Patch: From Honor Guard to Grand Marshal

May 28, 2012

Northport Mayor George Doll served as grand marshall. The Northport 2012 Memorial Day Parade drew patriotic crowd and enthusiastic marchers down Main Street on Monday. Credit Jason Molinet
Title: From Honor Guard to Grand Marshal; Mayor George Doll once served in honor guard at Arlington National Cemetery. He brought pomp and ceremony Monday to Northport Memorial Day parade.
Publication: www.Northport.Patch.com
Author: Jason Molinet
Date: May 28, 2012
Word Count: 468

Before he was mayor of Northport, before he was a lobsterman, George Doll served in the honor guard at Arlington National Cemetery.

Just a lanky kid from the Long Island suburbs, Doll landed the prestigious duty in 1965, just as the war in Vietnam started to intensify. Doll was drafted and served 18 months with the 3rd Infantry Division guarding Washington.

So Northport picked the right Grand Marshal for Monday’s Memorial Day Parade.

“Down there it’s real serious,” Doll recalled of his stint at Arlington, home of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. “The day before Memorial Day, the whole army goes out and puts a flag on every one of those graves.”

Doll was a member of the Army drill team in his youth, in part because of his height. As he led the parade down Main Street on Monday – astride a white-haired draft horse and representing the American Legion – Doll appeared downright imposing.

He takes his current role deadly serious.

“Even though I didn’t serve in combat, I was very close to people who did,” Doll said. “My platoon leader, Lt. [Micahel Eugene] Kraft, was sent to Vietnam. He was killed within [three months]. He came back and we had the detail to bury him.”

Kraft was killed in action in the An Lao Valley on April 8, 1967. He was interred at Arlington.

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Doll’s tie, featuring Texas state flag, is a tribute to another fallen comrade. It was a gift from a buddy who died in Vietnam.

“This is not part of the American Legion uniform,” Doll said of the tie. “One of my friends in the service gave me this before he got killed in Vietnam. So I wear this on Memorial Day.”

Doll has been part of the Northport parade since he was a child watching the procession march by.

There was a time – before Doll – when the annual Memorial Day ceremony paraded down an unpaved Main Street. Through the decades, it’s an event that binds the Village and one generation to another.

“The parade always has the right touch,” Doll said. “A lot of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Legionnaires. We are very receptive to the flag display put on by the Rotary Club. If you are doing something patriotic, you have a good chance getting it OK’d.”

The formal pomp of the day struck the proper red, white and blue chord.

Maybe some future mayor of Northport watched Monday’s ceremony in awe sitting on the street curb – or a stroller – as Doll rode past.

It was an inspiring morning. The dead were honored. Our living war heroes were saluted. It was a day where you were proud to live in Northport.

About this column: Regional Editor Jason Molinet weighs in on the people and issues which make Long Island great.

Patch: St. Anthony’s Stat Man Shows Grit

November 20, 2010

St. Anthony's stat man Tom Langan.

St. Anthony's stat man Tom Langan.


Title: St. Anthony’s Stat Man Shows Grit; Friars football statistician Tom Langan roams the sideline despite losing leg to infection and diabetes.
Publication: www.Huntington.Patch.com
Author: Jason Molinet
Date: Nov. 20, 2010
Word Count: 960

You know Tom Langan. He’s the guy with an infectious smile, clip board in hand and numbers at his fingertips, navigating the pulsing sideline at St. Anthony’s football games as he keeps pace with what’s happening on the field.

He’s the team statistician, a volunteer job he’s done going back to two decades. And while Langan, 57, has missed games through the years, he has been as much a fixture in the Black and Gold as coach Rich Reichert himself. In fact, the two are cousins.

“I try to tell the kids, ‘You have so many dedicated people here you don’t really realize they are doing things for you behind the scenes,’” Reichert said. “This is really important to him. And he does a really good job for us.”

St. Anthony’s (10-0) plays Iona Prep (8-2) in the CHSFL Class AAA championship game Saturday at 4 p.m. at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale. It’s no surprise Langan will be there doing his duties for the Friars.

The remarkable part is that Langan is here at all.

The same day St. Anthony’s beat Iona Prep on Oct. 9, 2009, Langan’s left leg was amputated above the knee. It was the result of a freak infection gone wrong and a previously undiagnosed condition.

Reichert gave his cousin the game ball in the hospital. He stopped in every night after practice. And he’s been there for Langan ever since, through a long and evolving rehabilitation process.

His big step forward came during the home opener in September against Holy Cross. Langan made his return to the St. Anthony’s sideline, albeit with his clip board balanced on a walker.

“Tom was there all the time. And we counted on him all the time,” St. Anthony’s athletic director Don Buckley said. “So when he was out last season, it was obvious. Everyone was saying, ‘Where’s Tom?’”

Langan, who is still adjusting to using his titanium prosthesis, recently transferred from a rehab facility in Long Beach to an assisted living home in Medford. Each day is another closer to normalcy.

