By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 4/14/14
When Mike DiPuppo read that the boys’ lacrosse coach at Cheltenham (PA) had been injured in a school assault and that the program was in dire need of an immediate replacement, he just wanted to help out.
In fact, when he accepted the position 10 days ago, DiPuppo was surprised to hear he was even being paid. All he wanted was to pitch in and prevent the program from probably being dropped for the second time in 3 years.
So DiPuppo, who has coached lacrosse in Virginia, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania, has been thrilled that his players have bonded together to save a season threatened by an incident that caught national attention.
Cheltenham’s second-year coach, Alphonso Stevenson, suffered a fractured skull after being allegedly assaulted by a 17-year-old student while serving as a conflict resolution specialist at troubled John Bartram High in Philadelphia. Stevenson was deemed unable to return so Cheltenham athletic director Scott Layer put out an APB for a new coach – fortunately DiPuppo saw the plea in Phillylacrosse.com.
Cheltenham, which was 0-1 at the time, had dropped the program in 2012 due to low numbers and the loss of its previous coach. Stevenson coached the team last year to one win in the Suburban One League.
DiPuppo, originally from Philly’s Haverford High, played club lacrosse at Penn State. He plays for and runs the Philadelphia Masters Lacrosse Club. He coached high school at PA’s Friends’ Central (started the program in 1994), Upper Dublin (JV in 2003) and Harriton (assistant in 2011) as well as at Virginia’s Wakefield (2006).
DiPuppo works as a financial adviser 45 minutes away in Allentown and told Layer he could not hold practices until 5 p.m. But the players were so happy with his enthusiasm that no one has complained.
“I met with Scott Layer and two players last Friday (April 4) and the next thing you know they asked when can we start practicing?” DiPupppo said. “They told me the pay and I said, ‘I am getting paid for this?’
“I was just offering my services and wanted to prevent them from cancelling the season. One thing about the guys is that they are hungry and excited to learn.
“It’s a great group of guys. I couldn’t ask for a better group.”
Since DiPuppo took over the squad – which has 19 players – Cheltenham is 0-3, but has shown great improvement. He installed a structured system of offense and defense and the players are responding.
“We’re very limited because we have 19 guys, so everyone has to know their role,” said DiPuppo, who also credits volunteer assistant Geoff Trotter and several area coaches that have come at least once as guest coaches. “I preached that you never know if you are going to play attack or midfield.
“But they have really embraced what I am trying to do. And I have had nothing but great support from the parents.
“I am looking forward to how the season will play out. We have some games we can win if we can play the way we’re supposed to play.
“It would be a nice springboard into next season. There are two seniors graduating, so they’ll have 17 players left top build with whether I am the coach or Mr. Stevenson comes back.
Today at 3:30, Cheltenham hosts 0-7 Norristown in a league game. One of these programs will end the day happy.