That message was sent this past March, when his former Quaker players bestowed about as fine an honor as you can bestow on a coach-they raised enough money to get a field named after him. One of the two new multi-sport fields with a FieldTurf surface in the University’s glossy new, 24-acre Penn Park at the Eastern edge of campus, the James F. “Ace” Adams Field sits on the Eastern edge of the park — practically in the shadow of Philadelphia’s Center City skyline — and opened for business last September. It is the first field at Penn named after a former coach.
Walk past the sign outside the fencing, and this is what you will read: “Named in honor of the Men’s Head Lacrosse Coach from 1970-77. May the student athletes who compete on this field develop the life-long common bonds that are created by the virtues of team competition that educators like Coach Adams embody. These principles and values are evidenced by the spirit and commitment of those who come to Penn to learn from coaches like him.” The sign also lists the Charter Donors to the campaign, and it reads like a who’s who of Penn lacrosse from one of its most prosperous eras.
“It is very exciting to have this field named after one of the greats in college lacrosse,” said Penn’s current head coach, Mike Murphy. “It is particularly special for me, having been recruited by Coach Adams to UVA, and then to compete against him as a student-athlete at Duke, and now to follow in his footsteps as a coach here at Penn — it really is an honor.”
The official ceremony took place on Saturday, March 10, prior to the current team’s game with Villanova. Approximately 20 former players, Adams disciples all, were on hand to honor their mentor.
“When we officially dedicated the field with Coach Adams coming back for our Alumni Day, it was a truly great event,” said Murphy. “There were dozens of alumni back, spanning generations. We celebrated the past — in honor of Coach Adams — as well as the present and future, which Adams Field will so positively impact.
“It also speaks to the tradition and support the men’s lacrosse program has here at Penn,” Murphy continued. “Our first season was in 1900, and it’s a proud tradition with many truly great people associated with it. Their dedication and commitment to Penn Lacrosse is evident in their support, and their decision to name this facility after their coach speaks to both their selflessness and his greatness.”
“Coach Adams represents what a collegiate coach is all about,” said Athletic Overseer Chuck Leitner, C’81, who spearheaded the fundraising effort. “He set a first-class standard. Penn was fortunate to have Coach leading its men’s lacrosse program in the 1970s, and those who were lucky enough to spend time with him in those years are better for it.”
(You can almost hear the wistfulness in Leitner’s voice when he talks about the luck of the players who played for Coach Adams. He was in fact recruited to Penn by Adams, but then the coach left the summer before he arrived on campus.)
“Coach Adams taught his student-athletes not only to excel on the field and in the classroom, but also to have a positive impact on the world at large,” said Athletic Director Steve Bilsky W’71, who was a member of the Penn men’s basketball team when Adams arrived on campus.
Adams, of course, is one of the great names in college lacrosse coaching. He was Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach at Penn from 1970-77, coming to Philadelphia after a standout 12-year career at Army where he won a trio of national championships and was the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) Coach of the Year in 1961. The Quakers went a combined 51-34 under Adams’ tutelage, including a 10-2 mark in 1977 when the Quakers finished the year ranked fourth. Adams also led Penn to its first two NCAA Championship appearances, in 1975 and 1977; both times the Quakers fell to Navy in the quarterfinal round. He coached 17 All-Americans at Penn.
Adams left Penn after the 1977 season to become the head coach at the University of Virginia, a job he held until his retirement in 1992. During his tenure there, he led the Cavaliers to 12 NCAA Championship appearances including seven semifinal games and two runner-up finishes (both times the losses coming in overtime). At the time of his retirement from coaching in 1992, he was second behind only Massachusetts’ Dick Garber in career wins (285).
What is perhaps most impressive is that Adams accomplished some of his greatest feats as a coach after he had been inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame; that happened in 1975, when he was still coaching at Penn. Prior to his coaching career, Adams played at Johns Hopkins where he was a three-time USILA All-America and played on three national championship squads. A superb athlete, Adams also played football and basketball for the Blue Jays.