“I can get around,” said Langan, who is on disability after a career spent in retail. “I use the walker and I’m training with the cane right now. My goal is to walk without anything. It may take two years, but I’m going to do it.”

Today Langan’s life is packed away, boxed up in Reichert’s garage. He was an only child and never married. The football program is his family. Langan finds deeper meaning in everything now, especially on the sideline of a football game. It’s one small but significant step in the rehabilitation process.

“People say, ‘It’s a shame what happened to you,” Langan said. “I say, ‘It happened.’ You have to do your best to adjust. You do the best you can to get your life back.”

It’s not the first time. When Langan’s father died in 1964 – when Langan was all of 10 – Reichert’s dad took on the role of surrogate father figure. So the cousins spent a lot of time together and grew as close as brothers.

This is Reichert’s 24th season at the helm of the St. Anthony’s football program. Langan joined him on the sideline starting in 1991.

“Richie asked me,” Langan said. “He said, ‘Can you help me out? You’re good with numbers.’”

The closest he had been to a sports venue was as a vendor at Yankee Stadium growing up in the Bronx. But Langan took instantly to his statistician duties.

There were unexpected benefits. The winning was addictive. Being close to his cousin was great. He forged lasting relationships with the coaching staff. And the positive energy flowing from the teenaged players energized him.

“It keeps me young being around the teenagers,” Langan said. “The coaches treat me great. It’s like I’m part of the staff. I feel like I’m part of the St. Anthony’s family.”

That family has seen him though an ordeal.

When Langan discovered a pebble embedded in his left foot, he removed it with tweezers. It drew a little blood. He bandaged it up and didn’t think twice about it. That was August 2009.

But the wound became infected. Langan ignored it, expecting it would get better. Then the infection spread to the bone. Next thing Langan knew he was unable to get out of bed. He called his cousin.

“As soon as I saw his leg I knew he was in trouble,” said Reichert, a former Nassau County Police officer. “He almost died that night. It was really bad. Gangrene.”

Reichert rushed his cousin to St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown. Langan was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which only exacerbated the injury. And his leg would have to go. Surgery was scheduled just 24 hours later.

“When you wake up you see what’s not there any more,” Langan said, “it’s a shock.”

All that seems like a lifetime ago. Langan has been to five games this season. He was on the sideline when Reichert won his 200th game last week. The title game will make six. He has a job to do.

“This gives me an incentive to do something,” Langan said. “It gets me outdoors. I’m seeing people again. I’m more determined. You have to push yourself to do it.”

Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the courage of the everyday.

“He’s a true inspiration,” Buckley said. “He’s done so well with his rehab, most of the kids don’t even realize there’s anything wrong. He doesn’t draw attention to himself. He’s a guy behind the scenes.”

On the same turf where athletes push themselves to the limit for the glory of sport, so is the humble stat guy. He’s simply learning to stand tall and walk once more.

Press Club of Long Island Sports Panel

September 16, 2010

Patch.com regional editor Jason Molinet took part in a panel on sports reporting in the Newsday auditorium. The event was sponsored by the Press Club of Long Island. Panelists included Mark Herrmann, Newsday sports writer; Amy McGorry; News 12 Westchester; and Jason Molinet, Patch.com / longtime sports writer. The moderator was Pat Calabria of Farmingdale State College and a former Newsday sports writer.

Patch: 2010 CHSFL Preview

September 3, 2010

Patch: 2010 CHSFL Preview

Patch: 2010 CHSFL Preview

Title: Long Island Football: 2010 CHSFL Preview; St. Anthony’s still the CHSFL team to beat
Publication: www.Huntington.Patch.com
Author: Jason Molinet
Date: Sept. 3, 2010
Word Count: 1,009

There’s little doubt that the Catholic football league is the toughest and most talent-rich in New York state. There’s also no contesting that one school sits atop the heap.

St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington is a Long Island football dynasty with all the trappings of royalty. Coach Rich Reichert has one of the biggest and most experienced staffs you’ll find on a high school field. The 80-man roster is as deep as any college program’s. And the Friars play on a lighted, turf field before packed crowds approaching 2,500, and with TV and radio crews regularly stalking the sidelines.

Little wonder the Friars, despite graduating several key players from last season’s 10-1 CHSFL Class AAA championship, are the top seed and favorites once again. Success breeds success.

Behind the play of QB Tom Schreiber, the Friars won eight games in a row to end the 2009 season. He engineered a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives to lift St. Anthony’s past previously unbeaten Holy Trinity, 28-21, in the title game. It marked the eighth league championship in the last nine seasons.

