The Ward Melville Diary


May 31, 2004

We could have won, I was thinking on that bus ride home. We could have beaten the eventual Long Island champion West Islip in our semifinal at Rocky Point. We hit two pipes and bungled three fast breaks, got a few bad calls, and lost 7-4. I’m proud of that team, the 2004 Patriots. We were young, a junior-powered line-up. We made the mistakes of youth and paid the price. Unfortunately, we can’t win it all every year, though some people think we should. And that is always the goal at Melville, nothing less. I turned around in my seat and faced a disappointed group of teenage boys. I told them I was proud of their efforts, but that the season was over now, and it was time to continue the Ward Melville tradition of the passing down the dirty socks, the treasured numbers. We’ll lose a few good seniors, but we will return our core group, and an undefeated junior varsity moving up. As they say, tradition never graduates.

We got good players coming back, bright kids maturing fast. So does West Islip and East Islip. So does Northport. Smithtown. William Floyd. Both Sachems. Half Hollow Hills East. Winning the large high school championship in Suffolk County gets tougher every year as youth lacrosse blossoms, everybody with feeder programs like our own Three Village Lacrosse. The road to New York State Championships usually runs through West Genesee, an upstate New York program that has mirrored our own good fortune and plays a team-game it is hard to disrupt and harder to duplicate. The enemy coaching gets better and more creative, with summer camps and position clinics and personal trainers. And I am getting older. More reflective and less impulsive, I hope.

It’s been five years since we won back-to-back New York State titles with one of the best high school teams of all time. Sometimes I hear I’ve lost my mojo, that my best days are behind me at Ward Melville. I should hand the job to my former assistants and play golf. Well, golf is a fine way to spend the day, but I still love lacrosse, and the boys who play it, not just at Ward Melville, but everywhere else. I still learn something everyday, and I still know how to spot the thoroughbreds. If you challenge me, I fight back with a determination that I can win. And, as I have often felt, the team Ward Melville can field next year could be special. Leaders will step forward. Youngsters will grow up on the job. The boys will need to discipline themselves, and resist the temptations of youth in springtime as we play one of the toughest schedules in the country. And I will need to be at the top of my game. Our community expects no less.          

The game of lacrosse was invented by Native Americans. The Mohawks called it Tewaaraton, for “little war,” and that’s what it was, employed by the tribes for conflict resolution and warrior training. The fields were huge and the game could last for days. As many as thousand men could play on a field that stretched for miles. Players were often injured and sometimes killed. Yet they believed they played the game for the pleasure of their Creator. French missionaries saw it and called it lacrosse, “the game of the stick.” In the nineteenth century the game became more of a sport. The field was shortened and players limited to ten a side: three attackmen, three midfielders, three defensemen and a goalie. Clubs were formed. Rules devised and standardized. They mostly play the game indoors on hockey rinks in Canada, but in America we play it outside on our football fields. It resembles soccer with sticks, hockey in the air and the Irish sport of hurling. In America we play the game to represent our junior highs and high schools and some of the best universities, where the sport has been played for over a hundred years. It has been called the fastest game on two feet and there is a place on the field for good athletes of any size. In fact, some of my best players over the years have been small guys with big hearts. Tim and Dennis Goldstein were both NCAA Players of the Year and were slender and of average height. You’ll meet them and others in this book as I document the present and reflect upon the past. We have done some incredible things here at Ward Melville. And every year we have to do it all again.

This is an excerpt from The Ward Melville Diary of Joseph A. Cuozzo. Joe Cuozzo is the winningest lacrosse coach in high school sports history. His teams at Ward Melville and Mt. Sinai have competed for championships for forty years

John Westermann is a freelance sportswriter and crime novelist who teaches at Stony Brook University. His novel Exit Wounds was a major motion picture starring Steven Seagal.