It’s a spicy tradition for the Williamsville East boys soccer team. The new Flames bear the burn of a “death wing” during the annual team dinner at Duff’s before the season opener.
The custom continued this summer, even with the arrival of a new coach from the other side of both soccer and wing rivalries.
Tony Schiappa, a former Williamsville East soccer player who built Hamburg into one of the area’s top programs over the past six seasons, also operates the Anchor Bar franchise on Transit Road with his brother Michael.
“He knows our traditions,” said Ethan Ruggiero, a senior midfielder for the Flames. “We thought about doing Anchor Bar, but it’s been Duff’s every year. Maybe in the future they’ll move it.”
That fits with Schiappa’s goals of implementing his coaching style and desired culture at Williamsville East without changing too much of what brought the program success over the past three decades under retired coach Jeff Librock, the 2018 Western New York Coach of the Year.
“Coach Librock really built a great foundation for our program for me to step in to,” Schiappa said. “I’m different. I’m going to put my own spin on things. There are things that I’m going to change and there are things that have worked here for years that we aren’t going to change.”
Williamsville East is coming off a championship season, defeating Schiappa’s Hamburg team in the Section VI Class A-2 title game before going on to claim the overall A crown. The two teams shared the ECIC II division title last year after the Flames won the league in 2017, ending the Bulldogs’ three-year reign.
But Schiappa’s mission at his alma mater goes beyond winning on the field.
“We’re not here to guarantee championships,” Schiappa recalled telling parents at a preseason meeting. “We’re here to guarantee that your kids are going to be better through our program. They are going to be better men, better college students, better professionals, better fathers.
“If that leads to championships or not, we’ll see. I want to be judged for the success these kids have outside the lines just as much as I want to be judged for the success we have in between the lines.”
Schiappa had plenty of success between the lines at Hamburg, going 75-21-3 with four division titles and three sectional final appearances in six seasons. Prior to that, the Bulldogs had one winning season in 10 years and no league titles over two decades.
Playing twice a year in the regular season before often meeting again in sectionals, Williamsville East and Hamburg developed mutual admiration in the midst of a rivalry.
Schiappa's new team played his former team at 7:30 p.m. Monday. Both are 4-0.
“There’s a lot of respect for coach Schiappa because of how well he’s done at Hamburg,” senior midfielder Aidan Comerford said.
“We know he’s very energetic and intense,” senior midfielder Evan Olszewski said. “We saw when they’d score against us, he was sliding down the sideline celebrating with his team.”
Schiappa inherits a Flames program that was loaded last year with 13 seniors, 10 of them starters, including midfielder Ishaan Kashyap, the Western New York Player of the Year; first-team All-WNY striker Trey Buscaglia; leading scorer Ben Woolingham, an All-WNY large schools pick; and ECIC II all-star defender Adam Pezzimenti.
“Those kids were ridiculously good,” Schiappa said. “Probably the most prolific senior class in the history of our program.”
Winning expectations remain despite the graduation losses.
“I think we can repeat as sectional champions,” Ruggiero said. “When we play how we know we can play, we can compete with the top teams in the area.”
The dynamic is different for Schiappa than it was when he started at Hamburg in 2013.
“At Hamburg, we were always using the doubters and the lack of past success to fuel our motivation day in and day out,” Schiappa said. “As any competitor knows, that’s the side you want to be on. Now we’re trying in a way to humble our kids and avoid any complacency and entitlement coming off such a successful season.”
Schiappa decided to leave Hamburg early in the offseason, tired of the 25-mile commute taking up more than an hour of his day. The timing was right, he felt, with the Bulldogs graduating 14 seniors, many of whom entered the program as middle-schoolers in Schiappa’s first season.
There were a number of coaching jobs closer to home, but East “has always been my target and my dream coaching job,” Schiappa said.
Coaching close to home also keeps Schiappa in proximity to the recently relocated Anchor Bar.
“Saving an hour in travel time six days a week gives me an opportunity to spend more time with friends, family and my business interests,” Schiappa said. “And I appreciate having family members there day in and day out that allow me to come out here to the fields and know that the fort is being held down.
“Being able to compartmentalize everything going on and still allocate my time is a challenge. But it’s something I’m privileged and honored to do. I’m really fortunate to have the opportunity to lead these kids here.”