For most of the year, Skip Lichtfuss is a husband, father and stockbroker. But every spring, he assumes another role: club lacrosse player.
Lichtfuss, a former all-America midfielder at Washington and Lee University, has been playing club lacrosse for eight years for Baltimore's Mount Washington team. He gives little thought to giving it up, although the game severely limits his spare time.
"When spring comes around, my wife doesn't even know what I look like most of the time, but she's been around the game a long time," he said. "We were married in college and she's been able to make the adjustments over the years. She now looks at lacrosse like it was a poker night for me or a game of golf on Saturday afternoon."
But nobody ever got whacked with a vicious body check on a golf course, a regular occurrence for a lacrosse player. Although it makes no difference to Lichtfuss or any of the assorted teachers, barkeeps and other fanatics who play club lacrosse for nothing more than the love of the game.
There are no television commercials or windfall contracts in club lacrosse, but that doesn't matter to the players who are members of the 160 teams of the United States Club Lacrosse Association.
In Baltimore, where perennial powers like the Mount Washington and Maryland Lacrosse Club teams play on spring weekends, the players attract as much attention from their lacrosse followers as any Oriole or Colt in the summer and fall. The teams play before respectable crowds and the games are frequently fiercely contested, a result of longtime rivalries among the clubs.
"I still feel it's the most exciting game I've ever been involved in," Lichtfuss said. "I love lacrosse even though it doesn't pay me anything. When I stop playing, it's going to be hard walking away from these guys and the smell of the game."
At 29, Lichtfuss is one of the oldest players in the league. Last August, he had a knee operation to help prolong his career. "That operation means I'm still serious about the game. I want to go on but I have to be realistic about it. So when I stop being one of the top nine midfielders on the team, I'll know it's time to stop."
On a team whose players average 24 years old, Lichtfuss knows his days are numbered. When he finally quits the field, he will remain in the game through coaching, officiating or scouting for Jack Emmer, his old coach at W&L.
Michael Federico, a former Johns Hopkins goalie, sat out the 1981 season after finishing his college eligibility. This year, he will be a rookie for Maryland Lacrosse Club.
"One reason to play again is to help bring the club title back to Maryland (Long Island Lacrosse Club won it last year). But my main reason is that I have more time now," said the three-time all-America.
Federico said club lacrosse is quite different from the brand of lacrosse played at Hopkins, a school that has won 36 national championships since 1891.
"In college, it was business and if you didn't perform it was 'see you later.' Now I have time to enjoy the game. Winning makes it more fun but I know if we did our best and still didn't win that's okay, too."
When he was playing for the University of Maryland, Frank Urso was called the greatest midfielder in the history of the game. He was the first four-time all-America since Douglas Turnball of Hopkins in the 1920s.
Urso has lived quite happily without lacrosse for the past five years. He quit in 1977 after playing one year for McGarvey's, deciding to devote full time to his business, a bar on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington.
Urso said he stopped playing club lacrosse because he didn't like the attitude of his teammates.
"Lacrosse is too physical a game to play if no one cares," he said. "I was fed up with the game and the whole club lacrosse scene."
But he ended up missing the game and was lured out of retirement this year to play for Clarke's. Curt Kimball, Clarke's coach while Urso was at Maryland, convinced Urso the team took its lacrosse seriously.
"I could play 10 more years," Urso said. "The enthusiasm is still there. I've seen how the clubs can get and I don't want any part of that. But I think this is a good team I'm with and am looking forward to surprising some people this year."
Before Clarke's first game this year, a 17-11 victory over Hampshire, a fan came down from the stands, slapped Urso on the back and told him the only reason he came to watch that day was to see Urso play again. "Yeah, it made me feel real good," Urso said.