Had it not been for one mundane afternoon in Northport, Jill Byers might have never found lacrosse.
Or maybe lacrosse would have never found her.
Her older brother, Jeff, had asked her to help him train to be a goalie. So she picked up a stick and fired some shots his way.
Fast forward several years, and Byers is now an assistant coach at Ohio State after stellar playing careers at Notre Dame and Northport High School. And now, she is one of eight new inductees into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame. Ceremonies will be held Friday night.
“If he didn’t come home one day and say ‘I want to be a lacrosse goalie,’ I never would have had the practice taking shots on a boy two years older than me,” Byers said. “Without him, I wouldn’t have lacrosse in my life.”
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Byers is one of the top female athletes in Long Island history, making All-Long Island teams in basketball, soccer and lacrosse.
Lacrosse became her future when Carol Rose, Northport High School’s coach and a 2015 inductee, became her mentor. Byers said being enshrined next to Rose is surreal.
“I have to pinch myself because it’s probably the most incredible honor I’ve ever been awarded,” she said. “To be recognized on the same level as her is nuts.”
Byers was a four-time All-American at Notre Dame and a four-year member of the Women’s National Lacrosse Team. She previously coached at Stony Brook and Yale.
Isaac Ramaswamy, another inductee, is a decorated wrestler who was the U.S. National Champion and Eastern Greco Champion in 1994 and 1995, among other honors.
He brings his knowledge on the mat to his wrestlers at Sachem East, where he has coached several league, county and state titleholders.
“The thing I’m most proud of is that I was able to walk from the competitive stage to the coaching arena,” Ramaswamy said. “It allowed me to continue my relationship with the sport.”
Ramaswamy was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2014, but described the Suffolk Sports induction as more intimate of an honor.
Tom Combs agreed with that sentiment after receiving the news of his induction. Combs’ contributions to Suffolk sports are twofold.
As the Harborfields High School football coach from 1989 -2002, Combs compiled an 83-42-5 record and made the playoffs in eight seasons. His teams won five county titles and two Long Island Championships in 1994 and 1996.
As the Patchogue-Medford school district athletic director, Combs has continued making an impact on the lives of young athletes by giving coaches the tools to succeed.
“My philosophy is that I want to give my coaches everything I can to inspire their kids,” Combs said. “Instead of coaching kids, I’m trying to coach coaches.”
Combs and Ramaswamy are joined by Frank Romeo as high school coaches being inducted this year. Romeo was Comsewogue’s first varsity basketball coach in 1968. Over 24 seasons, he won seven league titles and made playoffs in 15 straight seasons. But his first few years were challenging.
“I always had this dream that I would turn Comsewogue into this basketball power,” he said. “The dream was to make Comsewogue a respected team. And we got to that point.”
Romeo is a member of the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame. Comsewogue’s gymnasium was named after him in 1994.
The other inductees are Sachem High School graduate Rich Cimini, Jets beat reporter for ESPN who formerly covered the team for Newsday; Deer Park High School graduate Chuck Downey, the first Stony Brook athlete to receive a pro contract, which he earned from the Philadelphia Eagles in 1988; Sachem graduate Lauren Gentile, who founded ESPNW in 2010; and Farmingville’s Maria Michta-Coffey, also a Sachem graduate, who has won 25 national race-walk titles.