Lacrosse alums gone, not forgotten

Bill San Antonio

St. Mary’s High School will dedicate its fifth annual alumni lacrosse game this June in memory of two former players who recently died within a few months of each other.

Kristin Graham, St. Mary’s director of development and alumni relations, said the school has renamed the event the Schimoler Memorial Alumni Lacrosse Game. The game honors John Schimoler, who died unexpectedly in his sleep Aug. 12, 2012 at age 50, and his younger brother Paul, who died of complications due to cancer Feb. 15 at age 45.

“We had an outpouring of alumni, classmates and friends who sent us information about them, but it wasn’t until Paul died that a few classmates of theirs reached out to me and wondered if we could think about honoring them through the lacrosse reunion,” Graham said.

The game will take place June 8 on the campus’ Denihan Field at 11:30 a.m., following a prayer service led by the parish’s Deacon, Frank Bice.

Throughout the 2013 boys lacrosse season, the Gaels have worn a sticker on the backs of their helmets honoring the Schimoler brothers as well.

“They were two great guys and they were two of the best lacrosse players to ever come out of St. Mary’s, and for this to happen within the same year is just tragic,” said St. Mary’s lacrosse coach Matt Panetta.

John Schimoler graduated from St. Mary’s in 1981 and went on to play at Syracuse, where he helped the program to its first national championship in 1983.

“John was one of those guys who you need to fill his role in order to win,” said Frederick Douglass Opie, a former college teammate. “He was a second-team midfielder and would make the first-team midfielder a better player because he always brought his ‘A game’ every day.”

Opie said that while John Schimoler didn’t fill the stat sheets like some of the more standout players, he made crucial contributions to help boost the team’s morale. 

“John was one of those guys you loved to have on road trips, because he was a morale guy,” Opie said. “I knew he was funny, but I learned from other teammates that he was even funnier than I realized, a real life of the party.”

John, who lived in Edgewater, Md., is survived by his wife Jane, son Gunnar, and daughter Heidi. Paul lived in Hanover, Vt. and is survived by his wife Lynn Ellen, son Jack and daughter Serena.

After only learning of his cancer in January, Paul Schimoler, who graduated from St. Mary’s in 1985, resigned from his most recent assistant coaching job at Dartmouth, which he held for one year.

“As terrific a lacrosse player and coach as Paul was, he was always very humble and down-to-earth,” Dartmouth head coach Andy Towers said in a statement. “His hyper-competitive spirit and accountability were legendary.”

In a piece for, Gunnar Schimoler wrote that Paul had been fatigued but thought it was just a result of the longtime knee pain that eventually ended his playing days.

A graduate of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration in 1989, Schimoler drifted in and out of the coaching world while owning and operating restaurants in between.

“Coach Schmoles’ was one of my first introductions to Cornell lacrosse as a high school player, and was a tremendous role model for me as a competitor, as a young man and as an alumnus coming up through the college coaching ranks,” Cornell men’s lacrosse coach Ben DeLuca said in a statement in February. “Paul’s passion for Cornell University and Cornell lacrosse, his selflessness and intense competitive nature and his unconditional love for his family, his teammates and his friends is truly legendary.”

To commemorate Schimoler, the Cornell lacrosse team is wearing decals bearing Paul’s No. 40 on the backs of their helmets.

Prior to its April 10 game against Cornell, Syracuse presented a video tribute and moment of silence for the Schimoler brothers.

“It’s very sad when you’ve got two people who are good human beings that are family guys that are taken from you,” said Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, a high school teammate of Paul’s, in an interview with Blank Slate Media. “We live in a world with a lot of bad people, and it saddens me that guys that were so well-liked are taken from us.”

Pietramala grew up in Hicksville, roughly 10 minutes away from the Schimolers, who lived in Brookville.

As high school teammates often do, they became very good friends, spending weekend nights and summer afternoons at each other’s houses.

