Soccer has always been in Andrew Sadowski’s blood.
Even before he kicked a ball at the age of 5, the Southold High School boys soccer coach already had been influenced. His father played at Farmingdale State back in the day. A cousin of his grandmother’s performed for Birmingham in England.
So, it seemed only natural that Sadowski started participating in the beautiful game as a 5-year-old for the Glen Cove Soccer Club in the soccer-crazed community on the north shore of Nassau County.
“It was just in the blood, I guess,” he said in a recent interview. “As I got older I enjoyed it because it was fast-paced, it was a contact sport. Back in the day, club soccer was played just in the spring time. Baseball was just too much standing around kind of stuff. Tremendous amount of skill obviously to play baseball, but I liked the challenge of using your body and your feet, do something that is rather difficult.”
Then Sadowski had an intriguing thought.
“I’ve been involved in the sport for almost 50 years,” he said. “How crazy is that? That’s a crazy thought.”
Not so crazy, given what the 54-year-old Sadowski has accomplished in his career.
As dean of all Suffolk County coaches in his 25th year at the helm of the Southold program, Sadowski has produced a 281-131-21 record. Those wins rank him third among active coaches and ninth overall on the all-time list in a county sport that goes back to the 1920s.
“Though Andrew’s career statistics are significant, he is not a coach of numbers — stats,” said junior varsity coach Lucas Grigonis, who played for Sadowski from 2001-2004. “He is much more concerned of the culture of the program, the moral, respect and idea of the attitude and approach to being a part of something greater than yourself.”
Grigonis, the unofficial historian of the Southold boys soccer program, has gotten to know Sadowski as well as anyone has on the soccer end. Sadowski can be demanding of his players.
“He’s the hard-nosed coach, demanding of players [which] comes with the territory,” he said. “The mindset is that you have to work for what you want to get. You have to earn it. There’s no other way to do it than to give it your all, basically. In terms of soccer, that being mental and physical alike, that’s why he has always been such a driving force.”
To appreciate Sadowski’s accomplishments, consider that not many coaches last that long in one coaching position these days — soccer or otherwise. Several Suffolk boys soccer programs have gone through 10 or 11 head coaches in the last quarter-century.
“I see it as a challenge each season to build and develop a team that is competitive as the prior team and to continuously work to even be better,” he said. “Certainly, coaching has changed. The mindset of kids has changed, not only in Southold, but everywhere. I enjoy the sport. This is what I do. I am a fan, I watch. I look forward to watching and suffering through Tottenham Hotspur games. Looking forward to when the [New York] Cosmos really do come back and try to find another home team to root for where I don’t have to travel to New Jersey or to Yankee Stadium, which I am not doing any more. I never thought of it how long I was going to do it. I guess now I am hitting the 25-year mark. How much longer do I want to do it? I’m not ever going to give up being a soccer fan, that’s for sure. I still enjoy working with the boys. I enjoy talking the game with the boys. I’ve been really blessed with having several of my students that have come back and wanted to coach in the program.”
Sadowski’s success has not gone unnoticed by his coaching colleagues and rivals.
“Andy brings the best out of the kids,” said Mattituck coach Will Hayes, who has played and coached against Sadowski. “Regardless of who the kids are, Andy brings the best out of his kids. That’s stuff they’ll take with them for the rest of their lives. Regardless of the wins and championship and everything else, from my opinion, the thing he can be most proud of is that his kids respect him. What he teaches them goes far beyond just the field. It’s truly very amazing.”
Ditto for Center Moriches coach Chris O’Brien, who helped establish Southold’s winning tradition along with his brothers in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“Andrew always gets the most out of the talent he has on hand,” he said. “As an opposing coach, we always knew we’d be in for a high intensity match when we played his Settlers. Many of his former players have gone on to have great collegiate careers, which is a true testament to his level of coaching.”
