If there’s one common thread about everything that Marty Morgan does — and that is a lot — it’s that everything is designed to help others.
The tireless amounts of work he does for New Fairfield lacrosse, and the town itself, is renowned. Coaching the boys team is just the start for Morgan, who is involved on virtually every level for both the boys and girls teams in town and has done so for close to three decades. A New York City Fire Department veteran as well, helping those around him is in the bloodstream of one of the finest coaches in the area.
“He’s got a heart of gold and he’s always looking out for others,” said Eric Alviti, who has coached with Morgan and whose kids have gone through the program. “Whenever I think about Coach Morgan, it’s not about him, it’s about someone else. He’s always focused on them or teaching them. When you listen to alumni speak … he’s not just their lacrosse coach, he’s been their life coach. He’s humble and has a heart of gold.”
A highlight for Morgan, who has spent most of his life in New Fairfield, is the school’s alumni game. This year was extra special as a scholarship was introduced in his name, and he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.
“I said to myself, I’m not going to get emotional (when speaking after the alumni game),” said Morgan. “I was just trying to tell everyone what my main reason is for why I do as much as I do. When I know it’s for the kids, I’m never missing it. I can’t let them down.”
New Fairfield was a town dominated by baseball in the 1980s, and Morgan was one of very few who even knew what lacrosse was. His father, a mailman in Spanish Harlem, moved the family to New Fairfield after being mugged heading to a New York Yankees game.
Morgan enjoyed following the sport through his cousin, who played on Long Island and would go on to play at Maryland. Entering his senior year of high school, Morgan — who carried a stick around at an earlier age, to the bewilderment of his classmates — wanted to bring the sport to his school. Being the captain of the football team, class president and homecoming king meant recruiting was easy, and the school had a club team for his senior season.
“It was so exciting,” Morgan said. “My cousin played on the USA U-19 team for (Wilton legend) Guy Whitten, and half the team was from Wilton. I just kept thinking this was amazing and that’s how I got the bug.”
He graduated in 1988 and would play football and lacrosse at WestConn before returning to run the Rebels program.
Morgan bought out his brother’s landscaping company — Property Maintenance — in 2001 and has run that venture since. He’s used the platform to renovate a large number of the fields in New Fairfield, and eventually helped the launch of the gorgeous turf field the Rebels call home.
The number of people helped by him goes beyond the normal scope of a head coach. Former All-State player John Pendergast lost his life in a motorcycle accident in 2011, and the entire community was affected as a result. Morgan was one of the first to the hospital and read the eulogy at his funeral.
“He’s got this hard shell on the outside and he doesn’t let too many people in,” said John Pendergast, John’s father, who remains a figure at Rebels games. “He’s willing to give you everything and anything. He’s just that kind of guy, he’ll do anything for you. You can call him 24/7.”
A former player and firefighter himself, Pendergast, along with a slew of parents, helped Morgan build the program from the ground up for all age groups. His son was one of many standouts produced by the system.
“(Morgan) never did anything that didn’t promote or help the kids,” Pendergast said. “It was never about him, the guy was just (selfless) to a fault. His entire family were just as big promoters of lacrosse.”
The annual alumni game is held in the younger John’s honor; John Morgan wore the number in memorial this season.
Morgan finished his shift at Engine 39 on 67th street in Manhattan on the night of Sept. 10, 2001. He, like most Americans the following morning, watched the horror develop on television in his Danbury office. The only difference, though, is that the tragedy meant it was time to get to work.
Morgan drove through an eerily quiet New York City to his base around lunchtime, where his comrades had long been at Ground Zero responding to the emergency. He reached the site by the evening and wouldn’t return home for two weeks as he sparsely slept in his bunker in between digging for survivors and cleaning. His house would lose two men, while most lost far more.
“I appreciate life so much more and tell these guys ‘You never know,’ ” Morgan said. “I don’t know how many funerals it was, just funeral after funeral. I think every guy in the fire department had some sort of (substance) issue. Nobody knew what we were going through.”
Lacrosse was a cathartic outlet for Morgan, whose schedule was even crazier then, with two young children, than it is today. Memorials across the fire house serve as a daily reminder of what took place.
“Everybody wanted to talk about it and I didn’t,” Morgan said. “I probably forgot more than I remember. Every year we’d be down at the site and after 15 years some of the stuff I still didn’t know. … Lacrosse was a big help at the time.”
