Apr 16, 2012 Neil Benjamin Jr. Uncategorized
Look out Joe Cuozzo: Mike Messere is coming for you.
Cuozzo, former Ward Melville High School’s longtime lacrosse coach, has the all-time wins mark for a lacrosse coach in the country with 747. Mike Messere, a retired physical education teacher and West Genesee’s lacrosse coach for the last 37 years, notched his 744th victory Friday, April 13, with a win over Baldwinsville. That was followed-up with a victory over Loyola Academy, 8-3, the next day, putting Messere two Ws away from tying the record.
His team is 6-0 on the season. If the Wildcats continue winning, Messere will tie Cuozzo on Thursday, when his team hosts Oswego at home on the turf in a 7:30 p.m. showdown. If all that falls into place, he has a chance to take sole possession of the record on Saturday at Jamesville-DeWitt, which recently had its 46-game win streak stopped by Section II powerhouse Niskayuna.
That’s a lot of ‘ifs,’ but with the way his team is playing this season, it’s a distinct possibility Messere will get the career-defining victory over a rival Section III team who has a decent history against the Wildcats.
Messere claims he doesn’t think too much or put any emphasis on the record. He did, however, take a humorous jab at the media during a lengthy interview with Eagle Newspapers.
“I try not to think about it, but I keep getting calls from guys like you wanting to know what I think about it,” he said with the laugh of a 68-year-old man. “Honestly, all I think about is the next game. That’s all you are working toward, the next time out. But if a record happens, it happens.”
His career began, fittingly enough, as a player at West Genny in 1962. He was a football player and wrestler, but after seeing some neighborhood friends play a game of lacrosse, he was sold.
“I saw that and knew I wanted to play lacrosse,” he said, before crediting Lou Ancello, his lacrosse coach, as a major inspiration for him and his career.
Messere’s career to this point is nothing short of legendary, although he will dispute that. Outside of lacrosse, Messere has a family – a wife, a son and a daughter — and tends to his horse farm that he says has horses that are 30 years old. His daughter was big into riding horses as a child, which prompted him to start the farm.
He has a sense of humor about it, as well.
“We don’t produce anything buy hay,” he said with a chuckle, “because hay is for horses.”
The numbers don’t lie. Messere has been at the helm for 15 New York State Championships, with the first coming in 1981 over Yorktown and the most recent happening in 2008 over Syosset. Coincidentally, the span from 2008 to the present is the longest gap in his career without a state title. His career numbers suggest he is a lacrosse coaching prodigy, another thing he’s reluctant to admit.
“I don’t see myself as a legend,” he said. “When I started coaching I never thought I’d get this far because these are things you don’t plan. I guess I’m just fortunate everything has fallen into place.”
Messere thinks of himself as an educator first and lacrosse coach second. Since he took over, West Genny has seen 56 high school All-Americans come through the program. On top of that staggering statistic, 96 of his players have gone on to earn collegiate All-American status. Because of the time-consuming nature of being a lacrosse coach, Messere had to give up coaching the wrestling team in 1980.
And Messere considers each and every kid that comes through his program a member of something much greater.
“I have way more than two children,” he said. “Every player I have coached I consider part of my family. My goal is to best prepare them for the next steps in their lives, whether that is playing lacrosse, getting into the best possible college or going into the workforce.
“Seeing the kids smile is my reward.”
He also says that without such a dedicated staff and group of kids willing to learn, he wouldn’t be getting close to the record.
It’s a work ethic he hopes all of his players recognize and use for their future.
“It’s amazing how much these coaches help,” he said. “They’re outstanding teachers and the kids get the message. People don’t see the sacrifice assistant coaches make, putting in as much time as they do for not very much money.”
Messere isn’t a big sports fan. In fact, he only watches sports of any kind to get pointers on how to improve his coaching.
“You tell the kids they never stop learning,” he said. “As a coach, the same thing is true. I am always aiming to improve.”
One might think this kind of recognition would have led Messere to take a coaching job at a higher level, but that’s not the case. Messere is a family man, and has always made decisions based on what’s best for the people closest to him.
“There are so many good lacrosse coaches around,” he said. “People don’t just come and ask you to coach their team. I would have had to jump into college coaching at a young age and move up from there, but because I wanted what’s best for my family, I decided on teaching at West Genesee and having my family stay in one spot. Plus, I liked the idea of job security and being able to retire one day.”
He brought up a solid point. He spoke about some coaches going to a high-level program but not having the same kind of success they had before.
“What happens if in five years you get fired because you’re not doing so well?” he said. “It’s all about my family.”
He harped on how much support his wife Barbara has given him. From her perspective, Messere has dedicated his life to something that he doesn’t get a lot of money from. Messere says he does it because he loves the sport so much.
But he understands where his wife’s concerns have stemmed from, and appreciates her in a huge way.
“How do you go home and explain to your wife that you are going to spend all this time away from home coaching other people’s kids without getting paid a ton?” he said. “My family has been involved in all my decisions, and there are a lot of them.”
He wrapped up the interview by saying something grandiose.
“I wouldn’t be doing this if it was just for money,” he said.
Maybe that’s why he’s a legend around here. Maybe that’s why he’s produced some of the best coaches and players this are has ever seen.
Maybe that’s why his dedication has led him to the cream of the coaching crop.
Neil Benjamin Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.