How will the 2010 CHSFL season play out? Holy Trinity, Chaminade and Holy Cross will vie for the title while the Friars break in a new QB. Regardless, the path to the championship still runs through South Huntington and St. Anthony’s. That because Reichert doesn’t rebuild, he reloads. Here’s a look at the CHSFL:

2010 Seeds

1. St. Anthony’s
2. Holy Trinity
3. Chaminade
4. Holy Cross
5. Iona Prep
6. Xaverian
7. St. Joseph Sea
8. Farrell
9. Mount St. Michael
10. Fordham Prep
11. Kellenberg
12. St. Francis Prep
13. Stepinac
14. Cardinal Hayes
15. Xavier
16. St. John the Baptist
17. St. Peter’s
18. Spellman
19. Bishop Ford
20. Christ the King

Team Watch

St. Anthony’s: The Friars will look to reach the CHSFL Class AAA title game for the 12th straight season with a new QB but the same unbeatable attitude. The difference maker for the Friars is up front, where their defensive and offensive linemen play on one side of the ball and have the heft to dominate.

Holy Trinity: Can the Titans fill the void left by the graduation of all-everything RB / LB Anthony Brunetti? The four-year star served as the sparkplug for Holy Trinity’s run to the CHSFL Class AAA title game a year ago. If Holy Trinity lets QB Chris Laviano air it out, then look out.

Chaminade: The 2009 season ended with Holy Trinity returning a blocked field goal for a touchdown with 18 seconds left in a 28-24 playoff loss. You can bet second-year coach Stephen Boyd, a former Pro Bowl linebacker, will have the Flyers playing inspired defense. Chaminade will be in every game.

Holy Cross: A semifinalist a year ago, Knights have top wideout Devon Cajuste (921 yards, 7 TDs) back. Holy Cross gave St. Anthony’s a scare in the regular season but bowed out with an injury-riddled lineup in a 28-7 playoff loss to the Friars. This cast will be motivated for more.

Mount St. Michael: Thanks to a No. 9 seed and easy schedule, look for the Mountaineers to play their way into the Top 8 and a spot in the CHSFL Class AAA playoffs. Veteran coach Mario Valentini gets his team to play and Mount finished strong in 2009 with a AA title. Multitalented QB Jaylen Amaker leads the offense. Think sleeper.

Player Watch

Devon Cajuste, Holy Cross, WR: The 6-4, 211-pound senior was unstoppable a year ago as an NYSSWA first-team All-State pick. He led the CHSFL in receiving with 921 yards and 7 TDs on 40 catches, good for 23 yards a reception. Committed to Stanford.

Isaiah Kearney, Xaverian, RB: After a standout freshman year in which he averaged 8.2 yards per carry and rushed for 774 yards and 6 TDs, all of Brooklyn is buzzing over Kearney. The sophomore back is sprinter fast and a true game breaker.

Chris Laviano, Holy Trinity, QB: MaxPreps calls him a Top 100 recruit. This 6-1, 180-pound sophomore will be the focal point now that 2,000-yard rusher Anthony Brunetti is gone. He threw for 1,122 yards and 8 TDs in 2009. He’s got a big arm and a heady sense of the game. Poised for a breakout year.

Tyler McLees, St. Anthony’s, LB: The 6-0, 210-pound senior led the league with 121 tackles a year ago and added 4 sacks. The son of former Carey coach Matt McLees (himself a linebacker at Southern Connecticut), he’ll be a leader on defense.

Charlie Raffa, St. Anthony’s, QB: An Under Amour All-American in lacrosse, the 5-10, 185-pound Raffa has great instincts. And like his predecessors, he can beat you with his arm or legs. Committed to Maryland for lacrosse.

Game Watch

Farrell at Kellenberg, Sept. 18: This is as important a game as Kellenberg will play all season. If the No. 11 Firebirds hope to qualify for the CHSFL Class AAA playoffs, then a win against No. 8 Farrell is a good place to start.

Holy Cross at Holy Trinity, Oct. 16: Holy smokes! A pair of CHSFL Class AAA semifinalists from a year ago collide. Buckle up. This one should be fun to watch.

Chaminade at Holy Trinity, Oct. 9: These Nassau rivals have met in the playoffs two of the last three seasons. It’s always close and heated. The winner of this game could be in the driver’s seat for a home playoff game.

St. Anthony’s at Chaminade, Oct. 16: This rivalry defines the two schools. While Chaminade hasn’t been a factor of late, there’s no one the Friars would rather beat. But it’s the middle of a tough stretch in the schedule for St. Anthony’s. Expect a physical and emotional game.

St. Anthony’s at Holy Trinity, Oct. 23: A rematch of the 2009 CHSFL Class AAA title game. St. Anthony’s has ripped the Titans in recent seasons (outscoring them 201-62 since 2005), bringing Holy Trinity back to Earth after sky-high expectations. This one will be for playoff seeding.

