Fifty years after winning an Ivy League Championship, the 1967 Princeton men’s lacrosse team will return to campus this weekend to celebrate its 50th anniversary. In that season in 1967, the team rebounded from an 0-4 start to post an undefeated record through Ivy League play, ultimately earning Princeton’s first outright Ivy League Championship in four years. Team manager John DeYoung ’67 still recalls vividly the “smiles of the faces of the guys on the bus back from Ithaca,” after Princeton’s victory over an until-then-undefeated Cornell team, a matchup that sealed the Tigers’ title. A half century later, the team’s tight camaraderie has hardly waned. “Talking to these guys, it’s like we just got back on campus after the trip to Ithaca,” said DeYoung. In fact, a remarkable 28 out of 40 team members will return for the reunion to celebrate the team’s accomplishments then and since.
One man who will be in the minds of all those in attendance is former men’s lacrosse head coach Ferris Thomsen, a lacrosse Hall of Famer who led the 1967 team. Thomsen, who passed away in 1994, won a remarkable 10 Ivy League titles in his 15 seasons as Princeton’s head coach, posting a record of 63-17-2. In addition to his Hall of Fame induction in 1963, he was named Coach of the Year by the U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association in 1967. In his introduction to the team’s written history, Dr. Martin Eichelberger ’67, the captain of the team, described Thomsen as a “coach with a low-key personality, the bearing of a gentleman, and a sense of humor. His philosophy was simple: ‘Have fun and win some games.’”
In many ways, the game played by the members of the 1967 team would be hardly recognizable to those familiar with the modern game. Players used sticks made from wood and leather and played on dirt fields, whereas players today use high-tech sticks that allow for advanced dodging maneuvers and play on smooth artificial surfaces. Another important aspect of lacrosse’s development, said DeYoung, is that the game has “spread across the nation.” In the 1960s, most players hailed from a small handful of areas, but today lacrosse has become widely popular throughout the country. However, DeYoung noted, “the sense of camaraderie and fellowship in the sport” has remained constant throughout the years. Staying true to the sport’s Native American roots, the emphasis on respecting opponents and teammates continues to be a critical part of the sport’s culture.
Naturally, the lessons and principles that the team members learned on the lacrosse field did not abandon them as they left the University to begin their careers and adult lives. DeYoung cited his experience on the team as an integral part of his education at Princeton; he noted as well that his experience motivated his decision to later begin a youth lacrosse program, as well as coach the sport for 20 years, teaching “life’s lessons” to youth in the process. Eichelberger described the team as “citizenship at its best,” arguing that the success and camaraderie of the team “reinforced the importance of the individual as a member of a community committed to a greater good.”
Returning for their reunion, the members of the 1967 team will not be able to recreate the past. They will, however, have the unique opportunity to reflect on the developments in their lives and the sport of lacrosse, as well as share the numerous fond memories preserved in time.