Coached By: Bob Howell
Had it not been for a gentleman tossing a ball up against a wall in an industrial park near Huntington Station, Al Hernandez may have never picked up a stick.
"I saw him throwing a ball up against the wall that wasn't too far away from where I grew up," he recalls. "I inquired and he told me it was lacrosse."
That was when he was in sixth grade. By then, Hernandez, who was born in the Dominican Republic and spoke barely a lick of English when he arrived in the states at 3 years old, was familiar with football and baseball, but this new sport with a stick and helmet on an open field were intriguing to him.
He gradually rose through the system at Walt Whitman, playing JV as a freshman and getting called up to varsity during the playoffs of his sophomore season. By the end of high school, he was the player with who had "lax" tattooed on his arm.
"The sport made me what I am today," he says. "I owe a lot to the game."
His passion for the game was contagious and enthusiastic.
"He was the kind of kid a coach sees every 10 years," says Bob Howell, who was Hernandez's JV coach and is the varsity coach at Whitman today. "Al was very intelligent and picked the game up like no one I ever saw before. His greatest strength was his leadership ability. He was a person of character, loyalty and commitment. His dedication and accomplishments as a player and his leadership ability served as an inspiration to everyone on the team. To this day, I don't believe I have had a captain that was of the stature of Al Hernandez."
Players on the defensive side of the ball are sometimes overlooked, but Hernandez was special. He was gifted with his stick and had great field vision. For him, like the others honored with the award, winning the Enners was monumental.
"It's outstanding character and leadership, as well as excellence in lacrosse," he says. "It was important because I was recognized for my leadership amongst my peers and maintaining good character. That's something that Lt. Ray Enners would be so proud to see exemplified. The excellence in lacrosse is second. It's about your peers and how you carry yourself. I'm still proud to have it and display it."
Hernandez, who was an All-American in high school, admits it was an out-of-the-box move to play college lacrosse at University of Maryland Baltimore County, but he saw it as an opportunity to be part of something special.
He switched from his long pole to using a short stick in the defensive midfield. UMBC went from a basic program to a contender in Hernandez's four years. He was captain his senior season, along with John McDonald, who ironically attended Walt Whitman High School in Maryland.
Perhaps his greatest moment in college was beating No. 1 Maryland at home in 1998. The win propelled UMBC into the NCAA tournament for the first time at the Division I level.
"That put a stamp on it," he says, "that I made a great decision and went to a great school. Every year we lost to Maryland. UMBC is seen as the lesser of the two. We just about stunned the lacrosse world that year."
Though UMBC lost to Georgetown, a team they beat by one goal in the regular season, in the first round of the tournament (it lost 9-8), it was still a great thrill for Hernandez. Later that summer, he and McDonald represented UMBC at the annual North-South All-Star game.
In total, Hernandez played in 51 games during his collegiate career. He recorded one goal, four assists and 71 groundballs in four seasons, according to UMBC's athletic communication's staff.
Hernandez coached lacrosse for several years after college and has returned to the sidelines to coach his son's team this past year.
Hernandez remains in Baltimore, where he married the former Shannon Bagrosky, who was selected to the UMBC Athletic Hall of Fame two years ago for her ability as a soccer player. He is a Baltimore County firefighter.