Jerry Severino first played lacrosse in 1965, as a student at Fayetteville-Manlius High School in the Syracuse suburbs, at the urging of a football coach who told him he needed to stay in shape.
Little did he know that what started as an avocation would become a lifelong career. After 37 years of coaching boys lacrosse at Orchard Park and at Hamburg high schools, Severino retired from coaching in June, after Hamburg’s 8-4 loss to Victor on June 1 in a Class B quarterfinal.
“I didn’t know anything about lacrosse when I was a kid,” said Severino, who graduated from Fayetteville-Manlius in 1968. “Even in my first teaching job in Western New York, lacrosse was in its infancy. But it’s been a long, wonderful journey in the sport, and I have no regrets.”
In nearly four full decades as a lacrosse coach, Severino was a part of the boom in boys lacrosse, as scholastic teams multiplied in Western New York. He also helped build Orchard Park and Hamburg’s programs, first as an assistant at Orchard Park from 1982 to 2003, then as an assistant in Hamburg in 2004 and 2005. He became head coach of the Bulldogs in 2006.
“You have to enjoy what you’re doing, in our case, working with young men,” said John Faller, who coached boys lacrosse at Sweet Home from 1976 to 2017. “If you coach a long time you see a great difference in the type of athletes, the type of people and the type of parents, which change. That takes some adaptation, and Jerry has done a wonderful job of doing that. The main thing is, you have to enjoy it. There’s a lot put on your plate as a coach, and everything with that, it’s gotten to be an overwhelming job.”
When Severino became Hamburg’s coach in 2006, Hamburg Athletic Director Pat Cauley said Severino did something that wasn’t easy: he took a program that already had success, and improved on it, but not solely through wins.
“We’ve won a lot, and that’s been a part of it, but for the most part, Jerry has left a legacy of class, sportsmanship and hard work,” Cauley said. “We’ve developed a lot of high-quality young men under his supervision.”
In that pursuit, Severino didn’t just consider that he was working with athletes. He also knew that in some way, he was helping shape members of the community.
“The educational piece of coaching was huge,” said Severino, whose teams won 12 sectional titles in his 13 seasons at Hamburg. “I took on a Hamburg varsity lacrosse program and paid attention to academics, got students help when they needed help and set the culture up so they knew they had to be avidly and conscientiously working towards good grades. The parents really appreciated that.
“We’ve had dozens and dozens of All-Americans at Hamburg, and I can’t count all the kids that went on to college because they played lacrosse at Hamburg, and at Orchard Park, too. But I’d say holding the kids accountable for academics, getting them to college and letting them begin their adult lives was a huge part of coaching.”
Ed Greenway, the longtime coach at Williamsville East, recognized the value of the holistic approach that Severino cultivated in the players at Hamburg. That perspective, Greenway said, was important for Severino and for the students whom he coached.
“It was important because he was an educator,” Greenway said. “It’s a special calling that Jerry had, that he incorporated into coaching. You hope to have a well-rounded individual come out of your program.
“The relationships he built with kids will always be marked. He has his successes and the number of sectional championships over the last year, but look at the number of relationships he’s made throughout the lacrosse community. His former players would echo that fact, that he’s someone who helped people.”
Severino’s progression in coaching and in helping build programs also paralleled the growth of lacrosse in Western New York. When Severino began coaching in 1982, only about half a dozen schools offered boys lacrosse as a spring sport. Now, there are more than 40 schools in the region that offer boys lacrosse.
Severino also helped build the foundations for lacrosse programs in the communities in which he worked, too, by reaching out to middle-school students, by hosting youth camps that taught kids the basics of lacrosse, or by encouraging students to join the program once they got to high school.
“Jerry, like any coach, facilitates and does what needs to be done to help the game grow,” Greenway said. “The grassroots things that Jerry did, like giving a kid his first stick in middle school or starting a camp, those sparked interest in the game.”
Severino knew that this season would be his last, and Cauley said Hamburg is in the process of hiring a new coach, which could be finalized in the next two weeks. Severino anticipates that he’ll continue to be involved in lacrosse in Hamburg as a consultant.
“But if I never set foot again on a Hamburg field, we won’t skip a beat,” Severino said.