About nine months ago, Frank Urso bought the bar that owns him. He does time -- 80 hours a week -- to run his establishment, One Flight Up, which sits atop the Malabar Indian Restaurant and the Godfather, a down-under go-go club on Wisconsin Avenue. Urso signs all the checks, sweeps the floors, arranges the electric array of knick-knacks. Business is good. Urso doesn't complain.
In a previous life, Frank Urso was the most celestial lacross player in America -- maybe the universe. He was sprinting and juking and pirouetting for the University of Maryland toward the NCAA final at this time four years ago. The spring sun and Frank Urso split a 50-50 share of the worship at Byrd Stadium. Sigh.
Now Urso is taking care of business.
For college lacrosse players, even the best, the future bears no high picks or windfall contracts. They often settle for the only option: club lacrosse.
The United States Club Lacrosse Association is where college lacrosse players go to ressurect their careers. What the 150-team league often winds up being is a withdrawal program for lacrosse addicts, a detox center with an exit door into the mainstream of society. For some, like Urso, the withdrawal is fairly quick. For others, like Urso's all America teammate Doug Radebaugh, the process takes longer. For former Towson State star Jim Darcangelo, there's no end in sight.
Urso's fame is hardly matched in lacrosse. He revolutionized his sport the way Bill Russell or Julius Erving revolutionized theirs. Yet, somehow, Urso and lacrosse no longer are an item.
As he prepared for his senior season, Urso saw a professional contract looming in his future. The Maryland Arrows, of the National Box Lacrosse League, were planning to draft the Maryland star in the first round and offer him a $25,000 a year contract. He would have been the highest-paid American player in the league. But the league folded in February, three months before his graduation, and Urso's dream ended abruptly.
All he had left was club lacrosse.
"I played for McGainey's club team in Baltimore," said Urso. "It was fun but after a while the traveling got to be too much. There's no Washington area teams so I was driving to Annapolis or Baltimore three times a week. You start wondering if it's all worth it.
"It's kind of frustrating when you leave college and you're dying to play. You don't realize there's really nothing there. I'm not knocking club lacrosse. For some people it's great. I've seen average players in college become great players in a few years of club. But for me, club lacrosse is club lacrosse . . . there's nothing to it. No crowds and often not as much competition as you'd like."
Club lacrosse is not the pomp that a Frank Urso gets used to in college. Example: The Mount Washington and Maryland clubs are two of the most organized and established. To cover costs (uniforms, referrees, etc.) Mount Washington charges $2 at the gate for home games. Maryland Lacrosse Club doesn't have a gate. There's no fence around the field so anyone can walk in free while cars are charged a dollar for entry.
For the low prices, there is some impressive lacrosse. Mount Washington plays the Maryland varsity in an exhibition nearly every year and has won 21 of 31 meetings. Other teams are filled with men who are out of shape, out of practice or out of time in a young man's game. That's when a college star gets frustrated.
"That's all it really is . . . a withdrawal symptom," said Bud Beardmore, who coached Urso and Radebaugh at Maryland. "I think the clubs are great but it's not college and it never will be, so many stars wind up very disappointed."
"Club lacrosse gets old real fast," added Urso. "I was playing club after college as a way of trying to hang on to my dreams. It was a hard time. I wasn't working. I got divorced . . . not that long after I graduated, maybe six or seven months. It was just a matter of forgetting it. I didn't go to any Maryland lacrosse games in College Park for a long time. I didn't want to be near the place. Now it's all pretty much forgotten."
The withdrawal is complete for Frank Urso.
Ellen Radebaugh was in labor most of the night and Doug Radebaugh was laboring alongside her. When his wife finally delivered their child, Radebaugh was exploding with pent-up anxieties. He flew out of the hospital early in the day and played for the Maryland Lacrosse Club. Ellen says she didn't mind. No problem. Her husband needed a release and lacrosse was the answer. Since 1975, lacrosse always has been the answer.
"Initially, when you graduate college as a lacrosse star, it's hard to quit," said Ellen Radebaugh. "I think Doug went into club as a kind of extension of his college days. If he had played just one year of club and quit I don't know how he would have handled it. But he's been playing five years now. He's getting a lot of responsibility in the business now and he might have to quit playing soon. It'll be hard, but he'll adjust. He knows that business comes first."
The business is Radebaugh's Florist, the well-known Baltimore establishment owned by his father. Radebaugh has always had an insatiable appetite for athletics. Lacrosse always topped the bill. Now the flowers are crowding his world and quickly nudging lacrosse closer to insignificance. People close to Radebaugh, such as Urso and Beardmore, can't imagine Radebaugh leaving lacrosse.
"I wouldn't have satisfied my hunger for lacrosse if I didn't play club ball," said Radebaugh. "You see a lot of guys playing club for one year and getting out. You just can't get the same feeling of camaraderie as you had in college. At first you think the sport is all you need but then you realize what a great time you had in college and lacrosse was just a great part of it.
"Club lacrosse satisfied me. My first club year was great. My second and third were a little frustrating, but the last two have been fabulous. Now it's taking a second seat to my job. Next year, I'll probably have to quit.
"I say that now . . . but next spring . . ." Radebaugh trailed off. Quitting lacrosse. The words have an uneasy rhythm. "Yeah, I'll probably have to quit,"
"Did Doug say that? Really? He's been saying that to me but I don't really believe it Really? Gee, I hope he plays again."
Jim Darcangelo is the incredulous inquisitor. He just can't envision a reason to quit lacrosse. Radebaugh describes Darcangelo as a "lacrosse freak. He has ability like Urso but he went to Towson State. Instead of a big school where he would have gotten more recognition. Now, Jim eats, sleeps and drinks club lacrosse."
"I'm having a great time in club lacrosse," said Darcangelo, who is a salesman. He sells lacrosse equipment. "It's a nice release and I get a lot of personal satisfaction. I can't see when it's all going to end for me."
Last year, the Maryland Lacrosse Club won the league title and DARCANGELO WAS NAMED MVP. "God, that felt good," he said. "It was a heckuva experience. A lot of people just want to win once. Just win something. It's so great to win. What a feeling."
In 1973 and 1975, Frank Urso and Doug Radebaugh had the feeling. They won the NCAA title those years and for them, nothing could touch that . . . expecially club lacrosse. For Darcangelo, a club title was the height of ectasy. Everyone in club lacrosse has his own private motives.
"Some people set a goal in club ball and reach it," said Urso wistfully. "I try not to think about what my goals were. I know they were different than most guys. I guess I didn't quite gain that much by it . . . but who knows. I got a good business here."