Former Corning lacrosse coach Bob Streeten finds a different kind of success running Gaffer Elite Lacrosse travel program
BIG FLATS – Bob Streeten’s boys lacrosse coaching career in Corning was largely defined by his teams’ 544 victories, 13 state finals appearances and the nearly 100 Division I college scholarships earned by his players.
The barometer for success is much simpler these days for Streeten, who is still teaching the sport as director and coach of the flourishing Gaffer Elite Lacrosse travel program nearly 40 years after making his coaching debut.
“I love seeing kids finally get it,” he said during a recent practice at Henry Minier Athletic Field. “You’ve told them 14 times and they don’t get it, they don’t get it. Then all of the sudden in a tournament or practice or whatever, they get it and things fall into place for them. You see the smile come on their face.”
Streeten, 60, stepped away from high school lacrosse in June of 2012 when he removed his name from consideration for a third season as head coach of the combined Corning Hawks boys varsity team. He didn’t go into specifics at the time, other than to say he sensed a need for a change, with the family atmosphere he had cultivated at Corning East no longer there.
There is an obvious family vibe with the Gaffer Elite Lacrosse program, which has grown from 24 players in its first year to 92 players spread across four teams — seventh/eighth grade, freshman, sophomore and junior — in its just-completed third year. Streeten’s son Duncan is one of the 10 coaches on staff. Kent Maslin of Owego has two sons in the program and started coaching in the fall. Parents are welcome spectators at practices.
When deciding the proper fit for sons Matthew and Luke, Maslin was less concerned with Streeten’s impressive coaching record. Instead, he was more interested in the quality of the coach behind that record.
“We looked at the programs that were available to us in terms of the driving distances, the cost, the number of practices and the quality of the instruction, and we decided Gaffer was the place to go,” Maslin said.
“I wouldn’t say it had anything to do with Bob’s resume, I think it has to do with Bob’s approach to lacrosse. I’m not interested in a history lesson on it, I’m interested in the quality of what the kids are taught. Bob has high expectations and holds kids accountable.”
During the 10th-grade team’s final practice of the summer, Streeten greeted players as they arrived, used a radar gun to measure the speed of their shots and offered numerous pointers. Across the field, other coaches led players through drills. On some Sundays, Streeten will spend eight hours at the field for four separate practices.
“One of the things I would base my program on was I would make sure I was at every single practice, which I am. So I know all the kids,” said Streeten, who also coaches at all the tournaments.
Jack Peterson, 15, is about to enter his sophomore year at Horseheads High School and has been with the program for two years after Streeten invited him to try out.
“It definitely helps you because he’s a great coach and he has a lot of contacts up at the higher level,” Peterson said. “He gets you better and he prepares you to go up to the higher level. Playing with different players just makes you better overall.”
When Streeten decided step away from Corning, he was not ready to stop coaching. He had been coaching since 1978, when he got his start as an assistant at his alma mater, Nottingham High School in Syracuse, a year after graduating from Hobart College. He made his mark at Corning East, taking over in 1982 and guiding the Trojans to 517 victories, 13 state finals appearances and a state title in 1990. His total of 544 wins ranks fifth in New York state boys lacrosse history.
Streeten, who lives in Corning with wife Suzanne, has traveled as far as Uganda to teach lacrosse and has coached in national and state high school invitationals.
He likes the freedom of coaching with the Gaffer program.
“I don’t have to go in front of the board of education to explain why I didn’t want you on the team. You’re just gone,” he said. “I have control over those matters, which is wonderful and the way coaching used to be. I think we all realize that it’s not like that anymore.”
Streeten describes himself as “old school” in his coaching style, meaning he expects his players to be on time, put in maximum effort and be respectful. His sometimes blunt approach rubbed some people the wrong way at Corning, particularly late in his tenure there. The Gaffer program includes only players who want to be there, and only players Streeten wants there.
