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New York coaches have taken over high school boys lacrosse
FCN BIGAPPLEINVASION

Click here for an interactive graphic of local high school boys lacrosse coaches' New York hometowns.

During steamy mornings in Oxford, Miss., Pat Aiello would do what just about any other young, budding coach would—he'd swing himself out of bed, throw on his best pair of running shoes and go out for a jog. Everything would be routine, outside of the fact that, for some strange reason, he would have to say hello to people.

“I'd go out for a run, people would wave at me and I'd think to myself, 'Wait a minute, do I even know you?’ I'm more used to people giving me the finger,” Aiello said.

Aiello was spending time in Oxford as the club lacrosse coach for Ole Miss, a college known for the best Saturday tailgate in the country, red dresses and big time football.

“Everything moved a lot slower down there. That place would even shut down on Saturdays because of SEC football. That's how it is in most places down in the south,” Aiello said.

Aiello moved up from coaching the club team at Ole Miss to a full-time job within its athletic department before moving to the metro Atlanta area to become the head lacrosse coach at Pinecrest Academy.

It was a happy medium between trying to find footing coaching a seemingly foreign sport in the deep south of Mississippi and the lifestyle he experienced in his homeland—Long Island, New York—for 27  years.

Aiello might not have realized it right away, but he had more in common with his counterparts in Forsyth County than he thought.

That's because all six of the varsity lacrosse coaches in Forsyth County come from New York; five of them—Aiello, Rich Wehman at Lambert, John Garrish at South Forsyth, John Laden at West Forsyth—all grew up on the 118-mile stretch of land jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean from Manhattan's northeast side.

The northeast is the birthplace of American lacrosse, a sport originally played by native American tribes. For those who grow up in the northeast, the sport is second nature. It's just something you do.

“What's funny is, the game wasn't really promoted the way it can be today, and the way it is down here where there's active attention on growing the sport,” Garrish, a native of Franklin Square, said. “We didn't have youth teams or anything when I was a kid, but really it wasn't necessary. I was handed my first stick, a wooden one, from my second cousin who was much older than me at the time, when I was a young kid. I'd go wander down to the school yard and basically play wall ball for hours against a brick building. That's how I learned the sport, really. That's how many of us did. It was just second nature.”

 

“The fact that all of us coaches are from Long Island...if you really think about it, it's actually not coincidental at all,” Garrish said. “The northeast is still a hotbed for the game, and there are so many people who have moved down here who are from the north.”

Garrish had a similar path to Aiello's. He moved to Boca Raton, Fla., and started a lacrosse program from scratch—the state had not yet sanctioned lacrosse at the high school level—before moving to Georgia in 2006 to start a secure job with teaching and coaching.

Just a few miles down from Garrish's hometown was the hometown of Laden: Garden City. Laden has 30 years of coaching under his belt, including stops in Bulgaria as the country's national lacrosse team coach and a developmental position in Maui, Hawaii.

“I had just come back from Europe after coaching for 13 months and saw a job posting online,” Laden said. “I had an interview, they called me a couple of days later, and that was it. The program at West felt like a good place to put some roots in.”

While coaching on the sideline this past season in a game against South, Laden crossed paths with Garrish and finally made the connection—they had grown up less than four miles apart.

All six coaches, including Josh Smith at Forsyth Central, who grew up in upstate New York, have a common goal: grow the game of lacrosse at the younger level, up through high school, in the metro Atlanta area.

So far, everything is going according to plan.

This past season, Lambert had more players in its boys lacrosse program than some Class AAAAA football programs. Longhorns coach Rich Wehman has watched his young program, which started in 2009, grow at an exponential rate.

“Our first few teams at Lambert, we had a lot of kids who didn't start playing until the seventh grade. I think that's starting to change,” Wehman said. “You get more kids with a higher lacrosse IQ up in the north, but the athletes down here are actually great assets. We went up to some tournaments recently in New York and Baltimore, and we hung around in a lot of games with better teams in the country because of our athleticism. That's huge. If the talent and IQ come together.”

North coach Don Hilton agreed.

“The south is starting to pick up the game quickly,” Hilton said. “I believe we have better quality athletes down here, but the knowledge of the game is still developing.”

Aiello has a more interesting theory.

“I think, honestly, the next generation of kids is so tech-oriented now, kids are constantly doing something. They're attention is always occupied,” Aiello said. “Little league baseball is going downhill because, really, there's so much standing around. When you're playing lacrosse you're constantly moving. You're zeroed in. It's the fastest game on two feet.”

Lacrosse, essentially, epitomizes the hustle and bustle of a northern lifestyle. While Aiello celebrates the speed of the game itself, he's admitted that his transition into the southern lifestyle has been beneficial.

“Moving down here was definitely an adjustment for me, but it mellowed me out,” he said. “Definitely for the better. Even moving to Atlanta, it's a little more fast-paced, but people are a lot nicer.”

BIG APPLE SURVEY

Five of Forsyth County’s high school boys lacrosse coaches grew up on Long Island, N.Y. But how much of their New York-ness do they really share. FCN sports writer Mike Foster took a quick survey. Here are the results:

PAT AIELLO

School: Pinecrest Academy

Hometown: Massapequa, Long Island, New York

Lived on Long Island: 27 years

College: Played at Hofstra

Best Pizza on Long Island: Gregoreos

Best Pizza in Forsyth: Alessio’s

Giants or Jets: Giants

Yankees or Mets: Mets

JOHN GARRISH

School: South Forsyth

Hometown: Franklin Square, Long Island, New York

Lived on Long Island: 1963-1990

College: New York Institute of Technology (academics only)

Best Pizza on Long Island: Carmella’s

Best Pizza in Forsyth: Sydney’s

Giants or Jets: Giants

Yankees or Mets: Mets

DON HILTON

School: North Forsyth

Hometown: Levittown, Long Island, New York

College: Played at Albright College and NYIT

Best Pizza on Long Island: Little Vincent’s

Best Pizza in Forsyth: Vincenza’s

Giants or Jets: Jets

Yankees or Mets: Mets

JOHN LADEN

School: West Forsyth

Hometown: Garden City, Long Island, New York

Lived on Long Island: 1964-2012, on and off

College: Played at Massachusetts

Best Pizza on Long Island: Unberto’s

Best Pizza in Forsyth: Sydney’s

Giants or Jets: Packers

Yankees or Mets: Mets

RICH WEHMAN

School: Lambert

Hometown: Stony Brook, Long Island, New York

Lived on Long Island: 1966-1978

College: Played at Navy

Best Pizza on Long Island: Mario’s

Best Pizza in Forsyth: Papa John’s

Giants or Jets: Giants

Yankees or Mets: Yankees.