A life in the locker room: Belchertown’s Nico and Nick St. George grow together through sport

Belchertown’s Nico St. George and father Nick St. George started their lacrosse training at a young age.

Belchertown’s Nico St. George and father Nick St. George started their lacrosse training at a young age. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Belchertown’s Nico St. George (9) fires a shot on Amherst goalie Jason Kim (77) earlier this season in Belchertown.

Belchertown’s Nico St. George (9) fires a shot on Amherst goalie Jason Kim (77) earlier this season in Belchertown. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Belchertown’s Nick St. George, left, and son Nico St. George have spent years together on the athletic fields.

Belchertown’s Nick St. George, left, and son Nico St. George have spent years together on the athletic fields. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Belchertown’s Nico St. George, left, and father Nick St. George.

Belchertown’s Nico St. George, left, and father Nick St. George. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By CONNOR PIGNATELLO

Staff Writer

Published: 06-18-2024 4:36 PM

BELCHERTOWN – Cheeseburgers were sizzling on the Blackstone, pulled pork was fresh out of the smoker and a pickup lacrosse game was on the horizon.

Belchertown boys lacrosse had just finished its last regular season game of the year, a 16-6 win over Granby, and a crowd of hungry teenagers was ready for the end-of-season barbecue and more lacrosse. But then, a lightning warning in the area came through the outdoor loudspeakers and everyone retreated to their cars.

Nico St. George sat in the driver’s seat of a 2012 Honda Pilot with 195,000 miles, twirled his lanyard around his index finger and beamed while telling stories of he and his father’s lives in athletics. His father Nick St. George, the Orioles boys lacrosse head coach, has been coaching in western Mass. since well before Nico was born. He coached boys lacrosse at Agawam and Longmeadow for 15 years and spent 32 years with Longmeadow football – practically Nico’s entire childhood. He coached Nico for all five years of his career with Belchertown lacrosse.

After hundreds of hours in the Longmeadow locker room, the Belchertown lacrosse field and his own backyard, Nico graduated from Belchertown High School on June 7. He had a career-best performance this year, totaling 67 goals and 28 assists to end his career with 133 points. Next year, when Nico suits up for Massachusetts Maritime Academy, he’ll play under Mike Smith, who played at South Hadley when Nick coached at Agawam. For Nico, it’ll be the first time in 12 years his dad won’t be his coach, but he has a lifetime of knowledge to take with him.

Nico St. George was selected as the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year.

“It’s hard at times because you never get away from it,” Nick said. “…other kids go home and they complain about the coach and they complain to their parents. He comes home and he’s got it right back in his face. I think he’s done a good job of handling all that.”

***

Nico’s first exposure to a high school locker room came as a toddler, still strapped to his car seat and surrounded by football players many times his size. He spent his elementary and middle school years idolizing the hundreds of players who passed through the Longmeadow football program. Nick was an assistant for 25 years and served as the head coach from 2012-2018.

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He also taught at the school, so when Nico tagged along with him in the afternoons and evenings, he’d take his dad’s key card and run around the building, fetching things for his dad and hanging out with his dad’s players.

Starting at about 8 years old, Nico went to every practice he could. He saw the way Nick coached and saw the way the team responded. He saw the culture of winning at Longmeadow, which appeared in 19 Super Bowls – including 16 in a row – while Nick served as a coach.

When the Lancers scored touchdowns, they’d run over and celebrate with Nico on the sidelines. He tried to involve himself in any way possible.

“I would go grab the waters so I could be in the mix with everybody and try and fit in with them,” Nico said. “And then as I grew up a little bit those guys kind of became like older brothers to me.”

Every time Longmeadow ran sprints, Nico was right there with them. Of course, a 10-year-old’s legs aren’t quite as long as an 18-year old’s, so he’d lag behind. When they were finished, he’d still be at the 20-yard line.

Nick would jokingly bark at Nico and the practice would erupt in laughter. 

One time, Nick let Nico suit up for a practice. He went in on defense, and the offensive players mostly dodged around him. Then, one of Longmeadow’s receivers caught a pass and ran over Nico.

The practice fell silent. 

Then, a familiar voice bellowed from the sideline.

“Get your a** up off the ground!"

Nico’s smile grew even wider telling that story. Nick didn’t let him go in for plays again after that.

On Sundays, Longmeadow came in to watch film, lift weights and go through resistance workouts. Nico was right there with them. When they benched or squatted, they set the machines with a 25-pound barbell and let Nico do a workout of his own.

“Looking back, it was probably kind of a pain in the a** for them because they had to switch the bar out every time,” Nico said. “But I looked up to those guys, so having them do that for me, being able to grow up with them and learn from them and kind of have an older brother figure like that helped me out a lot.”

He shared in all their highs and all their lows. He saw the Lancers win games they shouldn’t have, battle back-and-forth in games they were tightly matched in and barely eke out wins in games they should have easily won. In 2014, a high-flying Longmeadow team advanced all the way to the Super Bowl again only to be blown out.

“I was crying after the game,” Nico said. “I wasn't even on the field.”

***

Though Nico played football from sixth grade to his senior year – and captained Belchertown this year – lacrosse was the first sport he latched onto and the sport he grew to love most. He spent hours passing to his bounceback net, shooting on his goal and taking his sticks apart and putting them back together.

“We still laugh when we take the trailer out and we do stuff,” Nick said. “I always go ‘where did that dent come from?’ And he just kind of smiles.”

Nico often played up a year when he was young and practiced with both the middle school and high school teams when he was in seventh grade. His eighth grade season — set to be Nick’s first as head coach — was canceled because of the pandemic.

As a freshman, he felt like he could compete for a starting spot, but the Orioles were full of seniors, and after all, he was the coach’s son.

Nick told him that he wouldn’t earn a starting spot until the senior captains came to him to ask why Nico wasn’t playing more. Neither Nico nor Nick wanted to cause conflict in the team.

Finally, one midseason day, the captains asked Nick why Nico wasn’t playing. This was Nico’s sign. He gradually earned more playing time and even started a couple games toward the end of his freshman year. He scored the first two goals of his career toward the end of that season.

The next two years were tough. Belchertown won just two games in his sophomore season and six in his junior season. Nico played a lot, but didn’t feel like he was playing very well, and he was still hesitant to give instructions to his teammates.

“I didn't want them to be getting it from father and son,” Nico said.

But as this year, his senior year, came along, Nico started to see the lessons from his life in the locker room play out.

In football, Belchertown went 8-3 – more wins than their past two seasons combined. In those two losing campaigns, Nico felt like the Orioles were talented, but hadn’t fully committed themselves. This year, Nico said he finally felt what it was like to be a part of a winning culture, like the one he was immersed in for years at Longmeadow.

And for Nick, after decades on the sidelines, he finally got a chance to sit in the stands and watch his son.

“I think he felt some pressure playing football with being my son, but he did a good job,” Nick said. “He progressed well and was serious about it.”

Nico noticed those locker room lessons come to life on the lacrosse field, too. Just like in football, Belchertown followed up back-to-back losing seasons with more wins this year than both of those years combined. And after years where he felt like the Orioles lost games they could have won, they won some games they could have lost, notably a victory over Amherst. After years of watching Nick’s Longmeadow teams beat schools they weren’t supposed to beat, Nico – the player – was finally in that position himself.

Down 10-7 with less than five minutes left in Belchertown’s first round state playoff game, Nico scored to kickstart a comeback, and then scored again with 11 seconds left to force overtime. With the seconds ticking down in double overtime, he delivered the game-winning assist.

“It’s been a gradual, gradual building, a little more each year,” Nick said. “This year as a senior, he’s really come into his own.