“The reality is we’re looking for kids who have that level of commitment,” Streeten said. “They’re going to show up to practices, they’re going to be willing to realize their coach is old school, which unfortunately has become a very perverted word, like it’s a bad thing. But that’s me. If for some reason people don’t want an old-school coach who’s going to hold their kid accountable and when he gets backtalk he’s not going to say, ‘OK, don’t worry about it. I hope you feel better,’ but he’s going to confront it in a non-physical sense.”
He said too often young athletes are not held accountable and mistakes are greeted with a pat on the back instead of being pointed out to be corrected.
“That sort of everybody gets a trophy mentality, to me that’s the absolute antithesis of bad stuff for sports in general,” he said. “Because life doesn’t give us that. … I wanted to play in the NFL. That didn’t happen.”
Cian Collins of Corning, a rising sophomore at Corning-Painted Post High School, has been with the Gaffer program for three years and known Streeten since early in elementary school.
“He just wants to see what he teaches,” Collins said. “That’s what he’s mainly looking for. He kind of has this idea for his players and how he works with us. He just wants us to be team players.
“At Gaffer lacrosse he tries to get us better rather than exposure. We work a lot on our stick skills and just playing on the field, maturity, that kind of stuff.”
Focus on players
During his time as a high school coach, Streeten would run box lacrosse leagues and other summer programs, including the Gaffer travel program that started in 2011 as the precursor to the elite program. However, those were geared to Corning athletes. This program brings in players from across Section 4 and into Section 5, thanks largely to Streeten’s recruiting efforts.
This past season’s team includes its first player from Ithaca. Other players have traveled from places such as Penn Yan, Bath, Whitney Point, Chenango Valley and locations in the Binghamton area. For players from Corning, Elmira, Horseheads, Watkins Glen and elsewhere in the area, the club’s nearby practices are a big bonus. Streeten said the only other similar program in Section 4 is the Fighting 4 team in Binghamton.
“The Southern Tier is very much lacrosse-wise a lightly served area in terms of other lacrosse activities,” Streeten said. “For example, if we were in Syracuse, there are probably four or five travel teams. Rochester has six or seven travel teams.”
The Gaffer season starts in the fall and picks up in May and continues teams through July, with spring/summer practices twice a week or once a week if there’s a weekend tournament. Play resumes in the fall with a less extensive schedule. The teams traveled as far as Maryland this summer for a tournament, with Pennsylvania a more frequent weekend destination.
“What we’re really looking for are the kids who are already focused,” Streeten said. “Regardless of how good they may be, they already are really committed and interested in playing the sport of lacrosse. They’re willing to travel hours.”
Elmira High School and Watkins Glen High School are among those to recently add lacrosse. Brock Blakeslee, a rising sophomore at Elmira, had friends who played for the Gaffer program and ended up getting a tryout after his mom called Streeten.
“In Elmira, people are definitely gaining an interest,” Blakeslee said. “We’re moving up a division next year to play better teams, more experienced teams. It’s going to be a really good challenge.”
Said Peterson: “The sport is definitely growing a lot. A lot more kids are starting to play.”
Peterson and Blakeslee both said their lacrosse IQs have grown greatly because of their experience in the program. Playing with and against talented players has a lot to do with that growth. Opponents come from places such as Long Island, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and across New York state.
“You come here and they’re just faster and better,” Blakeslee said. “It helps being around people who are better, who can help you out.”
Blakeslee is hoping to play for the Express’ varsity team in the spring and wants to play at the college level. Streeten said one of the club’s players, a goalie in eighth grade, is already getting looks from top college programs such as North Carolina and Maryland.
Although each of the four teams won at least one tournament title this past season, the program’s focus remains helping players reach their potential and to put them in position to play at the college level if they want.
“It’s more than just a traditional showcase team,” Kent Maslin said. “We’re actually instructing the kids and trying to improve their skill set, so that when they go to their school-based program or if they have a longer-term lacrosse career in college, that they’re prepared for those situations.”
On Twitter: @SGAndrewLegare
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