college-aged children, Alexa, Mark and Nicole.

Along the way, Mandak also found time to volunteer as a youth coach and served for six years as a member of US Lacrosse’s Women’s Game Committee.

“As a lacrosse parent, coach and committee volunteer, Jeff has continuously provided the expertise to make sure we were offering the best products and education to the lacrosse community,” said Bruce Griffin, director of the Center for Sport Science at US Lacrosse. “He is the go to person for our AED program. Jeff knows the technical needs as a cardiologist, and he also knows the on-field demands as a coach and parent.”  

From the cardiac perspective, Mandak believes that lacrosse is a safer sport today than it was 20 years ago, aided in part by new equipment technologies, but he also cautions parents and others that they shouldn’t fall into a false sense of security. He cites the recently approved performance standard for chest protectors as an example.

“It’s a good thing that we now have a minimum standard for this product, but the bar for meeting the standard is still pretty low,” Mandak said. “I’m afraid some products will meet the performance standard but still not effectively protect kids. That’s why we have to continue to be diligent in our education efforts, in raising awareness about sudden cardiac death, and in expanding AED availability.”

Mandak proudly applauds the ongoing organizational commitment to player safety.

“The bottom line is that US Lacrosse is now a leader among national governing bodies in regards to athlete safety,” he said. “I give a lot of credit for that to (US Lacrosse CEO) Steve Stenersen because he had the vision to see what’s really important. We’re doing the right things.”

US Lacrosse Center for Sport Science

The Center for Sport Science at US Lacrosse seeks to expand, broaden and elevate the safety initiatives that the national governing body has been committed to since its creation in 1998.

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