Johnny Maccarone Realizes Childhood Dream 8 Weeks After Kidney Transplant

MINEOLA, N.Y. — With temperatures in the low 50s and a driving rain pelting Gold Star Stadium, the weather was miserable for the third and final meeting of the year between rivals Chaminade and St. Anthony’s, at the time the top two ranked teams in the country by USA Lacrosse Magazine.

For Johnny Maccarone, the conditions were perfect.

“It couldn’t have been better,” the St. Anthony’s senior attackman said.

Playing in the CHSAA Class AAA championship game was his singular focus. Nothing was going to stop that. Not COVID-19, and certainly not a kidney transplant just eight weeks earlier.

From the moment he awoke with a new kidney in his room at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, Maccarone was determined to play in that game.

“My whole recovery was based around this game, to play this with my best friends who’ve been working so hard since we got here in ninth grade,” Maccarone said. “Just to play this game, the last year, it’s awesome.”

Remarkable? Sure. But not surprising to those who know Maccarone the best.

“He’s resilient,” his mother, Arlene, said. “He had his kidney transplant. He was in ICU for one day. They never heard of it. I have pictures of him walking around the next day, and all he kept saying was, ‘I’m playing in that championship.’ I could cry thinking about it. That’s all he wanted to do.”

“He always finds a way to score, but that’s the way he is in life — he’s just a kid who just doesn’t stop fighting.”

Growing up in the lacrosse hotbed of Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island’s north shore, Maccarone had a stick in his hand by the age of 5. He played in the town’s PAL, coached by his father John, and would go to Cold Spring Harbor games as a middle schooler, watching Ian Laviano, Taylor Strough and Matt Licciardi bring a state championship back to his hometown.

In fact, he even draws some comparisons to Laviano, who added an NCAA national championship to his resume two days after Maccarone’s title win.

“He’s one of those guys we call dirty jersey guys, like Ian Laviano, a kid from his town,” St. Anthony’s senior midfielder Andrew McAdorey said. “He’s a guy who will get in there and get to those scrappy areas not a lot of guys want to get to, but he always finds the back of the net. Kudos to him, because the kid is just a gritty kid; he always finds a way to score, but that’s the way he is in life — he’s just a kid who just doesn’t stop fighting.”

McAdorey said he’s known Maccarone since about the second grade. They were never on the same team, but they would compete on the travel circuit and attend camps together. They didn’t get really close until they realized they had a mutual friend in Aidan Danenza, a former St. Anthony’s standout who just finished his freshman year at Duke.

When McAdorey and Maccarone both decided to attend St. Anthony’s, they became inseparable.

“We created a little dream, and we just wanted to fulfill on that,” McAdorey said.

While McAdorey, the top-ranked player in the Class of 2021 by Inside Lacrosse, was on varsity as a sophomore, Maccarone spent most of that year on the junior varsity. Friars coach Keith Wieczorek said both would have been focal points of his team a year ago, but their junior season was erased by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He’s an electric player, high energy, great speed, just super competitive, tough, plays with a chip on his shoulder, which is a good thing,” Wieczorek said of Maccarone. “He definitely knows how to compete, and I think that’s probably serving him well now, with everything he’s gone through. He competes from whistle to whistle. He’s got that something you don’t coach thing. You can’t teach that little edge, that little athlete competitive piece that either you have, in my mind, or you don’t have.”

About a year ago, Maccarone started to not feel himself. His parents knew, as a result of a genetic disorder, a kidney transplant would be required at some point in their son’s life. But it happened a lot sooner than they expected.

Maccarone’s kidney, attacked by the disorder, rapidly declined during an eight-month span.

“He was playing on 10 percent kidney function,” Arlene said.

Maccarone was on the kidney transplant list, and while the kidney was still functioning, was set for a transplant in September. He got all the way to the operating room only to be turned away at the last minute.

“They allocated the kidney to someone else,” his father said. “They just got a mix up with the transplant team, and the kidney ended up going to somebody else.”

The next call came on New Year’s Day. But Maccarone had tested positive for COVID-19.

“That was really hard on me the first time because in September when I was supposed to get it, obviously that gives you a ton of time to get ready for the season, to go back to school,” Maccarone said. “That was really hard for me, just because it was supposed to be in the beginning of the year, and then January, getting COVID unexpectedly and then having to push it back more, that was really tough as well just because even then, I was gonna make the whole season.”

Despite the four-hour stints of dialysis every other day and a nauseous feeling that caused vomiting every day, Maccarone remained the picture of positivity.

That he gets from his mom.

“I always taught him it could be worse,” she said. “You don’t have cancer. It’s not terminal. You’re going to be OK. I constantly embedded that into him, that it could be worse.”

Finally, the call the Maccarones had been waiting for came. On March 25, Maccarone received the kidney transplant he desperately needed.

