Joe Spallina was standing on a lacrosse field in Jacksonville, Florida, last Sunday when the Stony Brook women's coach learned that his flight home had been canceled. After the game, he called his wife, Mary Beth.
"She said, 'You need to get home as quickly as possible,' " Spallina said. "When you're on child number five, you learn what that means in a hurry."
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About 900 miles away in Rocky Point, his wife was going into labor.
All direct flights from Jacksonville to New York were either booked or canceled, Spallina said, because of runway issues at Kennedy Airport.
So he flew 350 miles in the opposite direction to Miami, ran through the airport after landing and soon learned that his 9:30 p.m. flight to LaGuardia Airport was delayed.
"The only thing on my mind was obviously my wife's health and missing the birth of my baby," he said. "I was praying to God I'd be able to get home in time."
He said the flight finally departed at about 11 p.m. and "I was pretty much on pins and needles the whole way. It was a restless three-hour flight."
He landed at LaGuardia, but his car was at JFK. So he took a cab from one airport to the other to pick it up. "I was talking to my wife the whole time," he said. "The contractions were coming pretty hard."
Spallina said he arrived at his house at about 4 a.m. and found his wife being comforted by his mother and mother-in-law. They left for St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, and shortly after 8 a.m., the couple's fifth child, Olivia Meredith, was born.
"Thank God my daughter was good enough to wait a couple of extra hours until Daddy got home," said Spallina, also the father of Joey, 11; twins Brett and Jake, 10, and Alexa, 7.
His team still was in Florida preparing to play the sixth-ranked Gators. Spallina said he decided on Monday that he didn't want to leave his family to fly back to Florida for the game on Tuesday evening. But Mary Beth, he said, had a different idea.
While he was out to dinner, she called assistant coaches Caitlin Defliese and Demmianne Cook and had them book a flight back to Florida for him.
"When I got back, she said, 'You're going down there. You owe it to those kids. I'm fine, your daughter is healthy,' '' Spallina said. "She said, 'You better win. If you don't win, you can stay there.' Obviously, there was some sarcasm attached to that."
Spallina, 41, slept at the hospital Monday night, boarded a noon flight from LaGuardia to Jacksonville and then rented a car to make the two-hour drive to Gainesville. After flying a total of about 2,500 miles, he walked onto the field, luggage in hand, at about 6:15 p.m. as the Seawolves were warming up for their 6:30 p.m. start.
"We were under the impression it was going to be our assistants who would coach the game," said the Seawolves' Courtney Murphy, a Floyd graduate. "Then he walked onto the field and that boosted our confidence. We were all pumped that he was able to come back and surprise us. Part of the win was for him."
Kylie Ohlmiller scored five goals and Murphy added three as Stony Brook (7-0), ranked 17th, beat Florida, 12-11, for the first win over a top-10 team in program history.
"I've never been tabbed as soft, but I was pretty emotional afterward with the birth of my baby and the win," Spallina said. "I see kids on my team crying on the field after the game. It's the only reason you get into this profession.
"My life," he added, "is my family and coaching . . . it's 48 hours that my wife and I will never forget."