Norfolk Academy Launches New Blog about Lacrosse by Award-Winning Coach Neil Duffy

Norfolk Academy is launching a new blog and audio book about the life lessons of lacrosse, written by a teacher-coach with decades of experience playing, coaching, and soaking up the history of the game.

“The Spirit in the Stick: Lessons on Lacrosse and Life” is created by Neil Duffy, whose experience growing up in Massapequa Park, NY and later serving as co-captain of the lacrosse team at the U.S. Naval Academy helped launch him into three decades as a lacrosse coach. Duffy, who was awarded the VADM E.C. Waller Lacrosse Award at the Naval Academy and played in the North-South College All-Star game, has earned multiple Coach-of-the-Year awards in the Tidewater Conference of Independent Schools and at the state level. He currently serves in several coaching roles at Norfolk Academy—as assistant coach of Boys Varsity Lacrosse, and Head Coach of Girls Varsity Basketball. He is also Vice President of the Tidewater Chapter of US Lacrosse.

Coach Duffy, an Upper School physics teacher, has long nurtured a passion for writing, and his favorite sport has inspired some of his work. His historical novel, The Spirit in the Stick, is the foundation of the blog’s first posts and companion audio files, read by the author. He will follow those posts with installments of a second book, Fly to Honor, and he plans to add other features to the blog.

The Spirit in the Stick grew out of a conversation years ago between Duffy and Norfolk Academy’s Head Varsity Lacrosse Coach, Hall of Fame member Tom Duquette, about a legendary lacrosse player, Captain James “Jimmy” Lewis, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1966 and was one of the Naval Academy’s - and the game’s - greatest players. As a young lacrosse player in Baltimore, Duquette had revered Lewis, and he asked Duffy about the Naval Academy star; yet even though Duffy had played at the Naval Academy, he knew little about Lewis’s brilliant career, or about his nearly three decades as a naval aviator.

As Duffy began a quest for game tapes to study Lewis’s style of play, he was thwarted; no footage existed. However, he became immersed in the search, eventually pursuing in-depth research about Lewis and other great players, including Doug Turnbull and his brother Jack who starred at Johns Hopkins University in the 1920s and 30s.  

He incorporated that research into a novel, built around the life of a fictional character, Robbie Jones, who as a ninth grader shows incredible promise. In the first chapter of the novel, a fictionalized Captain Lewis gives Robbie an ancient, handcrafted lacrosse stick, its shaft covered with intricate carvings. The stick seems to have mystical powers, and the giver has many lessons to share.

Duffy originally published the novel as a paperback including several printings totaling about 60,000 copies, and he said that he is excited to share the novel in a more contemporary format as a blog, where it may reach a different audience of lacrosse enthusiasts.“I have never considered this project my own, but rather the collective sum of many people who have helped and given so much to me. This is simply my way of thanking them and sharing the story back with the game. I hope readers will enjoy it.”

The blog can be found at blogs.norfolkacademy.org/spiritinthestick.

Coach Neil Duffy can be reached directly at nduffy@norfolkacademy.org.
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