“It wasn’t just a friendship based off practice and games alone,” Pietramala said. “We had a nice group of guys that hung out together on Friday nights and Saturday nights. We’d do things together all the time.”

Though Pietramala was a freshman at St. Mary’s when John Schimoler was a senior, he recalls how friendly Paul’s older brother was in welcoming him into his home and the lacrosse program.

“John was always very good to me and went out of his way to be good to me even when I was a younger guy, hanging out at his house,” Pietramala said. “When an older guy goes out of his way for a younger guy, you have a deep appreciation for that.”

Panetta, who is also an English teacher at St. Mary’s, recalled playing against Paul Schimoler as a sophomore at Elmont in 1985, when Schimoler and Pietramala were seniors and the Gaels last won a Catholic League lacrosse championship.

“I certainly remember how good they were,” Panetta said. “They beat us, that’s for sure.”

When graduation rolled around, Pietramala and Schimoler went their separate ways in the lacrosse world, to Johns Hopkins and Cornell, respectively. 

Pietramala helped the Blue Jays to a national championship in 1987, and Panetta joined him two years later as Johns Hopkins made another appearance in the title game.

Schimoler, however, went on to become one of the most decorated goaltenders in recent memory.

Schimoler earned All-American and All-Ivy League honors in each of his four years in school, and was named Ivy League Player of the Year in 1989. He set nearly every goalie record at Cornell, including saves in a game (34, against Syracuse, in 1987), saves in a season (241, in 1988) and career saves (787) and holds the NCAA tournament record for saves, 85, which he set in 1988.

Schimoler and Pietramala would meet again as members of the Team USA lacrosse team that won gold medals at the International Lacrosse Federation World Championships in 1990 and again in 1994.

Opie, who was also on that 1990 team, recalls John being among the most proud for his brother’s accomplishments.

“When John found out that Paul had made the USA team, he was proud of him like a father,” Opie said. “They had a really unique relationship that strove to make them better players and better people.”

After their time on the USA team, Paul Schimoler and Pietramala each got into coaching, and gradually life drifted them apart. When they did talk, usually at coaching conventions or late-night phone conversations about the game or just about life, the friendship instantly reignited.

“I think that’s when you know you’ve got a friendship that’s to be valued,” Pietramala said. There was a genuine care for one another where we are all living our lives, and the next thing you know, you haven’t talked to each other in awhile and here’s a phone call or chance meeting and you catch up like you were together last week. That’s the way it’s been with our group of friends. I was devastated when I got the call that Paul had passed.”

Panetta met Schimoler through Pietramala while teammates at Johns Hopkins, when they would return to Long Island in the summers for intense club lacrosse league and tournament battles.

Panetta and Schimoler remained good friends over the years, talking often when Schimoler would recruit St. Mary’s players for his college teams.

“I hadn’t seen [Paul] in a number of years and he didn’t have a chance to come back and participate in the alumni game, but I would talk to him from time to time,” Panetta said. “It’s terrible, it’s just a terrible tragedy.”

As his coaching career took off, Pietramala was taken further from his old school, returning for occasional recruiting trips.

Though he hopes to attend the alumni game this year, Pietramala said he isn’t sure whether his offseason recruiting commitments with Johns Hopkins will allow him to do so.

“John and Paul were very important to me, and it’s important for me to be there and be supportive of them and the family they’ve left beind,” Pietramala said.

Having coached St. Mary’s for the last nine years, Panetta and his program have supported the alumni lacrosse game since its inception, meeting with former Gaels players and their families over postgame barbecue.

That first year, approximately 60 alumni showed up at the campus to participate, and Panetta said each of them played in the game.

This year, he expects the event to be even bigger.

“That they keep coming back, year after year, to support the school, I think it really speaks to the camaraderie of the St. Mary’s alumni lacrosse community,” Panetta said. “This game is definitely for John and Paul, and people are going to come out for them.”

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