Schwartz: From Upstate New York To Long Island, A Friendship Linked To Lacrosse

Friendships can be forged in many different ways.

In many cases, a friendship begins in one’s community, possibly with a neighbor or even in the workplace.  A lot of times, a friendship begins in school and the very special ones can last a lifetime.  There are also the relationships that are struck because of sports, whether its teammates becoming friends, families becoming close, or even coaches and players developing long lasting friendships.

In the case of B.J. O’Hara and Regy Thorpe, a close friendship was born on the lacrosse fields of upstate New York and has continued down a road that has led them both to being professional lacrosse coaches on Long Island, O’Hara with the New York Lizards of Major League Lacrosse and Thorpe of the expansion New York Riptide of the National Lacrosse League.

From the “315” to the “516”, O’Hara and Thorpe continue to be attached at the hip with a friendship through lacrosse, this time in a new area code that they are both in.

“I find it pretty amazing that the both of us, hicks from upstate New York, find ourselves on Long Island at this point in our lives,” said O’Hara who is heading into his second season at the helm of the Lizards. 

O’Hara has a one-year head start on Thorpe in terms of life on Long Island, but as it turns out they’re both fitting right into the community because it’s not that different from life in their neighboring towns back home in Onondaga County.

“We’re just a couple of blue-collar upstate guys,” said Thorpe.  “The people of Long Island are pretty tough, hard-working people so I think it certainly stands true.”

O’Hara began his coaching career at West Genesee High School in Camillus, New York and then became an assistant coach at Syracuse University.  He went on to become the Head Coach at his alma mater Hobart College and led the Statesmen to three NCAA Division Three championships and a total of six NCAA Tournament appearances, four at Division Three and two more at Division Two. 

It was during his time at Hobart when O’Hara first encountered Thorpe who was playing at Syracuse.  Regy’s play on the field caught O’Hara’s eye and it’s no surprise to him that Thorpe became a terrific coach himself, both indoors and outdoors.   

“He was this big imposing brute of a defenseman,” recalled O’Hara.  “You always let him off the bus first.  That’s how he played. Regy has coached the game at every level, but I know in his heart, he’s always had a really special passion for the indoor game and for him to have this opportunity and do it full-time, I’m really happy for him.” 

O’Hara went on to become a Head Coach in Major League Lacrosse when he joined that Rochester Rattlers in 2004.  On that team was a player by the name of Regy Thorpe.    After Regy’s playing career was over, he became an assistant coach with the Rattlers under O’Hara and they won the MLL championship in 2008.

O’Hara, in many ways, became a mentor to Thorpe as he would embark on a coaching career through all levels of lacrosse. 

“I have a ton of respect for (O’Hara) as a player and as a coach and as a person,” said Thorpe.  He’s a great mind of lacrosse a just a high character person.  He’s a player’s coach.  He’s got a pretty calm demeanor but when it’s time to get fired up, he gets fired up as I do.”

After serving as an assistant under O’Hara in Rochester, Thorpe would become the head coach of the Hamilton Nationals in Major League Lacrosse and led them to the championship game in 2011.  From 2010 to 2019 he was an assistant coach for the women’s lacrosse team at Syracuse University working under head coach and lacrosse legend Gary Gait. 

An all-time great player indoors with the Rochester Knighthawks of the NLL, Thorpe coached the Six Nations Arrows of the Ontario Junior A League to the Minto Cup in 2007 and the Long Island Sound to an undefeated season and the UWLX championship in 2017.  Thorpe was also named the head coach for the United States Team that competed at the 2019 Federation of Lacrosse Men’s Indoor World Championships in British Columbia. 

With an impressive resume like Thorpe has compiled, especially in the indoor box game, O’Hara is not surprised that his protégé and friend has become a successful coach and landed in what is a special startup situation with the Riptide on Long Island. 

“He knows the indoor game as well as anybody out there,” said O’Hara.  “He played it for many years and he’s in the Rochester Knighthawks Hall of Fame.  He’s always had a special place in his heart for indoor and I don’t think (the Riptide) could have found anybody that knows the game better and he’s a competitor but he’s also a really patient guy.”

Throughout all of their travels, O’Hara and Thorpe stayed in touch as much as possible with a lot of the conversation centering around lacrosse. 

“That’s how our friendship began and continues,” said O’Hara who has won four MLL championships as a head coach including three with the Denver Outlaws.  “We don’t focus on that solely but it’s a big part of our relationship.  I think we both have a lot of respect for each other’s experience and knowledge of the game and we draw from each other for sure.” 

