THE DAILY ORANGE

In high school, Nicky Galasso used his mother’s death as motivation to become the best player in Long Island history. Two foot injuries have slowed his college career, but now that he’s healthy at Syracuse, he’s ready for

HIS RETURN

It doesn’t bother Nicky Galasso when the turf field at his old high school is being used.

That’s the field where he made his name, but on the other side of the tennis courts is a grass field that suits him just fine.

The one that reads “In memory of Cindy Galasso” in blue and gold letters on the scoreboard.

There he begins his work. Fifty shots lefty, planting off of his right leg — which features a tattoo of the initials “CG” on the calf — and then 50 shots right-handed.

Back on the West Islip (N.Y.) High School turf field is where Nicky put together the best high school lacrosse career in Long Island history. He left the Lions as a four-time state champion, the Long Island record holder in points, and the No. 1 recruit in the country in the Class of 2010, with the University of North Carolina his next destination.

But in his sophomore season with the Tar Heels, a stress fracture in his left foot proved that the seemingly untouchable Nicky was human. He transferred to Syracuse before last year for a fresh start, but another stress fracture ended his season before it began.

He has a legacy to restore, and the road back goes through the field that bears his mother’s name — every morning last summer around 9 a.m. for an hour and a half.

“At the end of the day, I think I’m making her proud just by being in college, going on with my life and being successful because that’s what she really wants,” he said. “I wish she could be here for it, but she’s up there looking down on me. I know she’s there.”


They called him “the Hemorrhoid.” He’d try sleeping over at his friends’ houses, but would end up calling her at 1 or 2 a.m. to come pick him up. He couldn’t do it.

That’s how inseparable Nicky Galasso and his mother were.

And that’s how it had to be — someone had to protect him from his four older brothers. When his brother Vinny got too rough with Nicky, Cindy’s screams were soon to follow.

“Get off your brother! What are you doing? He’s a baby!”

Courtesy of the Galasso family

Nicky poses with his mother Cindy after making his holy communion. He was nicknamed “the Hemerrhoid” because of how attached he was to his mother.

That was the physical, competitive nature of the Galasso brothers. Everything was a game to the five boys.

In their giant living room, they’d play every sport imaginable. Socks with duct tape became dodge balls. When it was too cold outside, the room became a whiffle ball field. The floor would be covered in pillows and couch cushions for tackle football.

Somehow, no major bones were broken. There were bloody noses, but windows, walls and a fireplace were the only casualties. And it was every man — or boy — for himself.

“His older brothers would toss us around all over the place,” said Tom Clifford, Nicky’s longtime friend and high school teammate. “It hurt, but it made us better because they wouldn’t give us anything. They wouldn’t let us win. They made us earn it.”

5 boys

Courtesy of the Galasso family

The Galasso brothers are within 8 years of each other and their competitive natures have pushed each other throughout their lives.

Before a growth spurt shot Nicky up to his now-6-foot frame, he admits he was a “little chubster.”

So the boys piled into the oldest brother Sal’s mint blue 1999 Toyota Camry station wagon with chrome hubcaps, and followed Nicky in it as he ran around the block to push him to lose the excess fat.

“He never stopped trying to keep up with us,” said Sal Galasso, who is 8 years older than Nicky. “When he got out on the field as a young kid, it was obvious that he was leaps and bounds more aggressive than everybody else.”


Years before Nicky would win four state titles as a West Islip Lion, he played on a West Islip travel team with kids 1 and 2 years older than him that would travel to about six out-of-state tournaments a summer.

They’d play groups of select players from entire regions, and their squad from the “little town” of West Islip would beat them.

But when they traveled, Nicky needed to do so with his friends and their parents, or with coach Scott Craig, who coached all the Galasso kids at West Islip.

Nicky’s mom was battling lung cancer and a brain tumor. Cindy and Daniel Galasso continually told their boys she was getting better, even though it wasn’t the truth. Nicky doesn’t recall much from that time. He was just 12. He didn’t know much about cancer.

But at 4 a.m. on Aug. 27, 2004, Nicky woke up to the sound of his brothers crying. When they came over to hug him, he knew.

Cindy had died at the age of 44.

We were all just so broken that you had no choice but to completely rely on each other.
Sal Galasso
6 Galassos

Courtesy of the Galasso family

The Galasso family suits up at a West Islip alumni lacrosse event.

Their father slept in Nicky’s bedroom nearly every night for a month straight after Cindy’s death, always assuring him that everything would be OK as a James Taylor CD soothed them until they fell asleep.

One morning, Nicky woke up and looked into the sky. The sun was out, but it was accompanied by a solitary star.

