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Harvard Men’s Lacrosse: Beyond the Field and Classroom 

Gerry Byrne enters his fourth season in 2023 as The Frisbie Family Head Coach of the Harvard Men’s Lacrosse program. Byrne came to Cambridge after being the long-time assistant to Kevin Corrigan at Notre Dame. Byrne’s defenses are some of the most respected in the game. During Byrne’s 13 seasons at Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish maintained a top five scoring defense on seven separate occasions and produced the nation’s top defense in 2009 and 2012. 

Byrne and the Crimson are coming off a successful 2022 season. They qualified for both the Ivy League and NCAA tournament. The Crimson are looking to build off of 2022 and prepare for the 2023 season.

Two weeks ago, the Crimson traveled to Washington, D.C. to play in the Bob Kemp Classic against North Carolina. The annual fall lacrosse game serves as a fundraiser benefiting the Washington Jesuit Academy. Washington Jesuit Academy provides a high-quality and comprehensive education to 4th-8th grade boys from low-income D.C. Metro communities.

Byrne wanted the trip to D.C. to be more than just a fall scrimmage, he wanted to deepen their Crimson lacrosse experience beyond the game. It was something that he learned when he worked with Corrigan at Notre Dame. I spoke with Byrne and two of his players, Chase Yager, a senior midfielder, and Greg Campisi, a junior long stick midfielder, to learn more about the trip. 

Making an Impact Each Day

Veritas is the Latin word for truth and the motto for Harvard. Harvard is one of our nation’s finest academic universities. As the Harvard Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach, Byrne has sought to deepen the education of his players beyond their experience in the classroom and on the field. You could say his goal is helping each player find their own truth. 

“There are 24 hours in a day. You’re on the field for two hours practicing, you get between six and eight hours of sleep, and you are down to 14 or 16 hours of waking time each day that has nothing to do with lacrosse. I’ve always wanted to put as much effort into the stuff that you’ll teach on the field and also educate the guys off of the field. Starting from that kind of equation, you look at what you can do with each day that’s impactful.” 

Gerry Byrne, Harvard Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach

Byrne established this mindset when he first met with his team after being hired in the summer of 2019. Byrne doesn’t like having meetings, but this one set the tone for the culture of the Harvard Men’s Lacrosse program. 

“My first meeting and maybe the only meeting I’ve ever had in three years at Harvard, we walked through the top of one of the bridges that cross over the Charles River. At the apex of the bridge in one direction is your athletic home and in the other direction is your academic and residential home. I told the guys, ‘you’re gonna cross that bridge a couple of 1000 times and when you’re climbing over,  you should reflect on that every time regardless of the direction that you’re going in. It’s not about how hard you practice or how tough you are, if you have gratitude and appreciation for a perspective on how you got to Harvard, everything stems from that.” 

Gerry Byrne, Harvard Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach

Trip to DMV

The Bob Kemp Classic presented Byrne and the Crimson with an opportunity to play another top Division 1 program in North Carolina. It also provided an opportunity for his team to connect with each other, Harvard Alumni, and others in the Harvard community. Byrne shared how he envisioned the trip would look. 

“If you’re fortunate enough to travel the country and the world as we are at Harvard, you want to not just go and play and turn around. You want to play great teams while you’re in those cities, but you’re going to play for two hours. What are the other 22 hours of each of the days that we’re in Washington DC, what can that entail? 

We did a career development breakfast with 15 or 20 of our alums from the DC area from finance, law, education, the military, and government service. We had meals with our alums. We had meals with our parents, who hosted us, and the Kemp family, which this event that we played in was named in honor of their dad who passed away years ago.”

Gerry Byrne, Harvard Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach

Greg Campisi spoke highly of the weekend. While it was exciting to get out and play against the Tar Heels, he talked about how the trip provided the team an opportunity to grow closer as a family. 

“The entire weekend had a very big family feel. We had a couple of meals over at some of our teammates’ houses. That was the constant vibe for lack of a better term of the entire weekend. We saw Capitol Hill and various monuments with each other. It was a constant reinforcement that we have a feeling of a family around this team.”

Greg Campisi, Harvard Men’s Lacrosse Player

Growing the Game and Connecting with the Community 

Byrne has always made it a point in his career to invite high school players and coaches to practices when his teams are on the road. He’s also been able to leverage his lacrosse network to have the Crimson practice at the Mater Dei School in Bethesda, Maryland. Players and coaches from Washington Jesuit and Mater Dei watched the Crimson practice. After practice, the team held an informal clinic and threw around with players from both schools. 

Chase Yager spoke about how impactful the experience was for he and his Crimson teammates. It was an opportunity to share their love and passion for the game with the next generation of lacrosse players. 

We had an opportunity to interact with some kids from Washington Jesuit Academy. Most of the kids who were out there have played one or two years of lacrosse at most. It was great passing the ball with them, giving them some coaching, talking to them, catching up and finding out what they liked about lacrosse, and answering any questions they had. It’s always nice to see lacrosse grow and have an opportunity to use this sport that we love to give back to the community.

