Nine decades of East Hampton High School sports were celebrated Saturday morning when 12 athletes (5 of them deceased), 2 coaches, 2 teams, and The Star’s sportswriter were inducted into the high school’s Hall of Fame, as its inaugural class, following a breakfast for 400 in the school’s large glassed-in cafeteria.
“This is one of the great days in Bonac sports history,” said Jim Nicoletti, president of the 19-member committee that made the Hall’s first selections. He was overwhelmed, he said, by the reception the effort had received.
Plaques of each of the inductees were later unveiled on a Wall of Fame in the school’s main corridor. Nicoletti said the wall had been paid for through donations from the Kendall Madison Foundation and the East Hampton Coaches Association. Richard Shilowich and Sheamus Gleeson, 1977 classmates, built it, and three of the school’s custodians — Anthony Hayes, L.C. Nelson, and Hector Aguirre — did the painting and finishing.
The inductees include Ed Petrie, the state’s winningest public high school boys basketball coach, who said he wanted to share the award with his longtime assistants Tom Bubka and Billy McKee, “and with all the players”; Fran Kiernan, the 102-year-old former coach and athletic director who got the ball rolling here sportswise following World War II, and who in 1952 coached the only undefeated-untied football team in Bonac annals, and Ross Gload, a Major League first baseman, outfielder, and pinch-hitter who last played with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011.
Two former professional basketball-playing brothers, Howard and Kenny Wood; Ed Budd, who in 1983 became the first East Hampton student ever to be named to three all-county teams in the same school year; Leroy DeBoard, a four-sport athlete and holder for 23 years of the school’s 220-yard dash record (set on the grass of Herrick Park); Margaret Dunn, a four-sport athlete who would have earned 16 varsity letters had she not had to forgo sports in her senior year because of austerity, and Ellamae Gurney, who captained the 1994 field hockey, basketball, and softball teams. Ellen Cooper, Gurney’s former coach, reported the awardee as having said “the most exercise I get now is crawling after my 9-month-old daughter.”
She spoke winningly at the ceremony. Her teammates, Gurney said at one point, “passed me the ball and I passed the ball to them, and that,” the vivacious redhead said, “is what it’s about.”
Inducted posthumously were Rich Balnis Sr., whose physical therapy career here was devoted to keeping Bonackers, especially its athletes, on the go; Kendall Madison, a popular athlete and student here and at the University of Connecticut, whose death in 1995, at the age of 21, shocked East Hampton; William McDonald, who went on to captain Vanderbilt University’s football team after having been named a second-team high school all-American before embarking on a dental career in the Navy, and two 1930 classmates, Frank Jewels, the shortstop on the county-championship baseball team of 1929, who won a baseball scholarship to the University of Alabama and later played semi-pro ball before becoming a successful businessman here, and Walter (Bullet) Sheades, the first four-sport athlete, a feat he accomplished in 1928, ’29, and ’30.
The teams inducted were the 1952 Kiernan-coached football team, a dozen of whose members have died over the years, and Cooper’s state-finalist 1989 field hockey team, which she said had sparked East Hampton’s female sports program, which has fared very well vis-a-vis its peers over the past quarter-century.
The ’52 footballers — George Cafiso said later he had sore knees, not because he was old, “but from blocking for Fred Yardley” — recalled Coach Kiernan telling them as eighth graders that great things were in store, and that, on the eve of their championship season, if they got through it successfully they’d be able to do anything else they wanted to do.
Brittany MacVittie, who is earning a master’s degree in social work now at Stony Brook University and who learned she had spina bifida when in the eighth grade, spoke movingly of the late Mr. Balnis. He had worked with her every day so that she could walk with her classmates to receive her East Hampton Middle School diploma, she said. “I had a dream and Mr. Balnis inspired me,” MacVittie said before his widow, Diane, was called up to accept the plaque.
Mike Burns, a former athletic director and coach here, said he loved the late Kendall Madison “on and off the field. . . . Kendall represented this town better than any kid I’ve ever seen.”
DeBoard, who’s 79 and lives in Patchogue now, said he’d been blessed to grow up in East Hampton. His family, he said, didn’t have much money, “but we were rich in many ways.”
Later, he recalled the day Fran Kiernan had sought him out at the Marmador, where he was in the back washing dishes, and told him to pack his clothes because Benedict University in Columbia, S.C., had just awarded him a full football scholarship. Ralph Davis, the carter, he said, gave him a wardrobe trunk into which he could pack those clothes. DeBoard was inducted into Benedict’s Hall Of Fame in 1994.
“If it weren’t for Fran Kiernan,” the honoree said on the occasion of that induction, “I might have wound up a bitter young man. I’ve often wondered about that.”
“It means everything to a child for a parent to show up,” Ms. Dunn said in recognizing her mother, who had never missed a game.
Other mothers, Marilyn Wood and Jeanie Gload in particular, came in for praise too. Mrs. Gload once said she had logged 15,000 or so miles one summer taking her son to and from baseball practices with the Bayside (Queens) Yankees. And, indeed, in all three cases that chauffeuring paid off.
Gload, who attended the breakfast with his former ’94 county-championship teammates Jake (“Driver’s Ed student-of-the-year”) Katz, Henry Meyer, and Kevin Somers, said that he’d had a good run and was now happily spending time with his family in Charlotte, N.C. The former best pinch-hitter in pro baseball had his 3-year-old son, Greyson, in tow at the breakfast and at the homecoming football game, where the inductees were acknowledged before the game with Southampton began.
Dave Cheney said his father, Robert (Pop) Cheney, East Hampton’s first football coach, had said the biggest asset of Walter Sheades, who later helped construct the lunar landing module at Grumman, was his humility.
The 1976 and ’77 championship basketball teams on which Howard Wood, who now coaches East Hampton’s girls basketball team, played, went 42-2. In 1986, the former University of Tennesse and Spanish premier league star was named as one of the Island’s all-time top 25 high school players. His younger brother, Kenny, Suffolk’s player-of-the-year in 1988 and ’89, and the state’s player-of-the-year in ’89, held the state career scoring record for a number of years. He led East Hampton to a state championship in ’89, before going on to star at the University of Richmond.
The brothers each said that Ed Petrie was the best basketball coach they’d ever had.
“I wish all of you,” the elder Wood said to the audience, “could have one time in your lives to feel what I’m feeling here today.”