Southold has storied soccer tradition, although its debut was hardly an auspicious one under Dick Osmer, who had taken the helm of the varsity basketball team a year prior. The First Settlers fielded a team for the first time in 1956. They did not win or tie a game or celebrate a goal until the 1958 season, when Wendell Mealy had the honors of scoring. They did not celebrate a win until 1959, recording a 4-3-3 mark.
The Settlers’ best moments came during the late 1970s and early 1980s when they dominated Class C and Class D schools en route to an incredible six state championships in seven years (1979-1981, 1983-1985).
Southold has won 21 county championships, reaching the Suffolk final 34 times. The school has produced 20 league titles and 10 runner-up finishes.
“The numbers speak for themselves, but the real stories are the blue-collar work ethic, win-at-all-costs attitude, and David vs. Goliath mentality where year after year, the First Settlers proved that the size of the school does not judge the weight of heart,” Grigonis said.
SUFFOLK COUNTY COACHING LEADERS
1. Robert Muir, Mattituck | 509
2. Howie Heckman, Center Moriches | 381
3. John Eden, North Babylon | 366
4. John Ruffini, Hauppauge | 362
5. Ron Eden, Brentwood | 354*
6. Frank Schmidt, Sachem, Sachem North | 345
7. Sebe DiRubba, Commack | 332
8. Val Winter, Sayville | 295*
9. Andrew Sadowski, Southold | 281*
10. Neil Stam, Centereach | 276
Records include games through Monday
A graduate of Marist College majoring in history and minoring in political science, Sadowski went to work as a legal assistant in two large firms in New York City before venturing into teaching and working for the NYC Board of Education. He taught in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn for five years before he was hired by Southold.
When Sadowski took over the team’s reins on July 1, 1994, only months after accepting a position as a history and economics teacher at the high school, he had modest goals at the time.
“The goal was to continue to be competitive,” he said. “That’s really what the first goal was. Obviously, being from Nassau County, I didn’t know much about Southold soccer especially. I knew that they had some very good high school teams when I was playing at Marist College. We had one player from Southold, one even from Shelter Island that tried out for our team. I also knew they had been winning small school state championships as well. So I knew about the history of it. When I was hired my concern was to continue my development as a classroom teacher and continue my enthusiasm for that out onto the pitch.”
Which he did and then some.
During Sadowski’s tenure, Southold has won 10 league and county titles, missing the playoffs but once in 1995. He has accomplished so much. Yet, one honor has eluded Sadowski at Southold — a state championship.
“It’s been one of the most frustrating things,” he said. “When I reflect back on how many talented players I had, how many talented teams I had, it’s so hard to win. When Southold made their run in the late ’70s and ’80s, soccer was at its growing stage. I kind of wish I had more of a sense of what Coach Osmer had done and why he got so interested in it as well. And then what happened, in a lot of areas, soccer around Suffolk County got better and better. Nassau County got better, and the rest of the state got better. The game continued to grow. I don’t think it was because we got worse. I just think the quality of the competition is just so high now, at every school-size level that it’s very, very hard to win that state title.”
Despite Sadowski’s impressive record, he admitted it was difficult to pick out one game, although one encounter is memorable for several reasons — the 2001 Class D state semifinal against Parishville/Hopkinton in upstate Bath.
“They were at the time 21-0 or 22-0,” Sadowski said. “The scouting report that we had was that they were big, they were strong. Holy cow. We walked on the field for warmups and they must have had six guys, seven guys 6 foot or bigger. I just looked at them and I was like Holy Moley!”
Southold played its usual hard-nosed game. One of the Settlers’ top players, Brian Mosblech, collided with an opposing defender and had convulsions. Mosblech went to the hospital. After a Southold player was fouled near the top of the penalty area in overtime, Ken Heidtman fired the ensuing free kick into the wall. The ball bounced back to him and he pushed the ball around the wall to the left side and drilled it into the net for a 1-0 sudden-death victory.
