As a resident of Beacon Falls for two decades, Joseph Lato knew the community of Area 16 well, having coached baseball and recreational Little League basketball.
So when longtime football coach at Weston High (2006-13) and Masuk at Monroe (2014-2020) explored the opportunity to coach at Woodland, he saw it as a win-win situation.
Not only does Lato have the opportunity to train his two sons, Tyler, a senior, and Brett, a freshman, but he runs a program in the city where he lives.
He even found time to coach the Junior Hawks’ grade 7-8 youth football program, which is currently 6-0.
“Josh Morales (a senior from Woodland) jokes with me that his basketball team knocked my team out of the playoffs,” noted Lato. “All the stories are priceless. Training my sons is more than special.
How about leading the team through your own community?
“Reconnecting with the kids is pretty cool,” Lato said.
A week before his interview for the job last spring, the Hawks were without a head coach after Chris Moffo left.
Rumors were circulating that the program roster was reduced to 20s.
“My son Brett came home from school one day and said that Ben Brooks was organizing the captain’s training and at that point it broke my heart,” lamented Lato. “The children did all the work on their own. “
Still torn for not wanting to leave Masuk, a community he still teaches in, “I always look for Masuk’s sheet music every week,” admitted Lato.
But his Hawks allegiance grows stronger week by week.
“The kids are special, a really amazing bunch,” said Lato.
After the Hawks’ 42-7 win over Oxford last Friday, Woodland improved to 4-2. He had narrowly lost to Torrington (36-33) and Holy Cross (40-28) in the previous two games.
Quarterback Darren Gasparri completed 14 of 18 passes for 288 yards and four touchdowns against the Wolverines. Receiver Nathan Bodnar caught six passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns while running back Mason Mastropietro was a double threat with 84 rushing yards and 71 receiving yards.
“Darren is a special player and always does the job on his own, watching a movie to always find ways to improve,” said Lato.
Oxford coach Joe Stochmal added that “Darren Gasparri is a very precise pitcher and throws well while running. Nate Bodnar and Morales are talented receivers who catch whatever comes their way.
Bodnar is one of the best players in the Naugatuck Valley League.
“Nathan is a warrior,” Lato said. “He’s always been one of the best athletes in town (Beacon Falls) in basketball and Little League. In football, he has good hands, wants the ball. You want to have the ball in your hands as much as possible. That says a lot about what he does for us. He is a very respected child.
The Hawks’ remaining schedule is tough, starting at Wolcott (3-3) on Friday night, followed by Ansonia (6-0) on November 5, in Naugatuck on November 12, and welcoming Seymour (4-1) the day before Thanksgiving.
“Whatever happens and how the rest of the season unfolds, it’s been a positive experience,” said Lato.