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Something new at Shelter Island School: Soccer team ready to take the field

The beginning of a school year is defined by the word “new.” Students moving up to a new grade, new teachers or staff members, new regulations, new clothes, new books, etc.

But Shelter Island School this year has something new, which in a small school and small town can be called momentous — a new sports team.

The school’s soccer team will take the field on the road against Riverhead in a junior varsity match on Sept. 11, and the team of 17 students, ranging from 9th through 12 grades, will make their home debut on Sept. 22 at Fiske Field. It will be the first time the school’s colors will be worn by a soccer team in organized competition since the late 1980s, when a storied program withered away as a school sport.

Chris Conrady, the schools Technology and Driver’s Ed teacher, who played high school soccer at Southold High School and club soccer at SUNY Oswego, will coach the new squad.

A spirited scrimmage by the Shelter Island soccer team Monday at Fiske Field. (Credit: Adam Bundy.

Coach Conrady was chosen to lead the team mainly by the players, he said. He had coached intramural soccer last winter when a group of boys, led by Harrison Weslek and Jaxson Rylott, started having pick-up games at Fiske Field.

“They came to me,” Coach Conrady said, adding that Athletic Director Todd Gullusico was all in from the beginning to put together the best program possible. “He’s been at every practice,” the coach said.

At the Jan. 17 Board of Education meeting, Harrison presented a proposal to consider implementing the organized soccer program. He told the Board that he knew of 22 students from grades 8 though 12 who were interested. Many had showed up to support his presentation.

Mr. Gulluscio and Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., expressed support for the program, noting that soccer often appeals to students who don’t have an interest in competing in sports already supported by the school.

The school has budgeted $25,000 for the program. That cost is expected to come down in future years, but for this initial season, there are start-up expenses to purchase equipment and uniforms. Two brand-new regulation soccer goals are now on the outfield of Fiske Field and white lines marking the field have been drawn in the grass.

It’s a fairly easy process to put a team into competition, Mr. Gulluscio told the Reporter. “Once the school district decides they want to have a new team for any sport, I notify Section XI [the high school league in Suffolk County] prior to the deadline for submission,” he said. “From there, the team is placed in a league and is given a schedule.”

Harrison, starting his junior year at Shelter Island School, was the leading scorer on the varsity basketball team, also plays baseball, and had played soccer earlier in his life, but replaced it with other sports.

Last year’s World Cup rekindled his interest in the sport, as well as his friendship with Jaxson. Jaxson got his love for the sport from his father, Paul Rylott, who is originally from England. Watching televised matches from Britain, and kicking a ball around with his father at an early age, taught him the fundamentals of what is known as “the beautiful game.”

The boys got other friends together and began the pick-up games, helped by math teacher Jimbo Theinert, who would set up goals and provide other equipment. In his math class he had heard Harrison, Jaxson and their classmate Marlon Cuerta Huertas Maldonado talking about soccer and the World Cup. He arranged for a live screening of the Cup final in the school auditorium. About 25 kids showed up for one of the most exciting finals in history. “It was great,” Harrison said, “to be there with everyone.”

Shelter Island has a strong legacy in soccer. In 1982, the school’s team went to the New York State finals in its division. And Brazilian soccer-god Pelé, who lived in East Hampton, was known to visit Shelter Island, and receive young Island players as guests.

Much of the success of the soccer program was due to another Brazilian immigrant, Luiz Coelho, who introduced the sport as an organized entity to the Island in the 1970s, first as pick-up games, then as a youth program, and finally as a varsity sport.

Coach Conrady, who describes the Island as having “a vivid history” of the beautiful game, is hoping to repeat that earlier progression starting in 2023.

“We’ll be competitive,” the coach said, when asked about overall strategy when the team takes the field, adding that his team will give its all every time out. He said he and the players are urging the community to come out and cheer on the new team representing Shelter Island.