Westhill boys lacrosse plays on while coach serves overseas in National Guard

Photo of Scott Ericson

Westhill senior lacrosse captain Jack Engel was eager to play lacrosse this spring after missing last season when COVID-19 shut down high school spring sports.

Engel was looking forward to not only being back with his teammates but also getting one more season playing for coach Scott Stone.

Stone had been Engel’s coach since freshman year and was an assistant when Engel’s older brother played at Westhill.

Unfortunately for Engel and the other seniors, Stone responded to a greater calling and would not be on the sideline with the team this spring.

In February, Stone left for training in Texas and in March deployed overseas for 10 months as part of his commitment to serving in the National Guard.

“I was excited to play for him but sadly, he is away. I was upset about it because coach Stone is a great coach but we know he is doing something important,” Engel said. “We made a video for him earlier in the season sending him off. We all wished him well. Most of the varsity players were on it. We wanted to let him know we were still thinking about him even if he’s not on the field with us this season. We wished him luck, told him we wished he could be here but we know he’s doing something great.”

Stone is a 1st lieutenant with the 1-102nd Infantry of the Connecticut Army National Guard. He was deployed along with 600 other soldiers from the Connecticut National Guard’s 1-102nd Infantry Regiment to the Horn of Africa which is comprised of the countries Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.

The 102nd is trained and equipped to accomplish a wide-range of missions throughout the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility. Its primary objective is to provide security for various forward operating bases the Department of Defense maintains to build partnerships with host nations and improve safety and stability in the region, according to the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service.

Owen Sandoval has been serving as the interim head coach in Stone’s absence and said Stone’s influence as a coach is still alive and well at practice.

“Scott set up a great culture with the Westhill lacrosse program and the kids who played for him know what that is all about and are playing the way Scott would want them to,” Sandoval said. “You could see the shock on the seniors’ faces when we told them. The seniors were especially upset.”

The initial shock of their coach not being there was quickly replaced with an admiration for what Stone was doing.

“We all completely understand that there is more to life than lacrosse,” Sandoval said. “Coach Stone is making a big sacrifice for the country. Sacrifice is something we preach to the kids and coach is doing it in such a big way. I know the seniors miss him but they all know how important what he is doing is.”

Sandoval is trying to set up a Zoom call with the team, although the players would rather see Stone in person.

“He has been reaching out to us occasionally through text,” Engel said. “It would be amazing if he could be at a game with us one last time. I would love for him to coach us or even just watch our game. I really miss him this year as a coach and what he brought to the team. He is a tough coach but he kept us very disciplined. He was more defensive-minded and I play defense so always liked working with him. He is a big inspiration for me and for a lot of the guys with what he is doing now.”

Prior to his deployment, Stone worked locally with the National Guard helping support building test sites and mobile hospitals during the pandemic.

A 2005 graduate of Westhill where he played lacrosse for head coach George Talboys, Stone was an All-FCIAC Honorable Mention selection and the team MVP. He was the captain of both the football and lacrosse teams at Westhill.

Stone served as an assistant coach to Talboys before taking over the team in 2017.

Stone is also actively involved in CT City Lacrosse which is dedicated to the growth of lacrosse for youth and high school players in Stamford.

There he works with Stamford coach Mike Nazzaro helping build lacrosse in the city.

“Although we are enemies in the high school season, in the offseason we combine to help build the game in the city,” Nazzaro said. “It’s commendable what he is doing right now. Anyone in the military we respect and support. He is stepping up and what he’s doing is a selfless act. It’s the kind of thing we preach to the players and what coach Stone is doing is a great example of that.”

Sericson@stamfordadvocate.com; @EricsonSports