2009 Standings

CHSFL Class AAA-AA

TEAM W L PF PA
Holy Trinity 10 1 339 149
St. Anthony’s 10 1 398 165
St. Joseph Sea 7 2 357 240
Holy Cross 7 3 299 201
Fordham Prep 4 7 203 299
Iona Prep 4 6 248 293
Chaminade 4 6 174 198
Xaverian 4 6 173 238
Mount St. Michael 5 5 195 273
Farrell 4 6 139 184
Kellenberg 2 8 141 278
St. Francis Prep 2 8 192 276

 

2009 Playoff Results

CHSFL Class AAA

Quarterfinals
St. Anthony’s 49, Xaverian 7
Holy Trinity 28, Chaminade 24
Holy Cross 32, Fordham Prep 14
Iona Prep 40, St. Joseph Sea 29

 

Semifinals
St. Anthony’s 28, Holy Cross 7
Holy Trinity 27, Iona Prep 18

 

Championship
St. Anthony’s 28, Holy Trinity 21
CHSFL Class AA-A

 

TEAMS W L PF PA
Stepinac 8 3 287 144
Cardinal Hayes 8 2 299 216
Xavier 7 4 265 155
St. John the Baptist 4 6 173 223
St. Peter’s 5 4 199 149
Bishop Ford 3 7 154 240
Spellman 1 7 80 291
Christ the King 1 8 147 292

 

2009 Playoff Results

CHSFL Class AA

Quarterfinals
Mount St. Michael 21, Xavier 14
Cardinal Hayes 26, Kellenberg 24
St. Francis Prep 35, Stepinac 21
Farrell 41, St. John the Baptist 6

 

Semifinals
Mount St. Michael 28, St. Francis Prep 21
Cardinal Hayes 33, Farrell 7

 

Championship
Mount St. Michael 28, Cardinal Hayes 22
CHSFL Class A

Semifinals
St. Peter’s 27, Christ the King 20
Bishop Ford 38, Spellman 0
Championship
St. Peter’s 41, Bishop Ford 0

 

Howie Vogts And His Football Legacy

August 10, 2010

Anyone who knew Howie Vogts understands this wasn’t the way the iconic football coach was supposed to pass on. Not in a hospital bed with an IV tube, heart monitor and respirator hooked up to him, as he did on Saturday at the age of 80 at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre.

No, after 56 years and a New York state-record 364 wins – all at Bethpage High School – it would have only been fitting if the giant of Long Island high school football expired during a game on the sideline. That’s how he would have wanted it, anyway.

I spent enough time with him over the years to know that much. He was a man who could have long ago taken his pension and retired to Florida with his longtime partner, Marilyn Murphy. And he did.

But each August Murph and Howie would drive up I-95 in the comfort of their Lincoln Town Car and return to their Bethpage house in time for the start of football practice. Because Howie Vogts’ real home was the sideline next to his boys.

“It’s the most fruitful thing working and helping young people,” Vogts once told me. “And each year you have a new group to work with.”

Vogts never had children. Yet after 56 years of coaching football in this working-class Nassau town, an entire community looked at the coach with fatherly respect.

A former Golden Eagles player, Erwin Dill, has served as the associate head coach to take the load off Vogts. Dill has manned the sideline for more than a decade while Vogts, in declining health, sat on the bench. It might have made for an awkward relationship if not for the selflessness of the staff.

It was an arrangement an entire town embraced. People get pushed aside in life. You probably know someone who was shown the door before they were ready to leave, at work or elsewhere. People get old. They become expendable.

Not Vogts. He was treasured – and rightly so.

“It’s Coach’s team,” Rich Solliday, a Bethpage resident whose son was an All-Long Island player in the 1990s, once told me. “Howie started the program and he should stay here to the day he dies.”

Thank goodness, he did.

Vogts, a Sewanhaka and Adelphi graduate, started with a freshman team in 1952 and then christened the varsity one year later. He spent one season as an assistant coach at Michigan State in 1966, but returned to the Bethpage sideline next fall. That’s where he’s been ever since.

This was a Grumman town. The Lunar lander was built in Bethpage. Aerospace was the life blood of the community. But the jobs left long ago. The other source of town pride? Football, of course.

Bethpage won 35 regular-season league or conference crowns, 16 playoff titles and five Long Island championships. Vogts was the mastermind behind them all. Even in his later years, he would spend much of his weekdays sequestered in the film room breaking down the opposition. He had a keen football mind to the end.

The death certificate will note Vogts died of congestive heart failure. But anyone who knows him will tell you no one had a bigger heart. How else do you explain a lifetime of devotion to one town and his boys?

Note: Visiting Tuesday and Wednesday 2-5 and 7-9:30 p.m. at the Arthur F. White Funeral Home, 234 Broadway, Bethpage, NY 11714. A Memorial gathering will take place Thursday 11 a.m. at the Howard C. Vogts Football Field at Bethpage High School. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Bethpage Football Dad’s Club. Bethpage High School, Stewart Avene, Bethpage, NY, 11714, in Care of the Bethpage Dad’s Club.

Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com

Lacrosse: Gamblin’s The Man

July 26, 2010

BUFFALO—The stands at Canisius College had already cleared out. Hell, his entire team was long gone too. Hicksville High School rising senior Brandon Gamblin didn’t notice. He was locked in a duel with his own demons and an empty cage.

