When his granddaughters began playing lacrosse on the field at Cutchogue West, Walter Gatz stared at the field in disbelief.
His daughter, Laurie Italia, recalled how her father would say “We’ve got to fix that field.”
“And then came down here with his landscaping equipment,” she said at the field Tuesday.
Mr. Gatz, who died in 2018 at the age of 85, was honored ahead of the Mattituck varsity girls lacrosse game. Friends, family and the lacrosse team gathered as Kait’s Angels unveiled a plaque recognizing his enthusiasm for athletics.
“May his memory inspire all who play here to engage in healthy competition, practice good sportsmanship and have fun,” it reads.
The plaque stands next to a kousa dogwood tree planted in his honor. Ms. Italia shared that it was his favorite tree to see flower each spring.
His wife of 60 years, Marilyn, described Mr. Gatz as “the best husband a woman could ever have.”
A Riverhead native, Mr. Gatz was born into a farming family and was a standout athlete, particularly on the football team and as a wrestler.
He started a landscaping business and went on to coach and sponsor youth sports teams in both Riverhead and Mattituck.
“He was all about the kids. He would have loved [this field],” Ms. Gatz said.
Over the years, Mr. Gatz donated time and effort to Mattituck athletics.
“He was instrumental in creating this facility for our girls and did great things for all of our sports programs,” said athletic director Gregg Wormuth. Aside from creating the new lacrosse fields in Cutchogue, Mr. Gatz donated weights and wrestling mats to Mattituck High School.
In addition to a love of sports, Kait’s Angels president William Araneo spoke about how Mr. Gatz was an outdoorsman, was involved in civic groups and even played in a Polka band. “He may be one of the first Renaissance men,” Mr. Araneo joked.
The organization chose to posthumously honor Mr. Gatz since he embodied the spirit of giving back that Kaitlyn Doorhy had. A 2012 Mattituck High School graduate, Ms. Doorhy died in 2014 after being struck by a car while crossing a street near her sorority house in Bridgeport, Conn.
“Kaitlyn believed that we each have two hands,” Mr. Araneo said. “One is to help ourselves achieve our dreams and the other one is to reach around behind us and help someone else. [Mr. Gatz] did that in countless ways.”
After unveiling the plaque, Mr. Araneo turned to the lacrosse team, who also honored 11 seniors.
“Ladies, I think Walter Gatz would like you to go out there and kick some you-know-what,” he said.
Top photo caption: Marilyn Gatz and Laurie Italia. (Credit: Tara Smith)