5/13/2008 Jill Colford Schoeniger ’86

20th Anniversary of Final Four Appearance

The 1988 F&M’s men’s lacrosse team reminisces about its magical run and the loss of its leader
Lacrosse is top-of-mind at Franklin & Marshall this spring. That’s because the women’s lacrosse team is the defending Division III National Champions and because the men’s and women’s teams will play home games on the College’s new turf field.

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For a proud group of alumni, there is another reason. It is the 20th anniversary of the year the men’s lacrosse team went to the Final Four. The Diplomats lost to Ohio Wesleyan in the national semi-finals and finished the season 13-3.

Arguably the best lacrosse team in F&M history, the Middle Atlantic Conference champions placed four players on the 1988 All-America team. Ken Gramas ’88 (midfield) and Jon Dale ’90 (attack) made the second team, and John Rogers ’89 (defense) and Scott Cozzens ’88 (goal) received honorable mention.

Memories of that season still resonate with the 1988 squad. But as the players reflect on their magical run, they are saddened that their leader can’t reminisce with them.

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Ken Gramas, team MVP and co-captain, was in the middle of every big play that season. If you ask his friends and family, Kenny Kidd, as he was affectionately called, wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

“When Kenneth was playing basketball in high school, he won a game by hitting two free throws in the final seconds,” says his mother, Carlotta. “After the game, he said, ‘I wanted to be the one to do it.’ That’s just how he was.”

A captain in football, basketball and lacrosse at John Jay High School in New York, he won several MVP awards to go along with kudos for his sportsmanship and hustle. “He grew a little smaller than his friends, but he made up for it by working harder,” Carlotta says.

His coaches and teammates at F&M know all about his special qualities. They recall numerous times when Kenny was the one who hustled to a loose ball, urged his teammates to dig deep or made the crucial play.

“From the moment I arrived on campus to try to lead the F&M lacrosse program to greater heights, Ken Gramas believed,” says G.W. Mix, the head coach of the ’88 squad. “When the rest of the team was questioning my sanity as they ran mid-winter laps around Baker Campus at 6 a.m., Kenny believed. It was Kenny’s unwavering confidence and leadership that drove the F&M lacrosse program during that period.”

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One particular moment remains clear 20 years later. “We were tied 9-9 versus Roanoke. This was an early-season game that would put us on the map if we won,” recalls Peter Bidstrup ’86, an assistant coach. “With about 15 seconds left and with possession just inside the midfield line, Coach G.W. Mix called a timeout.”

“Coach said, ‘I’ve asked myself if I got into a must-have, game-on-the-line situation, who would I want to have the ball? There’s only one guy. Kenny, take the ball,’” remembers Jeb Barrows ’88.

“Kenny drove right and had an All-American, Jamie Kujawski, on him,” remembers Eric Schlanger ’88. “He beat him. Jeb’s defender slid, and Kenny Kidd hit Jeb on the crease for the win.”

Barrows’ winning shot to the top-right corner set off an on-field celebration that still gives the players chills. “I remember standing at midfield with Kenny, all jacked up on adrenaline, as we told ourselves we might as well retire now, because how were we ever going to top this? Little did we know that it was only the beginning.”

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Being pumped up on adrenaline was how Kenny lived his life off the field as well. He had a zest for life that was contagious. “He made things lively,” his mother says, “and he could light up a room with his smile.”

“Kenny had that special gift of being able to stop and smell the roses. He was always trying to get the most out of life. This attitude prevented him from being embarrassed to pursue anything that interested him,” says Steve Muto ’88, his roommate and teammate at F&M.

His love of adventure led him to travel extensively, from teaching lacrosse in Australia to coaching skiers in Wyoming. He and his friend Scott Nichol moved to Russia at the end of 1991 to explore starting a company that would lead skiing expeditions from Moscow and St. Petersburg.

During his three months in Russia, Kenny made a new group of friends. “People over there loved Kenneth. He used to shoot hoops at the American Embassy,” says his father, Greg. “He played for three weeks before anyone even thought to check his credentials.”

He also organized a dance for Project Hope, which benefited a Moscow children’s hospital, for which the Russia government awarded him a medal of appreciation.

On Jan. 28, 1992, Kenny, Scott and a Russian mountain guide headed to Mount Elbrus, the highest of the Caucasus Mountains in western Russia. While they were scouting possible ski locations, an avalanche hit. Scott survived, but the mountain guide and Kenny were killed. He was just 25.

Russian tourism officials told Kenny’s grieving parents that it would take three weeks to retrieve their son’s body—at a cost of $15,000.

But even in death, Kenny still inspired people. The embassy officials who knew him took over. “The vice counsel of the embassy said, ‘He is going on this plane, and there will be no charge,’” Greg says. “The efforts to get Kenneth back to the United States were extraordinary. He was back in four days.”

News of Ken Gramas’ death rocked the close-knit F&M lacrosse community. For years, his teammates have looked for a way to honor their captain. They renamed the annual alumni lacrosse game after him, but they wanted to do more.

That chance came last summer when Tony DeMarco ’84, major gifts officer at F&M, suggested they raise funds to build and name the pavilion next to the new turf field in his honor.

The Ken Gramas ’88 Pavilion project took off at a dinner with eight of Kenny’s Chi Phi brothers. “I explained the project and said it would cost about $700,000,” DeMarco says. “I told them I had already met with one of their teammates, who had pledged $20,000. I then went around the table and by the end had $85,000 committed.”

As people learned of the campaign, the donations poured in from fraternity brothers, teammates, the women’s lacrosse team, high school friends, F&M players he never met, and his parents. To date, the project has raised $490,000.

As the donations come in, so do the stories. They all end with the same refrain: “Kenny Kidd was the man.” Now his friends and family are ensuring that future generations of F&M lacrosse players know that, too.

To support the project, contact Tony DeMarco at tony.demarco@fandm.edu or 717-358-4784.
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