It was nearly 10 p.m. on Friday night, a half hour after one of the more physically and emotionally draining games of lacrosse Gamblin had ever played. A midfielder on the scholastic boys lacrosse team representing Long Island at the Empire State Games in Buffalo, favorite Long Island had just suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Central region.

The 8-7 defeat in sudden death overtime fell squarely on an offense which hardly possessed the ball in the first quarter and failed to score in the first 22:53 of the game. Sure, Gamblin did his part. He broke the ice with a powerful blast of a goal early in the third quarter to make it 5-1 and restore some much needed confidence.

But his shot was stopped by Central goalie Tyler White time and again in the second half. That’s why Gamblin stayed behind on a shadowy turf field bathed in the soft glow of the light towers, taking shot after shot at an empty cage.

“I was angry,” Gamblin said. “I felt we shouldn’t have lost that game.”

There’s no arguing with the result. Gamblin, a UMass commitment, played with a vengeance the rest of the way. After pouring in six goals to down New York City on Saturday, Gamblin proved just as unstoppable in the gold medal game on Sunday. He scored four times as Long Island (5-1) erased a 4-2 halftime deficit to beat previously unbeaten Central, 7-6. With the win, Long Island became the first region to earn gold in five straight Empire State Games since boys lacrosse became a sport in 1984.

The Kyle Keenan-to-Gamblin connection was so fluid, you’d think they had been teammates for longer than one month. In the end, the relationships the Long Island scholastic boys lacrosse team built—starting with tryouts in June and continuing with 12 exhibition games in Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania – ended with a gold medal performance at the Empire State Games on Sunday in Buffalo.

“That was just unreal,” West Islip rising senior midfielder Michael Sagl said. “They were just finding each other. Keenan is a great feeder. Gamblin is a great shooter. They were finally able to hook up and it was just fun to watch.”

Keenan, an X attack, directed the offense with precision throughout the four-day tournament. That he had an uncanny ability to find fellow Smithtown West teammate James Pannell for open shots was no surprise. That he hooked up with Gamblin again and again spoke volumes of how well this team of all-stars meshed.

Keenan fed Gamblin for three of his four goals on Sunday.

“It’s not like I was looking for him. He was just open,” said Keenan, a Duke recruit. “He’s got a nose for the goal. He wants to score whenever he’s on the field. That’s his personality.”

It wouldn’t have been possible without the stellar play of Connetquot goalie Zach Oliveri (10 saves), who was in every respect the defensive stopper of the tournament. FOGO Jake Froccaro, a Port Washington junior, also played an important role after missing a game with a mild concussion suffered against Central.

Even Oliveri couldn’t stop Central the entire time. Long Island was victimized for goals twice in the final 1:14 of the first half when Ithaca’s Riley Lasda spun off his defender and broke free in the box. His score was followed by Tom Grimm’s quick strike to make it 4-2 Central with 43 seconds left. Grimm, a Syracuse commitment from Carthage, had the game-winner against Long Island on Friday.

The third quarter belonged to Long Island the entire tournament. This game was no exception. Pannell scored 1:39 into the third, and after pelting the Central goal with a barrage of shots, Garden City’s Tom Gordon scored the equalizer on a feed from Keenan with 4:01 left in the third. Gamblin juked past his defender and fired home the go-ahead goal to make it 5-3 with 1:37 left.

Long Island kept up the pressure from there. Keenan found Gamblin charging toward the net and the Hicksville scorer did the rest to extend the lead to 6-4 with 10:52 to go.

Fayetteville-Manlius attack Ari Waffle scooped in the rebound past Oliveri to make it 6-5 with 7:40 left.

But the Keenan-to-Gamblin connection struck once more to keep Central at arm’s length. Gamblin scored his 18th goal in six-game tournament – and fourth of the day – with 6:52 left.

“It was all a mindset game,” Gamblin said. “We needed to start playing smart, take smart opportunities.”

Jamesville-Dewitt’s Alex Hatem scored his second goal of the day on a diving play at the net close the gap to 7-6 with 4:20 left.

Long Island’s defense kept Central off balance from there. And after Central’s Austin Curtis received a one-minute penalty for slashing, Keenan and Sachem North’s Michael Andreassi held the ball and ran out the clock. All there was left to do was celebrate.

Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com

LI Pulse: Empire Of Riches

July 1, 2010

Long Island Pulse magazine July 2010 issue featuring Empire of Riches: Long Island lacrosse at the Empire State Games.

Long Island Pulse magazine July 2010 issue featuring Empire of Riches: Long Island lacrosse at the Empire State Games.

Title: Empire of Riches: Long Island lacrosse’s Empire State Games opens doors and as a tradition, is second to none
Publication: Long Island Pulse magazine
Author: Jason Molinet
Date: July 2010
Start Page: 42
Word Count: 1,059

Max Seibald is one of the most recognizable names in lacrosse.

