April 3, 2020

A Family Legacy


A Family Legacy

Growing up in suburban Westfield, New Jersey, Mike Abeles gravitated towards a sport – and a position – that he learned from his father, Jon. He heard stories from his dad about his own college experience, the people that shaped it and the memories that were made. Those stories included people like Woody Hayes and scenes such as walking about the Oval, going to Mirror Lake and spending Saturday’s in the fall inside Ohio Stadium.

And, they included lacrosse sticks – wooden ones to be specific – thanks to a game Jon had grown to love while growing up. His passion for the sport brought him to Ohio State in the late 1960s. A goalie, he made 537 saves in his career, which today stands as the sixth highest total in career history. His father’s experience was about far more than wins and losses – he calls it a “mind, body and spirit experience” that is “an indispensable part of my identity.”

Twenty six years after Jon graduated, he had successfully passed down a love of lacrosse to Mike. When it was his turn to pick a college, Jon didn’t pressure him to choose Ohio State. Mike did that all on his own, but Jon still remembers the first time it hit him that a second generation of Abeles was going to play goalie for the Scarlet and Gray.

“I felt chills down my spine every time I was on the sideline watching the team,” Jon said, recalling the first time he attended one of Mike’s practices in the fall of his freshman year. “I was so proud of the development of the lacrosse program over the years, and to witness the effective recruitment of excellent athletes with knowledge, skills and abilities in lacrosse that were so far beyond those of us who played in earlier years. As I watched both practice and games while Mike wore the Scarlet and Gray, I would flash back to similar moments, only 20-plus years before, of challenge, competition, pride, sacrifice, and tradition that permeated every cell of my body as a Buckeye between 1967-1971.”

By the time Mike was a senior in 2000, he had firmly entrentched himself as one of the best goalies in the country. At the conclusion of his senior season, he was named an honorable mention All-American by the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association and became the first Buckeye to do so in 21 years, since Terry Gilmore in 1979.

A three-time team captain, his career total of 528 saves puts him at seventh place all-time – nine behind his father.

“It was an amazing experience to watch Mike develop and play in the goal,” said Jon. “As I often mentioned to my wife, Mike was so much better than I was on the field, especially with the higher caliber of play.”

From Mike’s perspective, one of his greatest and most memorable moments occurred when his father spoke to the team prior to a key late-season game vs. Denver in 1999. His message was simple: cherish every opportunity you have, because he and his teammates would give anything to have the experience of playing just one more time.

“He asked us to take advantage of the opportunity and to be there for each other on and off the field. That we would look back on these times and treasure what we accomplished,” said Mike.

Today, Mike lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with his wife Kristina, daughter Tatum (nine years old) and dog, Lexie. He’s been there for 18 years and currently is an associate human capital partner at OptumRX, a UnitedHealth Group company. He partners with senior leaders to drive human capital and business strategies across the Optum Home Infusion division. In his spare time, he’s also kept lacrosse close to him – he a volunteer coach at Arizona State, helping coach goalies.

Mike’s post-Ohio State lacrosse career saw his get drafted in 2000 by the Boston Cannons of Major League Lacrosse and also play in the National Lacrosse League with the Columbus Landsharks for one season. He was named to the Ohio State All-Century Team for men’s lacrosse by the Touchdown Club of Columbus.

“It is hard to describe how proud I was of his constantly improving individual skill and ability to play the position,” said Jon.

Following Jon’s graduation in 1971, Jon served one combat tour with the Navy in Vietnam. He returned to Columbus to attend graduate school and while earning his degree was a volunteer assistant coach with the lacrosse program in 1974-75. His next chapter took him to New Jersey, where he taught high school and coached football and lacrosse for five years. Later, he was an executive at Verizon in New York City for 18 years and then served 16 years as a senior vice president for a large non-profit health system in the Midwest. Now retired, he and his wife Barbara – whom he met at Ohio State – split their time between the east coast and Arizona.

“As a captain of the lacrosse team, I developed a bias for action, learned how to be resilient under pressure, demonstrate confidence in others and inspire them to be the best they could be, often under trying conditions,” said Jon. “There were a lot of resources available at Ohio State, both formally and informally, that supported my development and prepared me for my profession, life in the community, and in all phases of family life.”

Both Jon and Mike agree that the lessons they learned on the field, in the classroom and in the community linger to this day.

“The Athletic department – coaches, counselors, strength coach, academic tutors, etc. – played a great role in my development and success,” said Mike. “Being a captain for three years developed me in so many ways, and I have been able to use it in management positions that I have held in a number of corporate settings.”