Tribute to a Friend

The lacrosse family lost one of its own with the passing of Walt Bujak.

Many of you are aware of Philadelphia Box Lacrosse Association or as its better known, the PBLA.

Walt was part of the league from the very beginning in 1986. First, as a player then beginning in the 1990’s Walt donned the stripes and continued to do so right up until his final appearance in the 2021 Championship game.

As with all officials, Walt would we chirped at most games. Being the consummate professional, he rarely let that bother him.

As a former ref and off field official, I interacted with the man who I Iater became friends with.

As you may know, most officials have a pre and post game ritual. Pre-game, there is always a “meeting of the minds”,as I jokingly referred to it..simple things such as,”any suspensions?” Everyone legal and registered?

Upon arrival, Walt was always pleasant and made sure he asked about the welfare of our families.

Once he was handed the game balls and his partner, the shot clock, Walt shifted into a more serious mode.

The mode of the ref. Once you work alongside someone, you become cognizant of their demeanor.

WhIle always to enjoy a joke, I simply knew to not approach him between periods or even, between games.

Another long time player and world class chirper, had to do it , Joe…Joe Stainer echoes my sentiment about Mr.Bujak

“We yelled at him a lot.. yet the guy kept coming back, because he loved the game that much.. and was part of the PBLA since he was one of the founding players back in 1986!

And started reffing when he retired from playing in the mid 90s… he’s been a ref every year since for the past 25 years. .. in fact.. all 25 years I’ve been a player in this league.. Walt has been there.”

Unless you have gotten to know Mr.Stainer, he has a common bond with most of the PBLA family, a sardonic wit.

The wit is shared by another long time player, Jim Fee.

Jim is quick witted and has an even quicker tongue…IF he likes you.

Mr.Fee clearly had a spot in his heart for Walt.

“It really is a huge loss, he was a continuity, a legacy and a steady hand. I really had a lot of respect for him especially when he’d call me up and add me to the Officials’ report and give me a gamer.!!”

The accolades are unmeasurable about the quality of Walt’s character and Mr. Stainer may have made the most defining character statement for the man.

“But, ya know what? No matter how bad or out-of hand games got with players yelling at him for a missed call or whatever, he was the first one to come talk to us at the end of a game and tell us how good of a play a certain play was.

And when we didn’t see him for a couple months in between seasons or leagues, he was quick to approach me, excited as could be with a “Hey Joe! Good to see ya! How’s the family?” Or “, Congrats on the baby man! That’s great “

A few more sentiments poured in with Bob Stewart, another long time player also sang the praises of his colleague.

“Walt wasn’t just a longtime ref and player to me,” said Bob Stewart, PBLA Commissioner. “He was a good friend. Very funny, helpful, and dedicated to the league we all cared so much about.”

“As an official, whether I was a Captain or the offending player, he always thoroughly explained his call,” said Stewart, who played for 18 years. “He let us play but if we got carried away he’d give us a clear warning that he’d make the call. He knew the rules better than anyone, including me. He was probably the most consistent and predictable official I’ve seen.”

Many many comments will be coming in the next few days but, it’s a testament to the character of the man who probably had no idea of the respect he had.

Everyone who knew Walt, had no choice but to like him and the comments and, yes, love, keep rolling in.

“Walt’s dedication to the growth of box lacrosse in the Philadelphia Area is unmeasurable,” said Steve Innamarato, President of the PBLA, in a statement. “His affable and approachable personality made him loved by everybody. Walt has been part of every single season in the PBLA’s 35 year history and to say he will be missed is an understatement.”

We were contacted by longtime friend, Jim Glielmi, Head Coach of the league Champion, Thunder who played in Mr.Bujak’s Final game, had this to say

“ Walt was the definition of a fair and impartial referee . The lacrosse world is lesser because of this loss. Friend to many players and coaches his on field presence and discipline was second to none. He will be missed but always treasured.”

On a personal note, I am saddened but, smiling at the thought of Frank Menschner giving Walt grief over a call from 1999!!!

That has to be one great conversation…

Farewell friend,the World is better for having you in it, the lacrosse world can never measure you loss and, I am greatful for having known you…tell Frank we all said hello…RIP Friend!

Gary Groob
Gary Groob

Gary Groob has been involved with Lacrosse for the majority of his life, whether playing, coaching, or covering the sport for the media.

An avid fan, with a real drive about helping to “grow the game”, Gary became part of podcasts about the game in 2010. Through the podcasts, Mr. Groob was given an opportunity to write about lacrosse, and the rest as they say, is history.

Through many miles (flying and driving) Gary has made inroads with the National Lacrosse League, Major Series Lacrosse League, the Ontario Lacrosse Association, as well as the Arena Lacrosse League, covering the leagues, their teams, and players, working for, and in concert with all of them.

In the year 2020, Mr. Groob was made the media person for the Arena Lacrosse League, voted onto the board of directors of the Brampton Excelsiors Lacrosse Club, as well as being made administrator of the Lacrosse page “Global Lacrosse” with a membership of 9000 members in over 90 Countries. Gary was also made an administrator of Lacrosse History Past Present and Future in 2022.

Mr. Groob co-hosts a weekly Lacrosse show on Spanglish Sports World, and ZingoTV channel 250, as well as writes a weekly lacrosse column for La Portada Canada News (both in print, and online).

Gary also hosts a Lacrosse talk show and podcast for The Edge of Philly Sports Network, seen live Sunday nights at 9pm (ET), and archived on the Edge of Philly YouTube page, as well as Spotify.

Mr. Groob’s other sports interests include Hockey, Football, Boxing, Wrestling, and Baseball, competing competitively in Boxing and Wrestling for many years.