Just in the last year the 22-year-old midfielder was chosen second overall in the 2009 Major League Lacrosse draft, led Cornell to the NCAA title game and won the Tewaaraton Trophy as the college player of the year.

Yet his rise from unknown high schooler to elite prospect seemingly happened overnight at the Empire State Games, New York’s annual Olympic-style festival. Earning a roster spot on the Long Island scholastic boys’ lacrosse team is a sure ticket to stardom.

Look no further than Seibald, who tried out after a strong junior season at Hewlett High School. But he was among 500 other Long Island hopefuls vying for 20 spots in June 2004. Seibald auditioned the previous summer and was cut the first day. What were the odds a kid with only moderate Division III interest could turn heads and land a job?

“Coming back the next year, it was intimidating,” Seibald said. “You see college coaches on the sidelines. It motivated you but also made you grip the stick a little bit tighter. This was my first experience at this level and I wanted to make things happen.”

Seibald not only made the team, he starred. His roommate on the road that summer? Notre Dame goalie Scott Rodgers, a Wantagh native and MVP of the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

Empires put Seibald on a new trajectory. On the first day college coaches could make contact, the Hewlett teen received an early-morning phone call that woke him up. Then-Princeton coach Bill Tierney was on the other end. The offers came pouring in from there.

That’s the Empire effect.

“It’s been a springboard for kids to get into college,” longtime ESG lacrosse coordinator George Fox said. “There were some kids who have made this team that were surprises. And there were some kids expected to make this team who didn’t.”

Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala agreed. Before he grew into one of the great defensemen in lacrosse history and won two national titles as a coach, Pietramala was an unassuming junior at St. Mary’s High School. Then he earned a spot on the inaugural 1984 Empire State Games squad.

“I wouldn’t be sitting where I am right now if I hadn’t played in the Empires,” said Pietramala, who was recruited to Johns Hopkins as a player only after his ESG performance. “That’s the God’s honest truth. I would have never gone to Johns Hopkins.”

The Empire State Games resumes in Buffalo from July 21-25 after a one-year hiatus forced by recession fears and a state-wide budget crunch. The event draws 7,000 teenaged and adult athletes in 33 sports and has been a summer staple since Gov. Hugh Carey opened the first Games in 1978.

These Games are more cash conscious than ever before. Buffalo area businesses pledged $1.1 million in cash and in-kind support. And for the first time, ESG decided to charge athletes a $10 registration fee.

While some grumble whether the Empire State Games should even move forward at a time when the state threatened to close parks, others are glad to see the Games back. They are a rite of passage, especially in the lacrosse community.

For lacrosse players, the void was filled by the Long Island Showcase Games, an event sponsored by the Nassau and Suffolk coaches associations. As much attention as it garnered for the sport, the Showcase couldn’t replicate the Empire experience.

“I was disappointed. But I was disappointed for Long Island,” Sachem North coach Jay Mauro said. He was a former player and now he’s the Long Island coach. “This is prestigious. It’s great for the kids. We’ve medaled every year. I’m just glad they brought it back this summer.”

That’s why a record 630 players showed up at ESG boys lacrosse tryouts in 2008, and why another 558 registered to compete for a Long Island roster spot by the end of May. And the alumni? A who’s who of lacrosse greats.

Scholastic girls lacrosse, introduced to the Empire State Games in 2001, has medaled each year and won the last three golds. The girls boast the same talent, if not the tradition.

“It’s really the flagship sport,” Fox said. “It means a lot to the kids to make this team. They realize they are representing Long Island. This is the highest level, a select all-star team in an event that’s been important over the years.”

With Fox at the helm, Long Island’s scholastic boys lacrosse team has developed into an elite program with a demanding schedule that’s served to sharpen any rough edges on the assembled talent. Five days of tryouts in each county were followed by a Top 50 game. The final team was announced with fanfare at Hofstra on June 25th.

Then comes the hard part: A month of practice to go with three out-of-state tournaments. All of it serves as a warm-up to the Games themselves—five games in three grueling days in the heat of summer followed by a medal round at Canisius College in Buffalo.

“That is a high-profile sport on Long Island,” Long Island region director Bob Kenney said. “We are the team to beat. And who knows what it would be like if we had an open team?”

True enough. The 2008 Long Island squad drilled Western, 14-3, in the gold medal game. Rocky Point’s Matt Palasek scored five times and West Islip’s Nicky Galasso, the top prospect in the class of 2010, added a goal and three assists.

To the chagrin of the state’s other five regions, the victory locked up Long Island’s fourth straight gold medal and 15th overall. The scholastic boys have medaled every year since the sport’s inception in 1984, a feat on par with the Harlem Globetrotters.

As if playing for a college scholarship or Long Island pride weren’t enough, the 2010 team has a unique opportunity at history.

“We’ve never won five golds in a row,” Fox said.

