June 8, 2021 By Whitelaw Reid, wdr4d@virginia.edu

Bryson Ainsley holding a Lacrosse stick

Lacrosse Team’s Success Has This 93-year-old Former Player Feeling Giddy

H. Bryson Ainsley, who once played lacrosse at UVA, took great pleasure in the Hoos’ recent run to an NCAA championship.

The wooden lacrosse stick with the rawhide leather pocket has traveled with H. Bryson Ainsley everywhere he has ever lived – from Charlottesville to New York, from to Missouri to Ohio, and then back to New York.

“I don’t know why I’ve kept it all these years – it’s been in several garages,” Ainsley said, laughing.

Remarkably, the stick looks to be in great condition.

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More than 75 years ago, Ainsley used it when he played on what is believed to be one of the first University of Virginia men’s lacrosse club teams to be assembled following World War II. (The first UVA varsity lacrosse team began competing in 1904.)

“I remember practicing daily,” said Ainsley, who attended UVA from 1945 to 1948. “It was kind of a rag-tag operation, but it was fun.”

Fun would also be a great way to describe the atmosphere this Memorial Day when the 93-year-old Ainsley watched the UVA lacrosse team defeat Maryland, 17-16, to win its second straight NCAA championship and seventh in program history.

Ainsley watched the game on television from his home in Millbrook, New York, and could barely contain his excitement as the final seconds ticked down.

Up close view of a Lacrosse stick made from wood and old leather

The lacrosse stick Ainsley used when he played at UVA is still in good condition. (Photo by Spencer Ainsley)

“He was just blown away,” said his son, Steve Ainsley, himself a former UVA student. “He was just so excited. It was a thrilling game even if you weren’t a UVA fan.

“He was just beside himself, so very excited. He’s still talking and going on about it. It was the highlight of his year.”

Bryson Ainsley, a native of Jersey City, New Jersey, arrived at UVA as a 16-year-old first-year student in January 1945.

“I’ve often said that going from Jersey City to Charlottesville was like going from hell to heaven,” Ainsley said. “Jersey City was a mess back then. I really fell in love with Charlottesville – mostly the Grounds. I thought that was great.”

Ainsley lived in Theta Delta Chi fraternity before moving into 25 West Range, which he called a neat experience, “except for taking showers in February.”

Ainsley studied forestry for a year, with the courses taking place in a building across from The Virginian restaurant on the Corner – which Ainsley remembers as a popular hangout at all hours.

Lacrosse wasn’t the only sport Ainsley enjoyed playing. He recalls a softball game against the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity quite vividly. Former UVA football star Bill Dudley, who had graduated and was playing in the NFL, had come back to Charlottesville and was, unexpectedly, playing in the game.

“I got a lucky hit,” Ainsley said. “The fielder bobbled the ball and I raced to second base as fast as I could and Bill Dudley was there. It was like running into a concrete wall! I landed on my back. I’ll never forget that.”

During his time at UVA, Ainsley was in UVA’s Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. He was also a member of the UVA boxing team’s taxi squad – basically a practice squad – though he said he never got called up to the varsity lineup.

Ainsley said his overall UVA experience, starting with the Honor System, had a lasting impact.

Black and white photo of a group of men standing together on 4 steps posing for a group photo

Ainsley, second row at the far right, with his Theta Delta Chi fraternity brothers. (1946 “Corks & Curls”)

“At first, I thought, ‘This is kind of dumb,’ but in about a week, I said, ‘No, no, this is great,’” Ainsley said. “I just got attached to the Honor System and played out our system for the rest of my life.”

Unfortunately, Ainsley never got to graduate from UVA. With about a semester and a half left, he had to go home to help tend to his father, an ophthalmologist who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Ainsley wound up earning degrees from IBM’s business and marketing schools before embarking on a 38-year career with the company. He started in the mailroom and worked his way up the ladder to doing special projects for IBM Chairman and CEO Thomas J. Watson. He then transitioned into sales before moving into management for the better part of his career. 

Ainsley worked in St. Louis; Canton, Ohio; Cleveland; Poughkeepsie and Armonk, New York (IBM’s world headquarters).

Wherever he has been located, Ainsley, according to his sons, Steve and Spencer, has always kept close tabs on the Hoos.

“He watches UVA sports every chance he can,” Steve Ainsley said.

The lacrosse team, though, will always hold a special place in Bryson Ainsley’s heart.

Just like when he picked up his lacrosse stick for the first time, Ainsley said he’ll never forget the feeling he had after the Hoos’ most recent win.

“Oh boy, it was great, just great,” Ainsley said. “When it was 16-11, I was feeling very comfortable, and then suddenly Maryland [made a comeback], but it came out right.”

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Whitelaw Reid

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