Over the past several years, the West Islip Boys Varsity Lacrosse program has set itself apart from the rest of its competition. Their accolades speak for themselves: four New York State Class A Championships in the last five years, seven Suffolk County Class A Championships in as many years, six Long Island Class A Championships in the last seven years, and being recognized as the No. 1 ranked high school boys team in the nation (according to LaxPower.com). To sustain such a high level of excellence for such a prolonged period, one has to delve deeper into the roots of this proud tradition. And for most varsity lacrosse players, that means beginning their careers in the third grade, with the West Islip Youth Lacrosse program.
The program was started in 1987 by Dennis DeVivo and Mike Penta. At the outset, its primary purpose was to give boys a place to congregate, while learning the skills needed to compete in the vastly trending sport of lacrosse.
In the mid 1990s, the arrival of Tom Federico would help launch the program to new levels. He is responsible for implementing the summer and winter travel teams and is ultimately the reason why lacrosse is a year round sport in West Islip.
The opportunity for these athletes to play together for 12 months, through both local and travel teams, at such a young age is a major contributing factor for the success at the varsity level. The youth program has multiple teams broken down by age group (generally from 8 to 16-years-old). The number of teams varies based upon the number of participants and available coaches. Scott Craig (head coach of West Islip High School), Bill Turri (assistant) and Jon Reese (assistant) are actively involved in the youth program. Federico and other parents also take on coaching duties and do their part to spread involvement throughout the community.
During the first two weeks of July 2010, for the 24th consecutive year, some 200 youngsters will descend upon two local schools for two weeks of lacrosse camp. While most will be from West Islip, a small faction of boys will be from other areas, such as Babylon, Sayville and even New Jersey- a true testament to the quality of lacrosse practiced in West Islip.
In addition to the coaches, players from the 2010 varsity team will also be on hand to mentor the young athletes. Perhaps somewhere amongst these boys is the next Nicky Galasso (2010 recipient of the Ray Enners Award, given to the most outstanding Suffolk County player), Andrew Hodgson or Justin Turri (2007 Enner Award winner).
The success of the West Islip Lacrosse program is not something that has occurred overnight. Coach Craig acknowledges that other schools have quality players, but it's the depth of highly talented players that sets West Islip apart. These skills are cultivated through years of playing in programs such as the West Islip Youth Lacrosse program and with full support of a community.
"My belief in the youth program is that it really is the backbone to the varsity level becoming a top-notch program," Craig said.