CHATHAM, NJ -- James Platek can certainly hold his head high with the way he has been playing for the Chatham boys lacrosse team this season.

In fact, one of the reasons he's played so well is that the senior attackman makes it a point to never put his head down.

"I rely on my visuals," Platek said. "I always have my head up. I can never put my head down, otherwise, it's hard to hear sometimes."

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Normally, Platek, who was born with a deaf gene that started to diminish his hearing when he was in first grade, can hear okay out of his good ear, the one with the cochlear implant. But Monday's NJSIAA North Group 3 lacrosse championship game was different.

"My hearing aid battery died midway through the game," he said. "I could only hear with one ear. I told coach (Tony Calandra) and he said, 'yeah, ok, it's fine.' I pretty much played with one ear. We all knew what we were doing, and I knew what I was supposed to do so it didn't turn out too bad."

Well, it turned out bad for Northern Highlands since Platek finished with four goals and three assists, including two goals and an assist in the opening period when Chatham moved to a 6-1 lead on the way to the 13-6 victory.

In Chatham's four-game championship run to the North Group 3 title, Platek has collected 14 goals and six assists. He currently leads the Cougars in points with 57, goals with 32, and assists with 25. He's had four 4-goal games in 2021.

James Platek is the Chatham Wealth Management Athlete of the Week.

"He's really come into the role, especially since he wasn't an attackman before this year," Calandra said. "He used to be a midfielder. He's just been growing into the spot. You see it in practice, you see the confidence level building. Confidence is a big part of it. He's opportunistic, he knows the game and he shoots the ball well. 

"He's a great kid and a great teammate. He plays multiple sports and he's a joy to have on the team."

Platek and his attack teammates Cullen Decker and Teddy Manitta have been putting pressure on the opposition during the state tournament by getting off to quick starts. In the last three games, the Cougars have scored a total of 18 goals in the first period.

"In practice, we're going over it constantly, and it becomes automatic at game time," Platek said. "They were going to slide really early, so we knew what they were going to do and we had to take advantage by moving the ball quickly with backside looks. If not, we'll keep doing it until someone is open. I like how we didn't force it a lot. When we have a good lead, we're very comfortable and we don't have to rush to score."

In the early part of the season, the defense carried the Cougars while the offense was jelling. The Cougars were 1-3 before they built themselves into a championship team. Part of the turnaround came when the players on attack began to aggressively ride the opposition after a turnover or save.

"It's a team thing," Platek said. "We knew we could ride harder. Working with the middies, it helps cut down on the other team's possessions and makes up for turnovers."

In addition to his scoring, Platek has a knack for picking up ground balls, a more subtle but very underrated contribution to the offense.

"He's very good at getting ground balls," Calandra said.

Platek has always been drawn to sports, playing basketball and lacrosse for as long as he can remember. 

"My parents gave me a basketball and a lacrosse stick and I've always loved it," he said. "It's awesome. It's just so much fun. When I'm playing basketball and lacrosse it's kind of like dopamine. I get out there and just forget about everything else going on. I love it.

"The season has been a lot of fun. We came from here (holding his hand in front of his chest) and we keep going up. Everyone's got to play their role. I've had a lot of opportunities to score, so you've got to put it in the back of the net when you get the chance. We're all playing well."

Reading lips came naturally to Platek, and he doesn't have any trouble in the classroom because he sits in the front. The pandemic, however, made it harder for him to communicate since people were wearing masks and he couldn't see what they were saying.

Platek co-captained the CHS basketball team as a shooting guard this past winter. In his 35 varsity games over two seasons, he hit 30 3-pointers.

"This year was easier because there were so few people in the stands and I could hear the plays being called," Platek said. "Normally, home games are so loud it's hard to hear."

Platek studies a lot of game film and, because he always has his head up, he can see how plays develop and what defenses are doing, especially on the basketball court.

"I kind of like see plays happen," Platek said. "Sometimes the point guard will dribble with his head down. I'm always looking, so I can see what goes on with the play and how to beat defenses.

"I study film and it helps me know what to look for. I see things coming. After the first play or two, I recognize the defenses, where everyone is and where the open guys are."

Platek may have coaching in his future. Not only is he adept at analyzing game film, he got some experience helping out with Steve Coffey's 8th-grade Chatham lacrosse team and he enjoyed it. In the meantime, he's playing everything he can.

"I also love to play golf," he said. "In the summer, I'm always out of the house playing tennis or swimming."

Platek was good enough in lacrosse to make a commitment to an NCAA Division 1 program but changed his mind and has decided to enroll at SMU.

"It was a hard decision," he said. "Playing Division 1 is like a full-time job. I'm going to study business."

James Platek scores one of his 4 goals in the North Group 3 final

Editor's note: The Athlete of the Week is sponsored by Chatham Wealth Management in recognition of the commitment a Chatham athlete has made to their sport, their school and their community.  For over twenty years, Chatham Wealth Management has been committed to putting our clients first by crafting customized investment solutions.  Call us at 973-635-4275 or email us at info@chathamwealth.com to discuss how we can help meet your financial goals.  To learn more about our products and team, visit us at www.chathamwealth.com.