For as far back as I can remember, football has been king at New Rochelle High School.
Coach Lou DiRienzo, who achieved his 200th career victory last week in a playoff win over Carmel, has developed a program that is considered among the best, not only in Section 1, but in New York state.
His football team was playing in a Class AA semifinal at home on Saturday, and one might expect that to be the main attraction for students and community members. But 40 miles north at Lakeland High, the Huguenots’ boys soccer team was simultaneously playing for their first sectional title in 20 years.
With the football team’s blessing, hordes of fervent fans showed up to support the soccer team, which earned the championship with a thorough 3-0 win over defending champions Arlington.
“The football team said, ‘You can take the fan section for this game. We believe in you guys,’ ” senior midfielder Ethan Manley said. “The football team was awesome, and shout-out to the fans. They’re the best in the section. This is all for New Ro. We’re very proud that we got to do this for them.”
The New Rochelle football team also won on Saturday, 27-0 over Clarkstown South, and will play Scarsdale in the sectional final at noon on Saturday at Mahopac High.
It presents a rare opportunity for one school to field championship teams in the same season for two different boys sports, and the Huguenots aren’t the only ones. Somers claimed the Class A soccer title with its 1-0 win over Pearl River, and the football team will have a chance to follow suit when it plays Yorktown at 7 p.m. this coming Saturday at Mahopac.
The common thread between New Rochelle and Somers this memorable fall? The teams that are having success also have each other’s backs, which was evident when legendary Somers football coach Tony DeMatteo spoke to the soccer team at halftime during the section final.
“He was just like, ‘Bring them in,’ and he gave a speech at halftime that I think the boys will take with them for the rest of their lives,” first-year soccer coach Brian Lanzetta said. “That moment, knowing that the football team is behind us and the football coaches are here and the school is behind them, they knew that they wanted their legacy to live on as champions.”
There is the perception that coaches compete for the best athletes on campus, and when one program has success, the others will subsequently struggle. That theory holds true in some cases, but New Rochelle and Somers are providing examples of how to coexist.
When Jarohan Garcia first took over a troubled boys soccer program at New Rochelle in 2014, DiRienzo quickly took him under his wing.
“The first year when I got appointed, he came up to me and sat me down and gave me some really good advice, and I’ll never forget that,” Garcia said. “I remember being almost starstruck, like, ‘Man, that’s awesome. That’s coach D!’ To have that really has been tremendous in that sense to help me grow as a coach.”
New Rochelle is a big, diverse school, and despite all of the talented athletes on the football team, Garcia soon realized that there was a lot to work with on the soccer side, particularly when it comes to the large Hispanic population in the area.
Having multiple sports excel in the same season can be more difficult at small schools, but Bronxville defies the odds. The Broncos saw their football and boys soccer teams both win sectional titles in 2010, and they’ve been even more successful on the girls side.
Bronxville’s girls soccer team won the Class B championship on Sunday and its field hockey team will play Croton-Harmon in the Class C final at 3 p.m. on Tuesday at Brewster High. With a win, it’ll be the fourth time in the last six years that Broncos won it all in both sports.
“Almost 70 percent of our kids play fall sports, so we have a very high percentage of student-athletes,” Bronxville athletic director Karen Peterson said. “For years, numbers were an issue. But we’ve been able to hold all three levels (varsity, junior varsity and modified), which is unusual for a school of our size. That JV piece is so key to the success of varsity.”
If any of these schools are able to capture a second fall sports title this week with athletes of the same gender — New Rochelle and Somers with football and boys soccer, or Bronxville with girls soccer and field hockey — the scarcity of the feat alone will be noteworthy.
But even if they come up short, it won’t diminish the importance of the example that each is setting for how to build a winning culture across multiple playing fields.
“Winning is the byproduct of everything else that you do,” New Rochelle athletic director Steve Young said. “Part of it is that coaches have to be willing to work with one another, in terms of sharing facilities, not stepping on each other’s toes and not fighting over players. It shows that they respect the work of each other.
“I think what we’ve shown is that when everybody is on board and rowing the boat in the same direction, this is what can happen.”