It’s a cool Saturday night in early April, 2009. As you sit in the visitor locker room you can hear the fans yelling and your anticipation grows. Your jersey is on, your cleats are laced, your chin strap is buckled, your head is bowed and you are reviewing your match-ups and assignments. Lynchburg College has decided to play you on a Saturday night. Their students are rowdy and ready to watch their Hornets take down the undefeated Roanoke College Maroons. Many of the critics have said that you are a fraud, that you will go down when you play a good team like Lynchburg. Coach Pilat addresses the team and you review your assignments, plays, and match-ups over and over again in your head. A quiet hush falls over the locker room, Coach Pilat is about to make his final comments before taking the field. At that moment, Coach Mitchell comes to Coach Pilat’s side with a black bag. Coach Pilat stops talking, pauses, and yells, “Boys! What do you wear at night when you look nice? BLACK!” Coach Mitchell unveils an unfamiliar jersey from the bag. The team goes crazy. You rip off your Maroon jersey and put on the Black Jersey
This was the scene in the locker room before the 2009 Lynchburg game. I sat down with Coach Pilat to recount this story and many others surrounding the Black Jersey. “Mitchell and I had been talking about using the Jersey for that game (2009 Lynchburg game) but we were undecided until the day before.” Says Coach Pilat. He went on to say, “We didn’t want to tell any of the guys, even though some of them were asking about a special jersey from past seasons. As soon as we pulled out that Jersey in the Lynchburg locker room they went insane. I knew that we were going to win after I saw their reaction.” Coach Mitchell says that he had to fight off some hard requests from players. “(Jake) Dorsey approached me right after our last practice before the game and asked if we were using the Jersey. I really wanted to say yes (Pilat and Mitchell had decided to use the jersey by then) but I said no. He was pretty upset.”
The Maroons wanted to continue their undefeated season and the 2009 game against Lynchburg was the first game to truly test their record. Until that night, many lacrosse fans had doubted the strength of the team, citing their weak non-conference schedule. The Maroons went on the dominate the game and win by a final score of 19-12.
This was a truly special game to use the Black Jersey. However, after the game, I found myself asking, “Where did the Black Jersey come from? How many times has it been worn?”
Pilat shared with us how the Jersey came about. “In 1992 I bought three jersey sets: White, Maroon, and Black. At the time, I didn’t tell the team about the Black Jersey. I wanted its unveiling to be special.” Pilat went on to say that the first Jersey unveiling was not quite as theatrical as the 2009 appearance but it had a similar affect. “We were playing in a Division III showcase in Baltimore. Ohio Wesleyan, Gettysburg, Salisbury, and Roanoke were the four teams in the showcase. We played Salisbury.” Indeed, the first time the Black Jersey was worn was against Salisbury. Pilat went on, “The Gulls had just come off of a disapointing season in which they lost the NCAA National Championship Game by one goal. The Gulls wanted to set a tone and beat us in front of multiple fan bases (Gettysburg, OWU, Salisbury, Roanoke).” However, the Maroons (dressed in black) went on to win the game 15-10. Eerily enough, it was also the last time Roanoke has beaten Salisbury. Coach Pilat also reminded me that the 1992 team was one of the National Championship Game teams. He also shared something else with me. “At the last minute, a day or two before the National Championship, we seriously thought about wearing the Black Jersey again. However, we decided not to.” Who knows what might have happened if the Maroons had been in black? Since 1992, the Jersey has been worn only 12-15 times. To clarify, the jerseys that the Maroons wore on that night in 2009 are the jerseys from 1992.
A lot of players had no idea what the Jersey was or the significance of wearing the Jersey when they put them on at the last minute in Lynchburg. “2004 was the last year that we wore the Jerseys. We lost to W&L that year in the ODAC Championship.” The Jerseys were then boxed up until 2009. Another significance to the Jersey is its history. The Jersey has been worn in some of the biggest games in Roanoke College Lacrosse history: the last time Roanoke beat Salisbury, in a big win over Denison at Denison in 1995 during their Alumni Weekend (18-8 final score), at the 2010 Gettysburg game, and many more. Also consider the generations of players that have worn the Jersey. Greats like Jon Mason, Pat March, Zach Thomas, Kris Davis, Brett Smith, Chas Carlson, Jeff Jones, Matt Quinton, Dan Reed, JJ Blatt, Colin McGahren, Ashton Hotchkiss, Billy Metz, Brad Hennegan, Garrett Yaralian, Jeff Keating, Jason Davenport, Paul Baly, Chris Davin, Sam Love, Ben Love, Rich Li, Aaron Sims, Bryan Doyle, and many more.
This year was a year of firsts for the Jersey. It was the first time the Jersey was worn in an NCAA tournament game and it was also the first time the Jersey was worn two games in a row. Coach Mitchell pointed out to me, “We knew that some of the guys, having worn the jersey for the Lynchburg game in 2009, would probably request the Jersey for the Gettysburg game. After the Gettysburg win we knew we were on a roll, and so it seemed natural to wear it again against Stevenson.”
It will probably be many years until the Black Jersey is worn again. The only time it could possibly be worn in the next 3 years would be in the NCAA tourney or for a home game against Salisbury or Stevenson. It’s usually a last minute decision by Coach Pilat so you never know when it may make an appearance. However, if you ever are lucky enough to see the Maroons come out in black, you are watching a milestone game for Roanoke Lacrosse.
Follow the link to view more of Patrick March’s photos from the 2009 Lynchburg game that featured the Black Jersey