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Q&A with James Manchester of the Canistigione Crabmen

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James Manchester is well known to the Capital District lacrosse community through his many years as a player, parent, coach, administrator, board member, official, and television color commentator.  James recently took the time to speak to Capital District Lax about the Canistigione Crabmen’s participation in the Lake Placid Summit Classic.

Tell us a little about your involvement with lacrosse in the region.

JM: A big highlight for me was serving the Niskayuna Lacrosse community as the first President of the youth program when it was incorporated. Niskayuna lacrosse has such a great program and legacy with such great players and families that it was incredibly humbling. And to be able to work for and with the Niskayuna High School Coaching staff (Mike Vorgang, Chris Delano, PJ Williams, Andrew Rizzi and Frank Adamo) was an incredible honor. I learned so much from them, not just about lacrosse, but also about leadership, motivation, and developing character. I think if you ask any former Niskayuna High School player, including my sons, they will point to their team and the Niskayuna High School coaches as a major part of their overall development and success as individuals.

The second big highlight for me was staying healthy enough through the years to be able to play on the same Mohawk team with both of my son’s James and Troy. To be able to play on the same team as your son is just an incredible indescribable feeling.

How many years have the Canistigione Crabmen been playing in Lake Placid, and how did the team get its start?

2005 Crabmen

JM: The Crabmen have been coming to Lake Placid for thirteen years. There were a group of us in Niskayuna doing indoor and outdoor pickup lacrosse each week and I was pitching everyone on playing in a tournament together. At one point, I reached out to George Leveille and he just happened to have had a spot open up in the Master’s bracket. I grabbed it and we tried to take it pretty seriously the first year. We set up practices and had Coach Vorgang come out and try to give us some pointers. At that time, I believe there was only one Master’s bracket and since we were the “new” team, we went in with the lowest seed and ended up playing our first game against the previous year’s championship team. Let’s just say our very first game that first year was eye opening!

That first team included the likes of Mike Greco, Karl Sindel, Bill McPartlon, Ron Sandroni, Joe Arnold, Steve Avveduti, Roger Manion, Gary Govel, Paul Fleming, Eugene Haber, Jason Bach, Nick Petrracione, Rich Romer, and Patrick Reilly amongst others.

Tell us a little about the team’s roster composition.

L to R: Peter Riley, Carl Marinaccio, Eric Crawford, James Manchester and Chris Wrynn

JM: Our first team was heavily skewed toward older players and as the tournament grew, we were able to pick up a grand master’s team. As people have aged out, that grand master’s team managed to secure a super grand master’s slot. As folks have transitioned from one bracket to the next we’ve been able to keep a steady in-flow of younger talent. Ron Sandroni and Steve Avveduti took the over the grand master’s team and then moved on to run the super grandmasters. I originally ran masters and then took over grand masters when I aged up. In turn, I transitioned the master’s team to a great bunch of guys: Brian Benner, Joe Repko and Ken Lorenz.

Each team does their own recruiting and we’ve added folks from all over the east coast. Today I’m honored to run the grand master’s team with Eric Crawford and Peter Riley. I love playing with these guys and am just as committed to this event now as I was thirteen years ago. Not only is it something I look forward to as a team member, but it has become a family ritual. There’s nothing like getting back to Lake Placid to play but I also love that my older kids have either played or worked the tournament with equal passion for many years, and it’s always awesome to have my wife and smaller kids on the sidelines cheering on the Crabmen.

Where did the team name come from?

2015 Crabmen GM

JM: Steve Avveduti and I came up with the name Canistigione Crabmen prior to our first year at Lake Placid. Canistigione is the name for the eastern-most Mohawk nation village in what is now the areas on both sides of the Mohawk River encompassing present day Niskayuna and Vischers Ferry NY. The Mohawk were the keepers of the eastern door in the Iroquois confederation and Canistigione was literally the eastern door. The name in Iroquois means “people of the corn flats.” Before the Erie Canal and all the locks were put in, the Mohawk would flood it’s banks every year leaving the area very fertile for corn.

Originally the name took on geographical significance as many of us were from Niskayuna and Clifton Park but as we’ve grown the through years, the team has become much more geographically diverse. We debated dropping Canistigione at one point but elected to keep it to represent and honor the larger significance that the Iroquois had in the creation of the game. Plus, no one can pronounce it so it makes a good conversation starter with opposing teams.

Lacrosse as we know it originated from the Iroquois Confederation in upstate NY. They had two names for it: the little brother of war and the creator’s game. The Iroquois used the game to train for war and the original lacrosse sticks were essentially war clubs that they had retrofitted with a leather pocket. In addition to training for war, the game was used to settle disputes among the nations and villages of the confederation. It was so integral to their lives that it is a part of their creation story.

