Lacrosse fans and athletes gathered at Half Hollow Hills East Saturday for the annual Ray Enners Day celebration, where Hills alum James Metzger was honored.
Metzger, who was Hills’ first Enners Award winner in 1977 as Suffolk County’s top lacrosse player, spoke to the crowd about his journey and the meaning of Enners in his life after accepting a plaque from Hills board trustee Eric Geringswald.
“He gave his life for our country,” said Metzger of Enners, a Hills alum who died bravely on Sept. 18, 1968 while saving another solider, who ironically hails from Long Island, during the Vietnam War. “He’s an American hero and one of my heroes.”
Each year the Hills East and West boys lacrosse teams scrimmage one another to honor Enners, who at 22-years old made the ultimate sacrifice.
Nicknamed "The Machine" by teammates, Enners captained the football, basketball and lacrosse teams at Hills. He was an All-County, All-Long Island and Honorable Mention All-America selection his senior year. Enners was a five-year varsity player and played in the first five Suffolk County championship games before going to West Point and having an equally impressive collegiate career.
Bill Martens, his former football and lacrosse coach, who was a legend at Hills from 1959-1973, was on-hand Saturday to remember his fallen athlete. For years he would speak about Enners when giving out the lacrosse award, but still has difficulty talking about a person who meant so much to him, the community and the country.
“When I got the call telling me he had been killed, it was like my son was killed,” Martens recalled.
Metzger remembers the day nearly 35 years ago when his coach Lou DiBlasi told him he won the Enners Award and was named a high school All-American in the same day.
“I still remember the day as if it were yesterday,” he said. “I still remember where I was standing and where my coach was standing. It was one of the most special days of my life and as special as that was 35 years ago, it’s just as special today.”
At Hills East, Metzger set school records for points in a season and assists in a game, season and career and was the only high school athlete selected to both the North-South All-Star football and lacrosse games as a senior.
On the football field, he started every game in his three-year varsity career and led his team in scoring. Metzger attended the Naval Academy Prep School and led the lacrosse team in goals, assists and points. Focusing solely on lacrosse, Metzger decided to come back to Long Island to attend Hofstra University in 1979 and 1980, where he again led the team in assists each of those seasons.
Today, Metzger is the chairman and CEO of The Whitmore Group, a leading insurance brokerage firm on Long Island, and is a generous philanthropist to many organizations and institutions in the area. He also finds time to root for his nephews Rob Pannell, who plays at Cornell, and James Pannell, a Virginia recruit at Smithtown West.
“It’s nice to see him honored, but more importantly it’s nice to see him turn out to be the kind of man that he is,” DiBlasi said. “He’s a tremendous person. He was a great kid and a great athlete, but he’s even better as a human being. I’m proud of that.”