John Calabria and Doug Rigo got into lacrosse in different ways and have had very different careers in playing and coaching. The two make up half of the Nassau region boys’ teams directors.
Calabria played much of his lacrosse career at Sachem High School before moving on to the college ranks. “I started playing in seventh grade, didn’t play in a youth league or anything like that,” Calabria said. “[I] ultimately had a great career at Sachem and then went on to play at Adelphi.” During his time at Adelphi, the lacrosse program moved from Division I to Division II where it is today. Calabria can be found in the team’s record books, ranking sixth in career goals. He was also an All-American in 1993.
When he stayed to get his master’s degree, Calabria moved into the coaching ranks and continued his career at the college level. “I became the graduate assistant [when] I got my master’s there,” Calabria said. “I went on to become the head coach at Queen’s College.”
After two years there, Calabria’s education career found him a new challenge. “I was offered a teaching position at Syosset High School,” Calabria said. “[I] coached JV lacrosse for one year and then [I] have been the [varsity] head coach for 22 years.”
In his long tenure at Syosset, Calabria brought consistency to the program. “When I first started, they were really looking for stability,” Calabria said. “There were three coaches in five years before I got here and the community was just looking for stability. When I arrived, they really supported me and we went on to do great things.”
The Syosset community got its stability and some memories of success along the way. “We won the county for the first time ever in 2007 and beat one of the greatest teams ever, the West Islip team, to win Long Island,” Calabria said. “In 2012, we beat a Massapequa team in the county final that was much better than us and we figured out a way to beat them and then in 2015, we won the Long Island Championship and completed back-to-back county championships.”
When it comes to the New York State Regional Championships, they may not have happened if it wasn’t for Calabria. “In 2009, Nassau and Suffolk County coaches started the Long Island Showcase,” Calabria said. “It replaced the Empire State Games which were defunded. Two years ago, I approached Mike Winkoff about possibly expanding the Long Island Showcase to the other regions of the state. I recommended to him that he reach out to his upstate connections and we put together a mini Empire State Games, just lacrosse.”
His mindset from this first tournament to this one has not waivered. Calabria is focused on giving opportunities. “I have two kids playing in college right now, I have a team that’s missed a season, I am just looking to get these kids back on the field,” Calabria said. “I would love if we could safely see these restrictions being lifted and get these kids an experience like I had when I played on the Empire [State Games] team. We just want to give these kids a chance to play.”
Rigo’s lacrosse journey began in a unique way. “I got into lacrosse in eighth grade,” Rigo said. “I got cut from the baseball team and the lacrosse coach said ‘hey, do you want to come play lacrosse?’ and I said ‘I don’t know what that is.'” The move worked out and Rigo played for Whitesboro High School until graduation.
Rigo has been coaching in various capacities at Island Trees for 34 years, spending most of his time coaching boys but now coaches the girls’ varsity team. In his time with the boys, Rigo saw some big moments but best remembers the overall connections with his teams. “The memory is taking a program that was nothing there for a while and actually making it respectable,” Rigo said. “I think the memories are all the kids. The memories are all the bonds you make and the friends you make along the way.”
These lifetime bonds continue to Rigo’s son as well. “My oldest son is actually working for one of my ex-players,” Rigo said. “He played when my son was five or six and my son would come to practice and sit in his locker. [My son] took his number when he started playing, he wanted to be [my ex-player] Paul. Paul graduated from West Point, my son graduated from Colgate and now they’re working together.”
After helping to begin the Long Island Showcase, Rigo stuck with the program as it expanded to the rest of the state. “I was one of the originators with Joe Baccarella when it was just a Nassau-only event,” Rigo said. “Myself, Joe and John Calabria were doing that for years and then we brought Suffolk on board. The thought was, with the popularity of the Long Island Showcase, was the idea ‘could we bring this to the rest of New York State?’ We combined with Wink and, from there, it’s taken off.”
Like many of us, Rigo wants to get back to living life in 2021. “I’m looking forward to getting back to having these showcases and bring some kind of normalcy back to these players,” Rigo said. “[In 2020] the public school kids had six days of practice and then it was over. The idea of them getting some normalcy back is there. I don’t know if it will be this year but I’m hoping definitely next year.”