He’s had brushes with death elsewhere, including being trapped in a basement fire with no water and flames surrounding him. Morgan said he’s felt like he’s used up his nine lives already.
“I thought I was dead; I was exhausted,” Morgan recalled. “I’m laying sideways with no water, I kept thinking they’re going to get me water. I finally get water, I got out of that. I have quite a few stories, but I try not to talk about them because my wife doesn’t want to hear them.”
He’s remained with the department and has now been there for 21 years. Morgan — who has spent at least one night lining fields in town with the lights of his pickup truck as a guide — works his schedule around his lacrosse duties, which includes coaching a middle school club team in Katonah for the Long Island Express during the summer. Long shifts at the firehouse accompany his duties for his company, which begs the obvious question.
Does he sleep?
“I hate sleep, I really do,” Morgan said. “Now that I’m fat I feel like if I fall asleep too long I might not be getting up. In the back of mind there’s always something I should be doing. If I get 4 hours of sleep that’s good.”
Morgan founded — and remains at the head of — New Fairfield Youth Lacrosse out of necessity to try to get kids starting earlier amid a lacrosse boom in the area. It began at seventh and eighth grade and slowly moved on down the levels
Taking New Fairfield from simply a consistent program to one of the best in the state eventually paid off after groundwork at the youth level. The class of 2008, which posted a 23-0 record, was led by one of the best players in state history, Duke standout C.J. Costabile.
“That was my first group that we had since third grade,” Morgan said. “They were great athletes who just kept getting better and better; we had about 15 kids who stuck together that whole time.”
When the Rebels were celebrating a state championship that year, youngsters who would form part of the next glory period were running around the sidelines, including John Morgan and Zach Buffington.
It began at a preschool birthday party for John when Morgan realized he could start teaching lacrosse at that age. The recruitment was soon on and John had enough interested friends to make up a squad. It wasn’t long before the group was playing local teams several years above them as a challenge, and winning.
With John and his classmates on board, the group went on a remarkable 10-plus-year journey together. The group torched most on the youth circuit, and notched wins over many in-state powers who constantly churn out that quality.
“I remember telling them if you guys stick together and keep working hard, you have a chance to do something no one else has done here,” Morgan said. “It’s endless what you could do. They got on the field as freshmen and were a goal away from going to the state championship. They got even more playing time as sophomores because of injuries.”
Morgan’s firefighting schedule meant having to drive directly from the city to tournaments across the Northeast, taking off his FDNY gear and swapping it for his 3 Tribes Lacrosse hat. Nothing would stop him from guiding his group to the summit.
The Class of 2019 produced a staggering number of collegiate athletes for such a small school. Eight are slated to play the sport at the next level, including John (Sacred Heart).
A third straight SWC and second straight Class M title were a mere formality this spring; the Rebels were not tested once the postseason began. Late-season wins over Glastonbury and Staples became the highlights with the only loss of the season coming early against St. Anthony’s (N.Y.).
Four athletes were named All-Americans this year, a remarkable accomplishment for one of the smallest powerhouses around. Nick Alviti (Vermont) and James Leary (Robert Morris) were named for the second straight year.
“I’ve known for a long time but this whole class of 2019 across the state was great,” Morgan said. “I saw these other teams grow up, not just my team. I knew a lot of these kids at third and fourth grade growing up as well. We would play all the down-county teams, and we were winning a lot of them.”
New Fairfield would finish No. 2 in the state poll behind Darien, leaving an unanswered question about who the best truly is. But putting the Rebels in that theoretical debate seemed unthinkable when given their respective pedigrees. Phone calls were made about a possible fundraising scrimmage between the two after the season ended, but unfortunately nothing came to fruition.
Now, this would be the place where leaving the program would make sense. A storybook ending by leaving after producing the best team the school has had in perhaps any sport. Maybe to try his hand at the college level, or spend more time with his business or family. But not quite.
Instead, Morgan offered to double down and coach the girls team at the school, a position that became vacant after the departure of Karen Nell, who will coach at the University of St. Joseph in Hartford. Regardless of that idea, which will likely not come to fruition, he will be back in what will likely be a rebuilding effort next year so with so many graduating.
And his trademark booming voice — which once elicited a noise complaint during a game from someone nearby who thought he was causing a disturbance — will remain on the sidelines for quite some time.
“I don’t think he’s ever going to leave,” Eric Alviti said. “His roots are here in New Fairfield, his mom still lives here. He’s built so much I don’t see him leaving now. He has (daughters in the program).”