Chase Yager, Harvard Men’s Lacrosse Player

Networking Event 

The trip provided the team with an opportunity to connect with those affiliated with the Harvard lacrosse program. The group was made up of former Harvard Men’s Lacrosse alumni, as well as other alumni from and some parents. 

Campisi found that the career development breakfast broadened his perspective on potential future opportunities after his playing days were over. 

“Being an applied mathematics and economics major, I’ve anticipated going into finance over the coming years. It was a really cool experience seeing the different backgrounds and different paths that you can take. Coach Byrne has always tried to show us that there isn’t one path to take. Your career path and the path you take throughout life isn’t this linear path, but can branch off into different directions.”

Greg Campisi, Harvard Men’s Lacrosse Player

Yager echoed similar sentiments and how he appreciated the connections this trip allowed for him.   

“It was an opportunity to engage with some alumni who could give us some real guidance on what our next path could be and give us some insight. It’s easy to think that people know where they’re going or know what their next step is. Part of being in college is about finding what I want the next step to be and what I’m interested in.

The networking was pretty awesome. I’m already following those people on LinkedIn and getting an opportunity to reach out and get business cards. It’s nice to know you have that many people in your corner. 

Lacrosse is one thing that we love, but the fact that this kind of experience comes along with this amazing alumni network that you get through Harvard, but also through Harvard lacrosse really just sells it. I can’t imagine any other place I’d rather be or any place that is gonna give me the opportunities that this has given me. I can’t thank Coach Byrne enough and the alumni enough for coming out.”

Chase Yager, Harvard Men’s Lacrosse Player

The Scrimmage Against UNC

The Crimson and Tar Heels scrimmaged in a high-scoring contest that saw the Crimson come out on top 22-21. Campisi provided his insights and what the team can take back with them as they prepare for the upcoming 2023 season. 

It always feels good going against somebody in a different jersey. The whole week felt like a game week. There’s always a lot of build-up of intensity and a lot of hype around the team and the scrimmage itself. I thought we played well. We showed a lot of energy and competitive grit. We were pretty fine-tuned with our stick work, not perfect, but we were better than we were at this point last year.

Greg Campisi, Harvard Men’s Lacrosse Player

Exploring DC

Instead of heading back to the hotel or hopping on a bus back to Cambridge, the team got a chance to visit some of the memorials in our nation’s capital. Byrne shared how these moments can prove more impactful than any pregame speech. 

“Instead of going back to the hotel, we visited various memorials in DC: the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, the World War Two Memorial, and the Washington Monument. We spent an hour, hour and a half at a beautiful time of day and just got a little perspective. Which, if you’re a coach, if you do it right, you don’t have to make long speeches about community, dedication, commitment, and sacrifice. You know, nobody wants to hear that speech. If you can create these environments, you don’t have to say anything.”

Gerry Byrne, Harvard Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach

Speaking with both players, Byrne’s message was received. Yager connected visiting the Lincoln Memorial and the World War Two Memorial with a sense of great purpose in life. 

“When we got to the Lincoln Memorial, Coach Byrne said ‘alright, we’re here and you have 45 minutes to do what you want.’ We were able to walk around this pretty grand and austere place and think about the history that went into it. All the stuff that’s happened there, from Lincoln himself to MLK’s I Have A Dream Speech.  

Then the team as a whole walked down to the World War Two Memorial and got to experience that location. Which, you know, a lot of the memorials there’s a sadness that goes along with, and there’s seriousness, and respect that goes into it. 

Everybody had an opportunity to think about something bigger than themselves, which is a cool part of being in DC. You know we’re on a team trip, we’re there to play lacrosse, but you know, we’re also men trying to figure out what are places in the world and where we’re going after this, and being in a place like that gives you some perspective.”

Chase Yager, Harvard Men’s Lacrosse Player

Looking Towards the Future

I ended my conversation with Coach Byrne by asking him about the future of Harvard Men’s Lacrosse. How did he and his staff plan to build off of 2022?  Sure enough, we chatted a little about what was going to happen on the field, but more importantly, he was excited about what was happening off of it. 

“Someone much wiser than me has said, ‘you don’t get to start where you’re finished.’ I didn’t come to Harvard for 8-5. I was proud of it. I’m proud to say that we made it to the tournament for our fans, parents, and alums. 

I’m gonna share something with you that I say to recruits and I say to our players. Everybody wants to win the last game of the year. You want to wear the hat with the tag. That’s my way of talking about what you’re trying to do. As you’re pursuing that, I really believe that you can pursue all these other things at the same level. 

What our guys are doing academically, is our commitment to service. We work with Harlem Lacrosse and one of the players is starting a One Love chapter at Harvard. We’re super engaged with a school here in East Boston called the Donald McKay School that we’ve adopted and working with their student-athletes.

If we can build Harvard into a top-five program consistently, it’ll mean more at arguably the most prestigious university on the planet.  If you can get great people and develop them into great players, have a great community on campus along with a strong alumni network and parents, and when the players leave here they are ready to be fathers and contributors. That’s a powerful statement about college athletics. I want it to mean more than winning games. I want to do it in a way that makes a statement about athletics and the development of young people.”

Gerry Byrne, Harvard Men’s Lacrosse Head Coach

Harvard Photo Credits: Dylan Goodman