Q&A: Joe Nocella, Founder of Brooklyn Lacrosse

Joe Nocella founded Brooklyn Lacrosse in 2012. Joe grew up in Croton-on Hudson and played Division I lacrosse before beginning a career as an architect in NYC.

Tell us about your background.

I grew up in Croton-on-Hudson, NY in Westchester County and started messing around with lacrosse with my friends from the neighborhood at around age 10 (1979).  I was the captain and leading scorer of my High School team, and went on to play at Division 1 Drexel.  That didn’t work out so well in terms of my academic pursuits and the sport’s time requirements at that level.  I then played two seasons at City College, where I was the captain and leading scorer. Those were some special times. I then played for two years at the U. of Missouri and two years at the U. of Kansas (four-year leading scorer). I was an architect in NYC for 20 years for some of the best firms on the planet, and recently walked away to focus on my bike shop (718 Cyclery), teaching (Pratt), Brooklyn Lacrosse and my family (in reverse order!)

What are your memories of playing sports while growing up in the NY area?

Lacrosse was not as popular back in the 80s…our public high school (Croton-Harmon HS) was tiny, but since there weren’t that many schools with teams, you ended up playing schools MUCH larger. I played football in high school also and won a Section 1 Championship as a senior.

What is the history of Brooklyn Lacrosse?

We started in the summer of 2012 with 20 kids in a gym. This spring we will have 400-500 kids on over 15 teams. I don’t think we are very different than many other youth lacrosse organizations. We all face the same challenges and meet those challenges slightly differently. We see the barriers of entry to city kids playing lacrosse as cost, logistics and perception.  We strive to remove these barriers in everything we do. There are some great organization in NYC that have been at it awhile, namely Doc’s and The Brooklyn Crescents. We are proud that we have been able to work with both groups to grow the game

After playing in Missouri and Kansas what brought you back to the NYC area?

My dream was to be an architect in NYC, so upon graduation I came back home

What were some of the challenges of getting Brooklyn Lacrosse going?

The biggest issue initially was getting the word out. Well, the word is certainly out!  Our biggest challenge now is to find enough field space as we are growing at an exciting rate.

Lacrosse seems to be growing in NYC. Why do you think that is?  Is it hard to introduce lacrosse to people who may ever have heard of the sport before?

We are noticing a huge growth in our organization, and we attribute it to a few things.  One is the passion that lacrosse brings out of people…there is something special about this sport, and you make connections that last a lifetime.  I also think that parents are finally realizing that lacrosse can open many doors down the road academically.  We have also noticed a lot of youth football players making the jump to lacrosse as head injury issues become more and more prevalent in the media.  There are a million kids in this city, if you remove the barriers that have been keeping them from this sport, they will just flood in!

What about Brooklyn Lacrosse makes you the proudest?

The fact that we are 100% volunteer run by people who love lacrosse dearly makes me very proud.  This passion is transparent, and is transferred directly to our players and their families. I am also proud to be following in the footsteps of some great individuals who have blazed trails…from Chief Leon Miller to George Baron to Kevin Graham.

What do you look for when you hire a coach to work with kids?

We don’t look for lacrosse pedigree as much as we look for lacrosse passion and the ability to share that passion effectively in a coaching environment.  Some of our best coaches played only through high school

You must have lots of great stories from your years working with kids. Tell us about one that inspired you.

We teach our kids to respect the game as well as your opponent. Lining up after a game to shake hands is a critical message we send…gracious in winning and losing. A team we played, upon beating us 4-2, ran out on the field at the direction of their coach to go “get your goalie!” A dog-pile ensued as if they won the national championship.  We practice once a week on a pier.  My team was just standing on the line, waiting to shake hands, and watching this bewildered.  One player asked me, “Coach, what are they doing?” I’ll never forget that question from that kid. I later told the coach that I felt his team’s behavior didn’t respect us, or the game, and got a letter of apology addressed to our entire organization.

What was the best advice you got from a coach?

I got yelled at a lot by my high school football coach and grew to learn that he yelled at players he actually cared about.  If he wasn’t yelling at you, you were off his radar.  Modern coaching methods don’t have much use for yelling, so we really focus on making sure all of our players are getting meaningful input and connections from our coaches

What is your most treasured sports possession?

My grandfather, James McPoland, was a world record holding track star, a NYC legend (24 Varsity Letters at G. Washington HS) and a peer of Jesse Owens.  He was offered 18 scholarships, and is in the Halls of Fame at Georgetown and NYU. My sister and I have many pieces of memorabilia in our possession from his legacy.

Mets or Yankees?  Both

Giants or Jets? J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets (I am named after Joe Namath, born right when they won SB III)

Knicks or Nets? Both

Rangers, Devils or Islanders? Rangers

Red Bulls? Sure, why not

What is your favorite (professional) sports venue in New York City and why?

I liked the old Shea Stadium as I have some great memories going to some dreary Mets and Jets games with my Dad and running down all of those ramps!

Favorite sports book? Is there a Slapshot book?

Favorite sports movie? Slapshot

Best sports memory? Being inducted in the CCNY Hall of Fame for a team that has been playing lacrosse since 1888. I also still hold the most goals in a game record there with 10.

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