ON THE PLAQUE: The midfielder was first-team USILA All-America as a senior, third-team USILA All-America as a junior. The first Ivy League Player of the Year in program history, he earned first-team All-Ivy as both a junior and senior. Penn went a combined 22-5 in his final two seasons, tying for the program’s first Ivy title in 1983 and winning it outright in 1984. The Quakers also played in the 1983 and 1984 NCAA tournaments. He played in the 1984 USILA North/South All-Star Game.
Written by Dave Zeitlin C'03, this feature originally appeared on PennAthletics.com on May 3, 2017
When Josh Hall W’85 found out he was being inducted into the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame, he initially thought it was a prank call. The news, of course, was true—and well-deserved for an All-American lacrosse player who led Penn to the program’s first two Ivy League championships in 1983 and 1984.
But the fact that he thought he was being pranked does make sense considering all the gags he and his teammates used to pull on each other in college. In many ways, it was that kind of fun-loving spirit, fostered by head coach Tony Seaman, that helped Penn men’s lacrosse turn into a national-caliber program and pave the way for Hall’s success.
“I think the big change was really when Tony Seaman came in after my sophomore year,” Hall said. “I think there was just not a lot of happiness in the program before that. He was just a great coach. He kind of turned the Penn program on a dime, and I was very fortunate to have been there for his first two years.”
Hall certainly showed off his talent before Seaman was hired, coming from the lacrosse hotbed of Baltimore after making Penn his only college choice. But in 1981 and 1982, under then-head coach Charlie Coker, the Quakers were stuck around the .500 mark with overall records of 6-5 and 5-8 to go along with consecutive 2-4 Ivy finishes.
The coaching change midway through his college career may have seemed puzzling to some, considering Coker had been a star player at Johns Hopkins and Seaman had never even played lacrosse. But it was exactly what Hall and the Quakers needed as Seaman allowed the team to play looser and with more creativity.
That proved to be the perfect situation for Hall, a dynamic two-way midfielder who ended up being named All-Ivy as a junior and a senior, a third-team United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) All-America as a junior, and the Ivy League Player of the Year and a first-team USILA All-America as a senior.
“Josh was very creative,” said teammate W. Kelso Morrill III W’85 WG’90, a fellow Penn Athletics Hall of Famer. “I think one of the reasons he was so good is he saw the field so well. A lot of lacrosse is reading and reacting as opposed to set plays, and he was very good at finding openings. He didn’t do the same thing twice in a row. He might have done it five or six different ways over the course of the game. And that would set people up differently.”
A star attacking player who scored 98 goals at Penn, Morrill was one of the biggest recipients of Hall’s passing acumen. And it had been that way since high school when the two starred together at Baltimore’s St. Paul’s School, before both committing to Penn—“a happy accident,” Morrill said—and helping resurrect a program that, when they first got there, played second-fiddle to what Hall called the “Big Red Machine” at Cornell.
Heading into the 1983 season, Cornell had won nine straight Ivy championships and, not surprisingly, beat Penn that season. But the upstart Quakers kept it close, which Hall said “put people on notice that we’re not nobody.” And when Penn swept the rest of its Ivy games and Cornell was upset by Brown in the last week of the season, the Quakers earned a piece of their first-ever Ivy title, sharing it with the mighty Big Red.
They followed that up with a trip to the NCAA Tournament, where another powerhouse from New York awaited. And once again, Penn showed that it was a program on the rise, taking Syracuse to the wire before dropping an 11-8 decision.
“We were an underdog,” Hall said. “We weren’t supposed to beat Syracuse. And we went up there on their turf and gave them a really good game.”
Things really came together the following season as Penn soared to a 12-2 record and a perfect 6-0 mark in the Ivies, beating Cornell in a game during which Hall remembers being “dogged all day” by Big Red players intent on slowing him down. It didn’t work, though. And returning to the NCAA tournament that year, the Quakers emerged as a favorite, seeded third in the country and hosting Army in their opening-round quarterfinal game.
But they failed to pick up the program’s first NCAA tourney victory, falling to the Black Knights in an 8-7 heartbreaker in Hall’s final game.
“That certainly for me was a very bitter disappointment,” Hall said. “But I try not to let that overshadow what was really a very memorable and positive experience.”
Indeed, just going to back-to-back national tourneys (and kick-starting a stretch in which Penn qualified for six NCAA Tournaments in the 1980s, winning games in 1987 and 1988) was something Hall never could have imagined when he got to Penn. In fact, when Seaman arrived in the fall of 1982 and began talking about instilling certain values that would prove important when Penn played in the national tournament later that year, “people just literally started laughing,” Hall recalled.
But their coach was serious—and turned out to be right. He wasn’t always serious, though, and that meeting also wasn’t the only time he made his players laugh. Hall remembers his coach being a David Letterman lookalike who also had a “sense of humor like Letterman” and once managed to pull a six-month-long prank on Loyola coach Dave Cottle.
“It became a lot of fun, a lot of pranks, a lot of joking,” Hall said. “People can tell you stories of Tony on the sideline, and you just cry because you’re laughing so hard.”
Hall certainly had his share of fun on the field, often at the expense of opposing defenses. Morrill remembers one time Leo Paytas ENG’85 telling Hall before a faceoff, “Hey Josh, let’s run that play that we always score on.” So the two of them got the ball, ran a play they had worked on at practice and scored a goal 12 seconds later, before doing a jumping high-five that was caught on camera and later commemorated with T-shirts.
“I remember the defenseman standing next to me looks at me and goes, ‘I’m glad you guys don’t run that play all the time,’” Morrill said with a laugh. “The two of them were terrific together.”
In the end, having an opportunity to have a lot of fun while winning a lot of games was the perfect way for Hall to finish his lacrosse career. And three decades later, he believes that being part of something that changed so dramatically helped him in many ways beyond sports.
“Penn was just a phenomenal experience, and it’s been an experience that certainly shaped the future direction of my life,” said Hall, who runs his own private investment firm in Baltimore. “And the lacrosse experience was probably one of the most instructive experiences for me.
“I feel really, really fortunate to have been part of the evolution of the Penn lacrosse program.”