In the colonial period of our country, the Mohawk were heavily aligned with the British. After the British lost the Revolutionary War, the Mohawk picked up and moved their long houses into Canadian territory. They took the game of lacrosse with them and it quickly became the national sport of Canada (today it is the co-national sport of Canada with hockey). The Onondaga stayed neutral during the Revolutionary

2016 Crabmen SGM

War and remained primary in the central NY Syracuse area. As more American’s settled New York, lacrosse grew in and around the Onondaga and spread slowly across New York State. Many of us have played in the Mohawk Lacrosse League. While many leagues existed in Canada, the Mohawk Lacrosse league started in Troy NY in 1868 is the oldest lacrosse league in the United States. In 1877, the first collegiate lacrosse game was played in NYC. There were several people from Long Island and a group of students from Johns Hopkins University in attendance. They were so enamored with the game that they took it back to their communities. Lacrosse was seeded in Long Island and Baltimore. There are two great things about Baltimore (besides being my hometown) — lacrosse and crabs. Hence, the Crabmen.

How have the teams done in Lake Placid over the years?

JM: Our teams typically run middle of the bracket. Some years we’ve done better and some years we’ve done worse. One year our grandmaster’s team made it to the championship game and lost to OWU. I know we are all competitive and all like to win but we’ve created something bigger than wins and losses. We honor the game in a family environment. When you come to a Crabmen game, you will see a team that is positive, demonstrates the best sportsmanship and has sideline of parents, wives, and children rooting for us. Our families bring so much enthusiasm and are such great fans that we’ve had other teams offer to hire them to cheer for them during their games.

Other than Lake Placid, do the Crabmen play in any other events together?

JM: We’ve talked about it often but haven’t been able put anything together over the years.

Any plans for the teams to spend time together off the field in Lake Placid?

JM: Every year we try to organize a team gathering at one of the rental homes or at a local Lake Placid establishment. For me, and I think I speak for a lot of the guys, Lake Placid is more than just a lacrosse tournament. We’ve created life-long friendships and for some of us Lake Placid is the one time every year that we get to re-connect. No matter what life delivers year after year, the tournament is there to bring us back together.

What memories stand out to you the most from your years of playing at Lake Placid?

JM: I have great memories from every tournament so it’s really hard to narrow things down.

I’ll just highlight two and they are both centered around the legend, Pete Riley. If you don’t know Pete, he was a Collegiate All-American and National Champion at Nazareth. He was a big part of the 1992 Golden Flyer’s team that beat Hobart in the 1992 semi-final game to end their streak of 12 consecutive national championships.

Anyway, Pete is a good friend of mine at work and had retired from lacrosse. I kept working him over to come out of retirement and join us in Lake Placid and he finally agreed. But he didn’t have any equipment so he rushed out and bought a stick and all new gear. On the day of our first game, he drove all morning and when he arrived he came up to me in the parking lot. There was Pete Riley, the legend, decked out in all new gear and GOLF SHOES! In his haste to buy all new equipment, he forgot about

2014 Crabmen GM

cleats but he was fully prepared to run onto the field and give it his all! Luckily, I had an extra pair of cleats that fit him and he was able to extend the life of his golf shoes.

The next memory is also a Pete Riley story. One year we were playing a team that had grabbed a walk-on ringer. Pete was late for the game and this ringer, wearing his MLL helmet, was tearing us up and basically scoring at will. Pete arrives, tells me he’s going in to shut the ringer down and goes rushing out on the field. I’m not even sure Pete had time to buckle his chin strap; nonetheless, Pete shut the “ringer” down for the rest of the game. The ringer was so frustrated that he was losing it, screaming at everyone on his team, the officials and Pete. But Pete kept bringing it on with a smile. The ringer didn’t get a shot off for the rest of the game.

The Canistigione Crabmen teams begin 2017 LPSC play as follows:

  • 50+ team opened play today (Wed Aug 2) with a 8-7 loss to the Reapers.
  • 45+ team against High Peaks on Thurs Aug 3 at 11:00 AM on Field 3
  • 39+ team against Brown State on Thurs Aug 3 at 12:15 PM on Field 4

For complete schedule info click on: LPSC SCHEDULE

Gary Govel
Gary has been involved in lacrosse in the Capital District for over 35 years as a player, youth coach, program administrator, parent, and fan. Gary launched in November 2015 to report on lacrosse news and information of interest to the region, and to share his passion for the game. In addition to operating this site and associated social media, Gary is also a contributor to Inside Lacrosse.