“That’s a sign, Bud,” his father told him.


Cindy was always “Aunt Cindy” to her sons’ friends.

Nicky remembers living with as many as 12 or 13 people in their house once, because his mom opened it up to anyone who needed it.

She had one of the biggest hearts Nicky’s ever known, working as both a front desk attendant at West Islip High School and as an assistant little league football coach.

In addition to the field named after her, her initials were painted in the football team’s hallway tunnel. And soon, calligraphy of her initials became a West Islip tradition.

Graduation

Courtesy of the Galasso family

From left to right, Sal, Vinny, Nicky, Victor, Joey Finnegan and Danny Galasso stand on the West Islip turf field after the 2010 graduation ceremony.

The Sharpies came out for every high school lacrosse game Nicky played in. All of his teammates would sit in a line before the game, and the appointed players would scribble “CG” on the right leg of their teammates.

“It unified us,” said Joey Finnegan, Nicky’s best friend and high school teammate. “Even if you didn’t know her, you still felt like a part of that family.”

They each brought her legacy to the field, but it was Nicky who channeled it best into his performance. It gave him a unique edge that no opponent could match. Each goal he scored in high school was followed by a point to the sky — a ritual he still practices today.

Her passing just motivated me to do the best and be the best I could be. I do everything for her. Whatever I do, it's all for her.
Nicky Galasso

In just seventh grade, people throughout West Islip were predicting he’d be the best lacrosse player the town had ever seen.

On the field, he had everything. Phenomenal vision to see what was happening before it did. Physicality to attack the cage and a perpetual knack for playmaking. A dedicated work ethic off the field, all with the humility and goofiness not always seen in a superstar.

“He had gifts that other people don’t get,” his father said.

West Islip

Courtesy of Andrew Hodgson

Nicky Galasso celebrates during a West Islip Lions game. In his high school career, Galasso won four New York state championships and set the record for most points scored in Long Island history.

In just eighth grade, Craig called him up to the varsity team — and he’d go on to win back-to-back titles, crying in celebration after both with his brother Vinny.

And in his last game wearing a Lions jersey, he broke the Long Island record for points with a one-goal, seven-assist performance to capture his fourth state title.

I don't think he wanted to let my mom down and he didn't want to let us down. He just did it out of sheer fear of letting people down.
Sal Galasso

His high school success led him to UNC, where he led the Tar Heels with 56 points in his first season, ranking fourth in the nation in assists and claiming the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Freshman of the Year award.

He honored his mother by getting her initials tattooed on his right calf once he got to UNC, but the difficult moments still surfaced. Being nine hours away from home didn’t make it any easier. But UNC head coach Joe Breschi was there for him.

In 2004, Breschi lost his 3-year-old son in a freak parking lot accident. So when Mother’s Day or Aug. 27 came around, Nicky would seek comfort by going to the office of someone who knew what he was feeling.

“It just became natural for us to have that connection,” Breschi said, “and I think it was a helpful way for him to get through it, and in a way it was certainly helpful for me as well.

“But at times you need that support system to battle through those moments, and that’s what we did for each other.”

Nicky tried playing through a stress fracture in his left foot in his sophomore year, but surgery was the best option. And when he started having doubts about what his role would be upon his return, he decided that transferring to Syracuse was best for him.

When he got to Syracuse, though, another stress fracture kept him sidelined. It was back to square one for Nicky, but he battled through that rehabilitation process, just as he did the year before.

He finally made his debut for the Orange — with his dad and Vinny eight rows back from the SU bench — against Maryland in the Carrier Dome on Saturday.

“(UNC) gets a great recruiting class every year, certain people come in and things change after a while,” Nicky said. “I just felt that I needed to make a change and I’m happy I chose where I chose.”


Don’t think the Galasso boys are any less competitive than they were years ago.

There’s one streetlight in front of Sal’s West Islip home, but they still have spontaneous egg tosses at night once his kids are put to bed. The brothers still dare each other to clear a 4-foot fence, or hit a sign with a snowball.

The competition never ends, even as life moves on.

Grave

Courtesy of Andrew Hodgson

Sal Galasso (in blue) and his father Daniel (right) hold Cindy Galasso’s grandson on top of her grave.

But the brothers understand that their lacrosse days are behind them, so they live vicariously through Nicky and will do whatever they can to get him back to the player that made jaws drop on the turf field.

When Nicky isn’t alone at the grass field at West Islip High School, his brothers are often there with him.

The brothers hit him with passes. They laugh, tell stories and shoot around. It’s always lighthearted.

But every once in a while, one of the brothers will peek at the scoreboard with their mother’s name, then feed their baby brother with a pass so he can fire another shot.