“That was just really one of those games where the guys lost one of the go-to players and they just persevered and just pushed through,” Sadowski said. “Unfortunately, he wasn’t permitted to play again for health reasons and we were half a step behind in the final … That semifinal was one of those moments that stand out of how the boys really learned about what teamwork was and playing together as a team.”
In the final, Southold lost to Manlius-Pebble Hill (Syracuse), 1-0.
SOUTHOLD’S COACHING HISTORY
Andrew Sadowski | 1994-2018 (277-128-21)
Eddie Greco | 1993 (14-1)
Craig Osmer | 1986-92 (78-39-8)
Bob Feger | 1984-85 (40-6-1)
Gene Maiorana | 1981-83 (48-10-4)
Dick Osmer | 1956-70, 1973-75, 1977-80 (135-93-8)
Joel Volinski | 1956-70 (14-1-7)
Records entering the current season.
Southold did not field a team in 1976.
Source: Suffolk County Boys Soccer Coaches Association
Being an assistant for the past nine years, Grigonis has seen another side of Sadowski.
“Really the first words that strikes me when I think of Andrew, he’s a family man,” he said. “He’s deeply dedicated to his family.
“If you actually know him, he can be a very nice, generous, sweet guy,” Grigonis added with a chuckle, “which obviously no one gets to know him that well.”
Sadowski’s daily 110-mile round trip to the North Fork from his Commack home allows him to plan his day or reflect on what transpired on the field or in the classroom.
“I definitely use it as a time to go through my day, analyze myself and the kind of things we need to work on as a team or what I need to work on to improve as a coach and as a teacher,” he said.
Sadowski has been married to Rosie for 30 years. He has three children — Emma, 26, Abigail, 23, and Jacob, 20. Abigail and Jacob have been fighting cystic fibrosis for years. Not surprisingly, they all played in the Long Island Junior Soccer League. Jacob is an outside midfielder for the Butler University club soccer team.
“He’s got a left foot that I wish I was born with,” Sadowski said.
Four years ago, the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted Jacob a wish. He wanted to see “real football,” Sadowski said, and the Sadowski family were guests of his beloved Tottenham Hotspur at legendary White Hart Lane against Stoke City in the director’s box in London.
“The other thing that was really exciting about it was that we had a whole itinerary of what we were not permitted to wear because we were invited,” Sadowski said. “One of the big surprises was that we were not told where our seats were. We were there for lunch, hors d’oeuvres, meet and greet former players, the whole nine yards.”
It will be back to reality come Saturday when Southold hosts Mattituck in its homecoming game on its new artificial turf field.
Through Tuesday’s games, the First Settlers were 4-3 overall and 4-2 in League VII.
Sadowski’s teams traditionally start slow and finish fast.
“That’s why you do it,” he said. “That’s why you work with kids, so that when you get those moments, when you see that growth and development, you see how they really appreciate the hard work that everybody puts in, that we can be better, be competitive, [go] as far as we can go.
“It’s no real different than in the classroom when the kids finally get the concept that you’re working on or understand that particular piece of history that we’re studying. Football’s the same way.”
Sadowski hopes for his team to repeat its traditional late-season surge this October and perhaps November.
“The issue with any team is trying to find a consistent level of play,” he said. “We’ve had some really super games that I thought we played outstanding and then we’ve had other games in between, ‘Oh, what happened?’ We just finished the game prior playing so well. We’re trying to find our comfort zone as a team, trying to understand what 100 percent work ethic individually and as a team looks like. We’re getting there, and really we’re really looking to find that consistency.”
The passion is still there. The desire to teach and coach and push for excellence is still there. Retirement? That’s not in Sadowski’s plans any time soon.
“I’ll let you know when I figure that out,” he said. “Right now, I don’t see myself going anywhere. Not for a while.”
One reason is because soccer is in Andrew Sadowski’s blood.
Top photo caption: Andrew Sadowski, in his 25th year as Southold’s coach, shows off his soccer skills during a recent practice. (Credit: Garret Meade)