LAKE PLACID - In the fall of 2008, one of Matt Norfolk's best friends from college, his lacrosse teammate David Holder, died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a type of cancer. That caused Norfolk to think more about his relationships with his friends from Cornell University.
"I kept in contact with phone or email, but not really hanging out, and went away from the whole lacrosse world and the Big Red family, which is a tight-knit family," the 41-year-old Lake Placid lawyer said.
After Holder's death, Norfolk decided that had to change. In early 2009, Norfolk contacted former college teammates, asking them if they would join him on a team that could be entered in the Lake Placid Summit Lacrosse Classic. In five years of living in Lake Placid, Norfolk had not entered the enormous tournament that takes place just minutes from his home, with thousands of players converging on the village every August.
Seniors from the Cornell lacrosse team pose in 1995 at the university’s Schoelkopf Field: (front row from left) Brad Younge, Anthony Pavone, David Holder and Matt Norfolk; (back row from left) Michael Fronk, Brian Rodgers, Ben Hutchen, Chris Danler, Judson Howson, Geoff Gross and Coach Richie Moran. All of these players except Younge and Holder, who died in 2008, have played on the Big Red Steelheads since the team was created for the Lake Placid Summit Lacrosse Tournament in 2009.
Photo provided by Matt Norfolk
As Norfolk was trying to rally his teammates to start a team in honor of Holder, some former teammates were skeptical at first because they, too, had been away from lacrosse for years. But they got some motivation from that year's Cornell Big Red lacrosse team, which made it to the national championships in late May at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The Big Red lost 10-9 to Syracuse University, but many alumni attended the game.
"We all went, and we're all there, scores and scores of alumni, and it started the fire," Norfolk said.
A few months later, the Cornell alumni entered a team into the Summit tournament called the Big Red Steelheads, named after the steelhead salmon because Holder liked to fish.
"He was a great guy, very competitive but very thoughtful," Norfolk said. "He was one of the nicest guys I've ever met."
Holder was an attorney and entrepreneur, married, the father of two sons in Baltimore, Maryland. He had been Norfolk's roommate in college.
Every year, in addition to playing, the Big Red Steelheads raise money for the David L. Holder Foundation, also based in Baltimore. The foundation is "dedicated to helping young people develop their minds and bodies by fostering civic engagement, instilling entrepreneurial spirit, and nurturing a love of the outdoors through opportunities in public education."
"Each year our mission for the Steelheads is to bring together current players and alumni from the Cornell lacrosse family, grow the family beyond Dave's reach, instill in the new alumni and younger players David's drive, his competitiveness, and his generosity - all that - and contribute some funds to the David L. Holder Education Foundation through player donations," Norfolk wrote in a letter to potential donors in 2012.
Not only has the team been successful in raising money for the foundation, but it has grown over the years. The Big Red Steelheads now have two teams: a younger one in the open division and a masters team for the 30- and 40-somethings. There are nearly 60 players on both squads, and they are often among the top in their divisions. The squad also now includes another Tri-Lakes lacrosse player, Kyle Doctor, who moved here after college.
"I think we actually have four decades of Cornell players this year," Norfolk said. "Last year we did. Some of these guys are three, four-time All-Americans."