One way or another, this collection of talent from every corner of Long Island will turn heads. Whether they bring home gold medallion keepsakes, or a scholarship offer or an unforgettable memory, the Empire State Games experience is rich and lasting.

Long Island’s Blogging Sailor

June 28, 2010

As all great modern adventures certainly begin, John Almberg bought a sailboat on eBay.

It was a 23-foot wooden sloop located along the Florida Panhandle. Just one problem. How would Almberg, a father of four who lives in Huntington, get his prize back to Long Island? Shipping it would prove prohibitively expensive. So Almberg decided he would sail it home.

His 2,000 nautical mile odyssey began when he took possession of the “Blue Moon” in January. The rest is tirelessly chronicled on his blog: http://www.unlikelyboatbuilder.com/ He’s also on Twitter: https://twitter.com/UnlikelyVoyager

Almberg, 57, grew up sailing with his father and uncle. But he abandoned ship life in pursuit of rowing for a decade. Crew – those pencil-thin missiles cutting through the water under oar power – became his passion.

Then he decided to slow down and cruise once more. Almberg and wife, Helena, began looking at sailboats. When a wooden sloop caught their eye in Mount Sinai Harbor, it gave him the blueprint for the perfect yacht.

In the mean time, he decided to build an 8-foot skiff in his garage, one plank at a time. Nicknamed “Cabin Boy,” the small boat came together rib by rib and gave rise to his blog.

“I really didn’t know anything about wooden boats,” Almberg said by phone. “I just knew what fiberglass boat people tell each other, ‘[A wooden boat] is too much work.’ I decided to build a small wooden boat to prove that I could take care of a larger wooden boat. I don’t know what the logic behind that was, but I came to that conclusion.”

After an exhaustive search, he finally found his yacht – for the right price – on eBay. His plan was coming together nicely.

“We were looking, but weren’t really planning on buying then,” Almberg said. “It’s not that easy to find a good wooden boat.”

The Tom Gilmer-designed Blue Moon yawl, anchored in the Steinhatchee River, needed superficial but extensive work. Its barnacled bottom was stripped, wormy wood replaced, imperfections sanded and sealed and finally the keel painted a two-tone blue. Almberg oversaw the restoration in Florida himself.

The Blue Moon, with Cabin Boy in tow, set sail for New York in April. And so Almberg’s blog, which he originally started as a way to document his scratch build of a dinghy, turned into a true nautical adventure tale.

“I was surprised when people started reading it,” said Almberg, who works in technology and web development and is currently home planning the next leg of his trip. “I guess that happens a lot with blogs. You don’t realize how many people follow it. A lot of people fantasize about going to sea and being independent for a while.”

The depth and detail of the blog draws readers in. His 500-mile shakedown cruise down the Gulf coast through the heart of Florida at Lake Okeechobee and out at Indiantown on the east coast makes for mesmerizing reading and the photos are magical.

“It was a very deserted stretch,” Almberg said of the Okeechobee passage. “I maybe passed five boats the entire time. It’s actually really scenic.”

The next leg took him up the Intracoastal Waterway past St. Augustine to Jacksonville, where the Blue Moon and Cabin Boy are currently docked awaiting their captain’s return.

Almberg, whose wife is Brazilian, is understandably a soccer fan. He’ll resume his journey some time after the World Cup. The next stop on his voyage to Long Island? Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“I’ve always wanted to take a long sail like this and just never had the chance,” Almberg said. “I have an amazing wife who said, ‘Why don’t you sail it home? Get it out of your system and go have some fun.’”

Fun indeed. Almberg hopes to reach Long Island by November, and his blog brings us all along for the ride.

Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com

Lacrosse: West Islip State of Mind

June 22, 2010

An SUV parked at Bay Shore High School last week was as obvious as a billboard. Scrawled on the rear window in blue and yellow paint: # 1 WI Lax NY State Champs. That’s right, West Islip was in the house.

But these rock stars of boys lacrosse needed no introduction. West Islip won its second straight state Class A championship – and fourth in five seasons – with a 13-5 victory over western New York power Fairport on June 12, and claimed an even bigger prize in the process. The Lions were also crowned mythical national champs, according to LaxPower.com.

So the large contingent of West Islip players – freshmen, sophomores and juniors – cut an intimidating profile among the hundreds of fellow Suffolk lacrosse hopefuls who showed up at Bay Shore to try out for both the Long Island Showcase and the Olympic-style festival known as the Empire State Games.

“It’s been exciting after winning a state championship,’’ West Islip sophomore goaltender Jack Kelly said. “And then trying out for the Empire team? Real exciting.”

When state budget concerns killed the Empire State Games a year ago, the Nassau and Suffolk coaches association scrambled to create the Long Island Showcase, all-star teams divided by grade and county. It was an instant hit.

One year later the two events are sharing resources. The coaches associations have always played a key role in selecting the Empire squad. Now the athletes who don’t make the Empire team can still earn a spot on the Showcase roster. A record 712 teenagers showed up at tryouts last week at Syosset and Bay Shore high schools for the chance.

