When Todd DiVittorio became the School’s athletic director 15 years ago, there were nine athletic teams among the Middle and Upper divisions; now, with the latest addition of 5th – 8th grade boys’ lacrosse, there are 38. “For as much as a hotbed around the City that lacrosse is,” says head coach and Middle and Lower divisions teacher Mac Jackson, “there are very few Manhattan schools that have programs.”
So, when Headmaster Frank J. Carnabuci III approached him about starting the team, he recalls, “’Obviously,’ I said, ‘I would love to do that.’” With four years’ experience as goalie for Wheaton College and coaching stints at summer camps and middle school, Mr. Jackson prepared for an adventure.
Of the 25 boys who turned out, “Most of them had never touched a lacrosse stick before,” he says. Fortunately, he had assistance from third grade teacher Sarah Naftalis, who captained her high school lacrosse team and played on the club level at Yale. And they both, in turn, received help from the boys who had played before.
Last spring, the team held twice weekly practices at The College of Mount Saint Vincent, in Riverdale. After an aerobic warm up, focus turned to “the basic fundamentals of the game,” says Coach Jackson. As the weeks progressed, the coaches also incorporated systems of positional play, offensive formations, and defensive philosophy. “When I came to the team, I had never played before,” says Rick Kunstenaar ’16. “By the fifth or sixth practice, though, I was pretty comfortable with throwing and catching.”
Coach Naftalis recalls, “It was wonderful to watch them come to understand not only how fun lacrosse is as a sport, but how rewarding it is to be a part of a team.” During a few practices, the boys also received inspiration from members of the Mount Saint Vincent lacrosse team, who voluntarily led drills and displayed impressive talent.
The season’s culminating event was the game against Indian Mountain School, in Lakeville, CT. The BWL crew loaded their charter bus with new uniforms, jackets, team helmets, and a bit of nerves. “Initially, it was scary to actually be playing in a game,” admits Kunstenaar, “but as it got going, I got more comfortable.” In a rain-shortened affair, the team was down 6-1 to the Indian Mountain squad, who view the lacrosse fields from their dorm rooms. “That was a huge first step for us,” says Coach Jackson. “We went out and competed and put the ball in the net.” As Mr. DiVittorio notes, “They got experience. For a first year program, I thought they did very well.” After this inaugural season, Brandon Faust ’16 won MVP, Charles Lilienstein ’16 won Most Improved, and Aaron Colodne ’17 won the Coach’s Award.
Perhaps the biggest victory from last spring was the boys’ ardor for lacrosse. According to Coach Jackson, “a good 75 percent of them had a stick in their hand at some point this summer.” Some went to lacrosse-specific camps or summer camps that allowed them to play every day. There were also more informal tosses in Central Park.
This bodes well for the coming season, when the group will transition into two teams, one for 6th and 7th graders, another for 8th and 9th graders; each should look to have more practices and more games. If the program continues to progress, there will be a varsity high school team. And, if there is sufficient interest, there may also be a girls’ lacrosse team. Team MVP Brendan Faust, already a three-year veteran of Doc’s, a New York City youth lacrosse program, is set for the coming changes. “I am comfortable out there … I’ve even played against kids who are six-foot something.” This kind of fearless leadership will drive the team ahead.