By Cary Shuman
When Matt Serino was tabbed by the Northeastern Conference to nominate one Winthrop resident for the league’s prestigious Community Service Award, he knew that one man stood at the top of the list: Rich Cifuni.
Already dubbed the “Father of Winthrop Lacrosse” for founding the town’s increasingly popular youth program, Cifuni became the proud recipient of the award at the NEC Coaches Banquet held at the end of the school year.
“Each school nominates a person for community service that’s done the most for the high school athletic program, so we nominated Rich for all the outstanding work he does with our youth lacrosse program,” said Serino.
The Winthrop High School director of athletics said that Cifuni’s launching of the youth program has led directly to the rising stature and success of the boys lacrosse program at the high school. The Vikings qualified for the state tournament last spring and the future looks bright with the influx of players from Cifuni’s well-organized program.
Cifuni, who is the public facilities manager for the Town of Winthrop, started the Winthrop Youth Lacrosse program six years ago.
“We were able to build up our numbers and enter the Mass Bay Youth Lacrosse League (MBYLL), which is actually the largest youth lacrosse program in the country,” said Cifuni. “We compete in the Northeast region.”
Winthrop Youth Lacrosse has approximately 70 boys, first through eighth graders, competing in a season from March to June. The program has added ‘select’ teams to ensure a higher level of competition for the elite players. The 13-under select team reached the semifinal round of the playoffs.
Cifuni said it’s been a challenge recruiting adult coaches, even in a sports-minded town like Winthrop.
“It’s a newer sport to Winthrop, so we don’t have a plethora of people knocking on the door to help, so that’s probably been one of the tougher challenges,” said Cifuni. “I certainly don’t want to discount those who have stepped up and helped the program grow.”
Bob DiMento, former Winthrop Super Bowl quarterback John Hayes, Greg Peterson, and former Winthrop director of athletics Rob O’Leary are on the coaching staff for the league.
One of the most vital contributors to the program’s success has been Cifuni’s wife, Tanji Cifuni. The Cifunis have eight children, all of whom compete in the Winthrop program.
“Tanji has done a great job handling all the signups and key administrative responsibilities such as coordinating the scheduling of games,” said the appreciative husband.
Cifuni graduated in 1993 from Weymouth High School where he was a lacrosse star in a town where the sport was widely popular. He went on to play Division 1 lacrosse for the University of New Hampshire, graduating in 1997. The Wildcats played such national power as Notre Dame, Michigan State, Towson State, and UMass.
The 41-year-old WYL president said lacrosse is gaining steam in the United States.
“It is without a doubt the fastest growing sport in the United States,” he said. “You’re seeing colleges picking up the sport in double-digit numbers every year. There is a tremendous opportunity for these players to play at the next level if they put the time in. Lacrosse was big in the Northeast but now it’s starting to spread across the country.”
Matt Crombie, principal of Winthrop High School, thanked Cifuni for his exceptional leadership of lacrosse in the town and congratulated him for receiving the NEC’s Community Service Award.
“Anyone who lives in town knows that Rich is a familiar face out there on the field always working with our youth,” said Crombie. “It’s a really important stage of development because you don’t just start playing lacrosse in high school. You learn the fundamentals that are so important to being prepared for the varsity level. Rich has been instrumental in getting our athletes ready for high school and it’s really helped our program grow.”
From Weymouth to Durham (N.H.) to Winthrop, Rich Cifuni has been a goodwill ambassador for the sport of lacrosse.