When Robert Hartranft ’64 offered to help coach baseball at the Farmingdale (N.Y.) public school district back in 1967, he was handed a lacrosse stick.
“They told me when a position opened up with baseball, they’d let me know,” Hartranft said.
A self-proclaimed “baseball and basketball kind of guy,” Hartranft had never played lacrosse. But a year later, when a district coaching position became available for baseball, Hartranft declined.
“I told them, ‘no thanks,’” said Hartranft, who was also the district’s American history teacher. “I was having too much fun coaching lacrosse.”
Nearly 50 years later, the Oswego County native has gained legendary status among lacrosse’s elite, with an induction into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, part of the Lacrosse Museum located at U.S. Lacrosse headquarters in Baltimore. Hartranft was honored in an Oct. 24 ceremony and joined just over 400 lacrosse greats who have earned Hall of Fame distinction. He is only the third high school coach to be honored with induction into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
Hartranft’s achievements span an impressive career in the sport he never intended to coach. He’s still the head lacrosse coach at Farmingdale High School. Through the 2015 season, Hartranft has logged 694 wins, ranking third all-time among boys’ high school coaches. Hartranft led Farmingdale to the New York State Championship in 2011, and also finished as state runner-up in 1978 and 2003. His teams have captured 13 Nassau County championships and made 41 consecutive playoff appearances.
He has been selected as the conference coach of the year 10 times, and named the Nassau County coach of the year twice.
Hartranft also served as head coach of the U.S. Men’s Under-19 National Team in 1992 and led Team USA to the world championship. He was named winner of the U.S. Lacrosse Gerry Carroll Award as the National Coach of the Year in 2013.
But back when he was just starting out, Hartranft learned his new sport alongside his young team, and by “picking the brains” of colleagues.
Hartranft played baseball and basketball for SUNY Oswego during his freshman and sophomore years, but had to leave the teams to get a job during his junior and senior years. At Oswego, he learned from basketball coach John Glinski and baseball coach Walter Nitardy, and applied lessons from Nitardy’s fierce defensive strategies to the lacrosse field.
“They were great coaches, and Oswego was such a nice place where everybody knew everybody,” said Hartranft, who earned a B.S. in history, was a member of Beta Tau Epsilon fraternity and met his wife, Maria Clapps Hartranft ’65, while an Oswego student. Two of his children, Nancy Hartranft Del Giudice ’90 and Greg ’97, are alumni, as well.
“One thing that’s great about high school coaching is that you can encourage the kids to use it as an avenue to get into college,” he said. “I want to win as much as the next guy, but in the end, the life lessons are what matter, and that the kids learn to work hard.”
On the heels of receiving some of the highest honors bestowed in the lacrosse world, Hartranft has no intentions of retiring from the sport just yet.
“It’s not a job,” he said. “I love the kids. They keep me young; they keep me laughing.”