Baltimore, MD- The Southern Lacrosse Officials Association community suffered a tough loss this past weekend when veteran official Joe Cieslak Sr., tragically died during the National College Lacrosse League Maryland-Johns Hopkins game. Cieslak was serving as lead referee for the traditional rivalry contest when he was stricken with about 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Spencer Ford, who was serving as umpire for the crew, said a wind chill factor dropped temperatures dramatically as the afternoon wore on at Homewood Field.
“It suddenly got freezing cold, bad enough that I had to go back to my car and get an extra layer of clothing,” Ford said. “When I got back to the field after halftime I remember Joe saying that his fingertips were really numb.”
Cieslak went down along the sideline near the goal and was gasping for breath as Hopkins goalkeeper Matt Meissner rushed to his attention. Meissner quickly cut away the Under Armour shirt Cieslak was wearing below his stripes to give him some air. Unfortunately, Cieslak went into cardiac arrest about 30 seconds later and Meissner immediately began giving CPR. “I did about 10 cycles of CPR and did manage to resuscitate him briefly, but he went back into cardiac arrest,” said Meissner, a trained lifeguard who also used a defibrillator on Cieslak.
Paramedics arrived very quickly, but there was nothing that could be done and Cieslak was gone at the age of 62. Ford was still shaken when contacted on Tuesday night about the incident.
“It was terrible, one of the worst things I’ve ever been through in my life,” the former Towson University and Major League Lacrosse attackman said. “Matt Meissner from Hopkins deserves a handshake, a hug and more. He was so heroic. He reacted right away and did an incredible job.”
Cieslak was a 62-year-old resident of Perry Hall and had been refereeing lacrosse since 1992. He was a member of the Southern Lacrosse Officials Association and worked everything from recreation lacrosse to grand masters. He had a slew of Division I collegiate games under his belt and was a regular throughout the MIAA, ALL, and NCLL lacrosse leagues.
Born and raised in Highlandtown, Cieslak played lacrosse and football at Archbishop Curley and continued his gridiron career at Baltimore Community College and Towson. He was also a longtime member of the Maryland Board of Football Officials, serving as president of that organization in 2010.
“My Dad loved being involved with sports, really enjoyed officiating games of all levels. He always had a smile on his face whenever he was out on an athletic field,” said Joe Cieslak Jr.