 “We share a lot of text messages,” said Thorpe.  “Just letting each other know that we’re thinking about him and we’ll catch up for a drink sometime.  Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t.” 

Another layer to the friendship between Thorpe and O’Hara was added in 2011, this time extending to their sons who were teammates during some summer tournaments.  Thorpe’s son Gale played for Jordan-Elbridge High School in Suburban Syracuse while O’Hara’s son Connor played for Skaneateles, a rival high school.   Gale was a junior at Jordan-Elbridge when the program went through some pre-season turmoil. 

The head coach was involved in a disagreement with the school board and was fired about a week before the start of the season.  Regy, already busy coaching the women at Syracuse, was able to lend a helping hand. 

“I couldn’t do anything full-time but it’s my son’s team and a lot of his teammates that I coached through the years,” said Thorpe. “I didn’t want to see them at a disadvantage so I pitched in to help out.” 

The school then placed a call to O’Hara to see if he was interested in coming in to coach the team for the season.  He lived in

Camillus, the next town over from Jordan but was coaching in Rochester.  Since the MLL season hadn’t started yet, O’Hara decided it was time for a coaching reunion with Thorpe as the high school kids needed some stability during a tough situation. 

“I think Regy kind of held the team together until I could get there,” said O’Hara.  “He helped me when he could but he was coaching up in Syracuse so it was hard for him to get there every day.” 

At the end of the day, the young men had themselves one heck of a head coach.

“To have a guy of that high caliber coaching a high school was good,” said Thorpe. 

There wasn’t a whole lot of team success on the field that season given the circumstances, but the bottom line is that the friendship between B.J. and Regy made it possible for the season to even happen and for the kids to have a chance to play.  That simple act of kindness by O’Hara to come in and coach that season was something that had an impact on the players. 

“It definitely wasn’t our best season but he made it enjoyable for all of us,” said Gale who played college lacrosse at Syracuse and Ohio State and now plays for his father with the Riptide.   “My teammates and I learned so much about the game of lacrosse that season from Coach O’Hara. He’s one of the greatest coaches in the game, so having him at our school was remarkable.”

As a kid, Gale would hang out in the locker room when his dad was on O’Hara’s coaching staff in Rochester.  He could see the friendship between the two forming back then. 

“I remember them winning the championship in 2008,” said the younger Thorpe.  “B.J. and my dad became great friends over time.”

And the journey over time has taken both Thorpe and O’Hara to Long Island as coaches of the Riptide and Lizards respectively.  When Thorpe was named the General Manager and Head Coach of the Riptide, O’Hara was thrilled for his buddy and reached out to welcome him to the lacrosse hotbed of Long Island.

“I called him up to congratulate him when I heard he got the job,” said O’Hara.  “It’s exciting.  I’m happy for him and I know he’s happy for me.”

O’Hara, along with everyone else involved with Major League Lacrosse, has been busy planning for the 2020 season.  But since the NLL season takes place at a different time of the year (December to April) than the MLL (May to August), the long-time friends are interested in helping each other out.

“(B.J. is) on Long Island and I’m offering any help that I can on that end with him and the team,” said Thorpe who has also received some help in return from O’Hara. 

There were several Lizards that attended Riptide training camp before this season and it’s possible that some of them could be bringing their talents indoors at some point in the future. 

“I called him about a couple of the guys and asked him what type of character so we’re certainly trying to get as many guys as we can from the area,” said Thorpe.”

It’s a friendship that began in Upstate New York with a coach trying to figure out how to deal with a “brute” of a defenseman on the other team.  That defenseman would eventually become that coach’s assistant and today, they maintain a close relationship thanks to their lives in lacrosse.  For B.J. O’Hara and Regy Thorpe, Upstate New York will always be home, but they are now head coaches for Long Island’s two professional lacrosse teams.

The Lizards and the Riptide are now joined at the hip thanks to the bond between these two great friends and two great lacrosse minds. 

About the Author

Peter Schwartz

Peter Schwartz is a contributor covering the Islanders for NY Sports Day while also writing about general sports in the New York/New Jersey area. In addition to his column, Peter also hosts his “Schwartz On Sports” podcast as he interviews players, coaches, and other sports personalities. He is also currently a sports anchor for WFAN Radio, CBS Sports Radio, and WCBS 880 radio while also serving as the public address announcer for the New York Cosmos soccer club.

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