From the Editor: High School Pride
|The Patriots had a throwback
season out on Long Island, earning the top spot in the final Nike/USL National High School Top
Ward Melville versus West Genesee for the New York state championship. Really, does it get any better than that?
As a Long Island boy who grew up near Ward Melville in a rival district, I could not help but wax nostalgic knowing it came down to the Patriots and Wildcats, who have combined for 23 state titles. Ward Melville put a hurting on West Genesee and earned its first title and No. 1 national ranking since 2000 with a 16-4 victory June 8 in Rochester.
Back on the Island, several hundred Ward Melville supporters celebrated at The Bench Bar and Grill, a local pub. They posted videos and photos on the team's Facebook page, which makes you feel like you're in a Texas football town, with its sense of history and community pride.
It's the same vibe I got while reading The Ward Melville Diary, a book written by Joe Cuozzo, the longtime Patriots coach and National Lacrosse Hall of Famer who was unceremoniously ousted after he retired from teaching in 2005. I highly recommend it, as Brown coach Lars Tiffany did, calling it "a compelling read for anyone who wants to get inside the mind of one of the all-time great coaches."
The book surely captures the controversy of 2005, but it also instills in the reader a deep appreciation for the high school lacrosse experience. With the rise of non-scholastic club programs and the recruitment of freshmen and sophomores, fewer athletes today get to enjoy that experience in a full and meaningful way.
Cuozzo could coach the pants off any club coach out there today. The same could be said for his successor, Mike Hoppey, who got to retire on top in 2013. That's because they are educators first. They walk the same hallways as the players. They know their teachers and families. They psychologize as much as they strategize.
"I want my voice ringing in their heads," Cuozzo wrote.
Before one practice in the middle of the 2005 season, Cuozzo told the team they would not have to run sprints afterward, then made them do it anyway "to see how they handle disappointment."
When the weather got hot that May and players complained about being thirsty toward the end of practice, Cuozzo "sat them down in a pile of dirt and told them what a 110-degree day in Baghdad might be like with an M-16 rifle and a 90-pound knapsack." They stopped whining.
At the time, Cuozzo wrote, college coaches would scout Ward Melville practices. I wonder if they're still doing that today. Or do they just fall in line with the lawn chair brigade at the summer and fall showcases? Is it only about talent anymore? Does it not matter how a kid might interact with his teammates, coaches, family and friends when the lights aren't on?
Cuozzo would say it does.
A version of this article appears in the August 2013 issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.
The book has its lighter moments, like when Cuozzo catches his star player lip-locked with a cheerleader underneath a stairwell, or when he tells the story of how three-time MLL champion goalie Greg Cattrano—one of dozens of big-name players to come through Ward Melville — hand-delivered his Bayhawks jersey to a kid to wear for Halloween.
I first read The Ward Melville Diary when it was published in 2009. The Patriots' dominant season gave me cause to read it again four years later. I'm amazed at how much has changed in our game since then, and yet grateful that in some places, high school pride still matters.