Long Island is well known for a lot of good reasons. Nassau and Suffolk Counties have some of the best fishing, surfing, beaches, history, and wineries in the country, and possibly the best darn deli sandwiches on the face of the planet. But above all of that and more, Long Island has lacrosse, and the area truly represents the heart of the game.
The sheer level of talent concentrated out on Long Island is ridiculous, and that holds true going back for decades. Tommy Schreiber, whom many describe as the best player in the game right now, is a LI product. Jimmy Lewis, whom many considered the best player of his day (maybe ever) is also a Long Island product. So are Jim Brown, Dave Pietramala, Darren and Kevin Lowe, AJ Haugen, Richie Moran, BJ Prager, Bill Tierney, Jay Jalbert, Eamon McEnaney, Sal LoCasio, Bob Boniello, Frank Urso, Doug Shanahan, Pat McCabe, Mark Millon, John Danowski… the list just goes on and on. These are all Long Island guys and they only represent the tip of the lacrosse iceberg. The Long Island Metro chapter of US Lacrosse has a hall of fame and it is an incredibly impressive list of many of lacrosse’s biggest names.
John Gagliardi is one of these legends, and his memories growing up there are still fresh:
“I loved growing up and playing lacrosse on Long Island. I got to learn from the best coaches in the world. Playing summer league at the Hicksville Fields against the top players is one of my favorite summer memories, and then graduating and going on to play with guys like Pat McCabe, the Sombrotto brothers, Jay Jalbert, the Denihan brothers and many others was a real treat. We won a lot!”
The truly amazing thing about Long Island lacrosse is how many of these guys have now brought lacrosse to other parts of the country. Delbarton’s HS team in New Jersey and CityLax in NYC were both started by Mat Levine, a Long Island native. Bill Tierney is at the helm in Denver, and spreading the game out West (and winning lots of games!), Jack Emmer has grown the sport all around the world, as have Rick Mercurio and USL’s 2012 man of the year, Tom Hayes. Hayes attended legendary Sewanhaka High School with Jack Kaley. Kaley convinced Hayes to play lacrosse. Then they both went on to have long and impactful careers as custodians of the sport. These stories and lifelong connections through lacrosse go on for what seems like forever.
And that doesn’t even touch on the WAY that they play the game out on Long Island!
Lacrosse out on the island is fast, skilled, and physical. It has an edge to it, and the players, coaches, and fans embrace it. The best way to sum it all up is to have one person tell you their story, and we couldn’t think of a better person to do that than Vinny Sombrotto, a verifiable Long Island lacrosse legend himself:
“At 12 years old, my family moved from East Harlem, New York to Port Washington on the North Shore of Nassau County. As a kid I was very active in all the usual sports – football, basketball, and baseball were the ones I excelled at. During the fall of my first year living in Port, while I was playing football, some of my teammates began to talk about what a great lacrosse team we were going to have come springtime. They asked if I was going to play. I of course said yes, even though I had never heard of the sport. I was a baseball player.
“When I got home from football practice I asked my Mom if she knew anything about a sport called lacrosse. She had no idea and told me to ask my Dad when he got home from work. When I asked my Dad, before even telling me anything about the game, he said “that’s a good game for you”. I asked him why. He said because when he was a boy growing up on the streets of East Harlem he was taken one weekend to Princeton University by the Fresh Air Fund. It was a way to expose the city kids to what was an unknown environment for them. While he was there he saw some Princeton athletes playing a game that of course was foreign to him, but he saw the skill and speed it took to be effective. He told me my quickness and speed would be an asset. He thought I should give it a try.
Little did I know that my family had not only landed in the lacrosse hotbed of Long Island, but in particular in Port Washington. Under the guidance of the legendary Harvey Cohen, PYA (Port Youth Activities) had one of the best youth organizations in all of Long Island. I had a lot of catching up to do since most of my teammates already had three or four years playing under their belts. This was the wooden stick era, so it was not nearly as easy to develop a skill level as it is today. What struck me first about being on a lacrosse team was that there was a different kind of a camaraderie that came with the sport. Practices always seemed to be more fun than other sports. I loved it, but I still did not realize how much Long Island towns took pride in winning lacrosse games until we beat our rivals from Manhasset. We were heroes.
“It wasn’t until high school that I learned that so many of the top players on Long Island were considered the best players in the country. All Americans were offered scholarships to top universities as well as many of the All County players. At Manhasset Sports Shop were most of us on the North Shore bought our equipment, I got a copy of the “Lacrosse Guide”. I read it cover to cover and was amazed how many Long Island players were considered some of the best in the country. I would go to games and ask about other schools, never realizing schools like Manhasset, Garden City, Sewanhaka and others had been playing for many years. I was told by some old timers about teams traveling to Baltimore or Upstate NY to take on the best teams. There were great rivalries and it brought out the best in everyone.
Long Island lacrosse in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s prided itself on being a more physical brand of lacrosse than in other regions. I’m really not so sure about that, but that was the reputation. I will say that most of the lacrosse players back then also played football. The rules allowed a lot more body checking than today and the ball was on the ground a lot more. You had to be able to take a hit. The list of All Americans, National Champions, USA Team Members, pro league players and National Hall of Fame members from Long Island is endless. The coaching tree has branched out and reached amazing levels. I think if you speak to anyone who has had major success they will tell you that their success is deeply rooted in growing up playing Long Island lacrosse.
The best part of it is the long term relationships and bonds that we have with teammates and in many cases opponents. I personally have always been proud to represent Long Island lacrosse. The game and the people involved in it here have added so much to my life and I am grateful for it, as I am for the opportunity to have played with great players from everwhere.”
Celebrate the heart of lacrosse with us by repping Long Island wherever you go, right on your chest, for all to see. It’s the Long Island way!