“It’s sad to say you’re just waiting for a donor, and then the right one, the right match, the right age,” John said. “It is the gift of life.”

By nature, the Maccarones are a private family. Few knew of Johnny’s illness or his having twice been turned away for a kidney transplant. And with many at St. Anthony’s studying remotely during the pandemic, Maccarone wasn’t the only one friends and teammates didn’t see walking the halls on a daily basis.

But McAdorey knew. The same is true of fellow St. Anthony’s captain Jalen Seymour, as well as teammates Mike Leo and Jack Ramsey. They remained in touch with Maccarone throughout the process — by text, FaceTime, even in person at times — providing much-needed support.

“Those are some of my best friends. Without them, I don’t know where I’d be throughout high school and just with the whole process, they were checking in on me every day, always coming to see me, texting me every day, calling me, so they’ve been awesome throughout the whole thing,” Maccarone said.


Maccarone’s journey to the championship game started the day after his surgery, when he walked laps up and down the halls of Montefiore. His stay in the ICU was one day. Five days later, he was back home. Inside of two weeks, he was riding a bike, working on his stamina with a physical trainer.

That’s where his ultra competitive nature came into play.

“I can’t imagine every kid being able to do what he did in this amount of time,” Wieczorek said. “And I think that was his focal point.  All these kids by missing last year, I think, made everything even harder for them to kind of overcome that. He wanted to make sure he put his best foot forward with that thing because it was important to him.”

New York State requires 6-7 days of practice before anyone can step on the lacrosse field, which also helped Wieczorek bring Maccarone back slowly.

Maccarone’s first game of the season was at St. John the Baptist on May 18, less than two months since his surgery. It was an emotional day for all involved, almost too difficult for his mother to watch.

“It’s hard for mom,” Arlene Maccarone said. “I was crying. I was happy because he was playing so great, and as a mom, knowing this is his life dream to play lacrosse. It was emotional.”

Maccarone scored three goals in limited minutes that game. He saw a few more minutes in an overtime loss to Chaminade and saw extended minutes against Yorktown three days later.

If Maccarone was worried about getting injured, his actions that day certainly told a different story.

“There was a ground ball in the Yorktown game, and the ball went high, and he’s like leaping up one hand on his stick, fully extended, like on one leg leaping,” Wieczorek said. “I’m like, if I’m the parent here, I’m having a heart attack watching my son, but I know what he’s gone through. I know how they feel. I can’t imagine what they’re going through each time he laces up. But I think they have a profound happiness for him, too, because this is what he’s wanted and it’s what he’s worked for.”

There was one final tuneup against Kellenberg before the day had come. As both teams warmed up in the cold rain, Maccarone’s parents couldn’t believe their son’s journey had taken him here — a starting attackman in the CHSAA Class AAA championship game. His final high school game.

“It’s just amazing to see him back out there,” John Maccarone said. “It’s very special.”

It became even more special.

Maccarone crashed to the wet turf after a crunching hit in front of the crease. Jack Ponzio scooped up the ground ball and scored to tie the score at 3 late in the first quarter. Maccarone had made it this far; he wasn’t letting a hard check get in his way.

“I felt fine. I got right back up,” he said. “It stung a little bit. It’s just adrenaline so high that you’re just ready to go.”

Maccarone took a feed from Leo and scored to tie the game at 6 midway through the second quarter. He added his second goal three minutes later, again on an assist from Leo.

“One of the best feelings ever, just hearing everybody, all my teammates running up to me — it was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” Maccarone said.

The Friars rallied in the second half, overcoming a two-goal deficit to capture a second straight CHSAA title. When the final horn blared after the thrilling 12-11 win, Maccarone and his teammates charged toward Will Snyder’s net.

It had finally happened. The dream Maccarone and McAdorey set out to accomplish was a reality.

“I just grabbed him, and I was like, ‘I love you,’” McAdorey said of a special embrace with Maccarone in the post-game celebration. “He’s been one of my friends since I was little. The family’s great people. They’ve been nothing but great to my family, but that was just a really emotional moment. I’m actually getting emotional right now. I just love that kid so much.”

McAdorey will go to Duke next year, continuing a pipeline from St. Anthony’s that includes Danenza and Brennan O’Neill. Because of so much time off the field, Maccarone will spend a post-graduate year at IMG Academy in Florida before playing for Ohio State.

New goals will be set, new roads traveled.

But Maccarone will be just fine. After enduring a difficult year that ended with a goal accomplished and a championship won, it’s clear he’s ready for any challenges ahead of him.

“Thank God I was able to get [the transplant] nine weeks ago and even finish out the end of the season, so everything happens for a reason,” Maccarone said. “It’s just a blessing I was able to get it. It’s been one heck of a ride, and I wouldn’t want it any other way, honestly.”