Joe Banno '12. (Photo by Christopher Myers Photography)
Living His Dreams
In his high school yearbook, Joe Banno ’12 was asked what he’d be doing in five years. His answer? Teaching history and playing professionally for Major League Lacrosse (MLL).
Turns out he was extremely prescient.
The native of Monroe, Conn., currently teaches history at Harford Day School in Bel Air, Md., and spent the 2013 MLL season playing for the Rochester Rattlers. Incredibly, he got to play in the first game of the season for the Rattlers, and in his first appearance in the major leagues, he performed well.
Banno was in sixth grade when he fell in love with lacrosse, especially with the goaltending position. Though he was one of the bigger players for his age (he eventually grew to 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds in college), that wasn’t necessarily why he turned out to be skilled at the position.
“Goaltending isn’t just about making saves,” he says. “It’s about directing the defense and being a leader on the field. If you talk to anybody I play with, they’ll say that’s one of the things I do best.
Haverford head lacrosse coach Colin Bathory notes Banno’s skill in addition to his size. “He’s very clearly a big goalie, so a space-eating goalie always catches the eye because it’s a little harder to score,” Bathory says. “But not only was he a bigger guy filling up the mouth of the goal, he was also very quick with his hands and far more athletic than one would anticipate.”
Along with his passion for lacrosse, Banno also discovered a love of history in high school and thought he’d enjoy education. Just as he saw goaltending as more than stopping a ball shot at him at blazing speeds, he saw something more in the subject he’d end up teaching. History “isn’t about memorizing dates, it’s about seeing themes,” he says. “It gives you a better perspective on what’s going on now.”
Banno—who would graduate from Haverford with a major in history and a minor in education—joined the Black Squirrels in 2008 and immediately grabbed the starting goaltending spot as a freshman. His collegiate career ended four years later with an incredible list of achievements: multiple statistical records, a Centennial Conference regular season title in 2009, and a tournament championship in 2010 for the team. He was also the winner of Haverford’s Gregory Kannerstein ’63 Award as a senior.
Though Haverford isn’t as big a name in the lacrosse world as, say, Syracuse or Johns Hopkins, Banno knew there were a few MLL athletes who came from Division III schools. He wouldn’t be the first Ford to play sports professionally— the baseball program, for one, produced two players (Chaon Garland ’91 and Jake Chaplin ’12) who were signed by Major League Baseball franchises and others who were signed by organizations overseas.
He wasn’t chosen by a team in the 2012 MLL draft, but Banno was undeterred. A good word from one of his former coaches led to a training-camp invite with Rochester. He made the final roster, and during the first game of the 2013 season, against the Chesapeake Bayhawks last April, Banno watched from the bench as the Rattlers gave up 12 goals by halftime. He was then informed he’d play in the second half. “You’re always ready to play when you’re on the sidelines, but … you’re prepared and not prepared at the same time,” Banno says. “I was pumped.”
He only let in five goals in his appearance and stayed on the Rattlers’ roster the rest of the season, playing twice more. But playing for an MLL franchise isn’t the same glamorous life led by an athlete playing in the National Basketball Association. The schedule, which runs from late April to August, features about one game a week, so many players have day jobs and live far from the hometowns of the teams they play for. One perk for Banno, though, was that the Rattlers paid for his travel from Virginia—where he lived at the time—to games. Practices were either the day before or hours before a game.
As for the pay? Banno says it was just $300 to $400 a game, which is around the league minimum and what most players received. But the money and constant travel didn’t matter —he was living his dream. “I would do it if they didn’t pay,” he says. Despite playing for Rochester in 2013, he won’t necessarily be on the Rattlers’ roster in 2014. Banno points out it might make better financial sense for the team not to put him on a flight every weekend.
At least he’s continuing to fulfill the goals he set for himself in high school, and getting pleasure out of teaching and changing how his students feel about history. “Every year, I’ll have one to two kids who say, ‘I didn’t like history before this, but now I do,’ ” he says. “If I get a couple of kids [like that], I’ve done something right.”
But that dream of becoming an MLL star hasn’t yet been fulfilled. “I always hold myself to a pretty high standard,” he says. “So when I said in the yearbook I wanted to play major-league lacrosse, I didn’t mean to get in here or there. I would still love to become a top player, a starter. I still have to work up to that.”
—Charles Curtis ’04
Charles Curtis ’04 is a freelance sports journalist in New York City. He has been published on sites and in publications including ESPN.com, ESPN the Magazine, NJ.com, and FoxSports.com.