“I’m not too nervous,’’ West Islip junior midfielder Mike Diggle said at a tryout on June 16th. “I don’t know if I’ll make it or not. But I don’t think about the odds. You just focus on how well you can play.”

Diggle didn’t make the cut. But in Suffolk, 113 athletes were invited back for a second round of tryouts on Monday, June 21. Eight West Islip players were among them, including star goalie Kyle Turri and his backup, Kelly.

“We’re close,’’ Kelly said. “We respect each other and support each other. He’s one. I’m two. I support him.”

That’s all well and good on the West Islip lacrosse field. But at Bay Shore on Monday, the two were rivals. The backup and the star were still very much alive in the quest for an Empire jersey.

No big deal. If West Islip is synonymous with anything over the last decade, it’s competition. After dropping the season opener, the Lions won 21 in a row and dominated in the playoffs. That confidence was evident at tryouts.

“The first day was mass chaos. It’s a lot of people,” West Islip junior midfielder Mike Sagl said. “The second tryout – it’s fun to play with guys who have top skills and see what you can do against them.”

Despite a turf field which seemed to soak up the heat and wear down the players, the West Islip contingent made its presence felt. The blue and yellow helmets each donned were impossible to miss. They always seemed to be around the goal.

“I feel we have the edge,” said Sagl, a two-year starter. “We just finished playing last week. All these other guys are a little rusty. It’s a little tiring in one respect but pretty cool in another.”

The field will be pared to the top 36 players in each county on Thursday, June 24 at 8:30 p.m. at Veterans Park in East Northport. The Empire State Games team, a 20-man roster with 10 alternates, will be announced the next day.

The Long Island squad goes for its fifth straight gold medal at the Empire State Games in Buffalo from July 21-25. Don’t be surprised if one or more West Islip players are in the middle of it all. It’s what they do.

Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com

Empire State Games Return

June 7, 2010

The Empire State Games are a rite of passage for New York athletes. The annual summertime Olympic-style festival has churned out fond memories and fine athletes since 1978. Famous alums include Mike Tyson and Kenny Anderson.

But when New York State Parks commissioner Carol Ash suspended the Games in April 2009, she pointed toward a problem which is sure to dog the event for the foreseeable future – money.

“Moving forward, it is difficult to foresee that the state, alone, will be in the position to continue to fund 90 percent of the cost of the overall program, which totals more than $3 million annually,” Ash said last year of a program which includes Summer and Winter Games as well as Games For The Physically Challenged.

While the state is still grappling with a budget crunch, one year later the Empire State Games are back. The event draws 7,000 teenaged and adult athletes in 33 sports and resumes in Buffalo from July 21-25. The Long Island contingent is far from finalized.

Competition takes place in three age divisions: scholastic (ages 13-17), open (amateurs 18-or-older) and masters (18-and-up, depending on the sport). Tryouts are still being held this month. For a complete list, go to the Empire State Games web site.

“Last year was a real problem for us because it was on again off again,’’ longtime Long Island region director Bob Kenney said. “Had it been terminated at a given time, it would have been OK. But I had to keep a staff ready. And breaking the chain of all those years was a shame. It was very upsetting to me.”

Rebooting the process of building a contingent of athletes and coaches who will represent Long Island well at the Empire State Games has been challenging. But another issue has made these Games a tough sell.

An ESG in Buffalo has always been a problem for Kenney. It is as far from Long Island as you as you can get and still be in New York. Participants don’t like the travel involved, and it’s challenging for friends and family to follow. So the Long Island region has traditionally struggled to lure the best athletes to a Buffalo-based Games.

Then again, it beats another summer without the Empire State Games. And some sports are thriving. Scholastic boys lacrosse has 558 players signed up for 20 roster spots.

“Am I happy to get them back?” Kenney said. “Absolutely, I’m happy to get them back. And back in the same form they were in. But it’s been tough.”

One team sport was without a coach until May, according to Kenney. Another traditionally strong team has lacked enough registered participants, he said.

An added wrinkle was the decision to move from free registration to charging a $10 fee.

These Games will be under a microscope because everyone is scrambling for dollars during this recession. Buffalo-area businesses have pledged $1.1 million in cash and in-kind support. And more of the same will be needed to keep the Games as a summer tradition.

After all, some have argued that money spent on the Empire State Games might be better served keeping state parks open. When Gov. David Paterson last month closed 60 parks, the state legislature voted days later to keep all state parks, historic sites and campgrounds open with $11 million in emergency funding.

“I would agree,’’ Kenney said. “If one was thinking rationally — why have some kids running around for five days when you could have a whole lot of other people running around in your parks? But the comparison financially — $1.2 million isn’t going to open up a lot of parks.”

The bottom line is Empire State Games are back — for now. So sign up to compete or plan a trip to Buffalo to take in this impressive sports fest. Who knows what the future holds?

Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com

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