Kicking It Up a Notch

Trying to rebuild an interest in football
Bill Gardiner, who will coach East Hampton’s 7-and-8-year-old Police Athletic League team in the fall, shows how it’s done. Jack Graves

There were about 40 enthusiastic youngsters at the Punt, Pass, and Kick contest that the East Hampton Youth Football and Basketball organization put on at East Hampton High’s turf field Saturday, though Don Reese, the group’s president, said he would have liked to have seen 80.

Reese and Bill Gardiner, who is the organization’s Police Athletic League representative — not to mention East Hampton High’s head coach, Steve Redlus, who was also there, as were about a half-dozen of his assistants — are trying to rebuild an interest in football here in the face of the siren calls of various leisure pursuits and in the face of presumed concussion fears. (In fact, there had been a national summit on the subject at the White House two days before.)

Reese reiterated, however, when questioned, that only one concussion had been suffered among the scores of kids who have played P.A.L. football here over the past six years, perhaps as many as 1,000.

“Of course there’s a risk in playing football,” said Redlus. “There’s a risk in playing any sport, in doing most things. But I still think the good things that football teaches, such as the value of hard work, teamwork, and persistence, far outweighs its risks.”

He added that nowadays high school players take baseline tests against which their cognitive abilities can be compared should they suffer a concussion, and that football staffs are far more concussion-conscious than had been the case in the past.

“Actually,” said Gardiner, who is to coach East Hampton’s 7-and-8-year-old P.A.L. team this fall, “football ranks fourth when it comes to concussions. Bike riding is number-one, soccer is number-two, and . . . hockey, I think, is three. Then comes football.”

“The concussion that Don may be talking about actually happened off the field; the kid was hit over the head with a baseball bat by a playmate at home. The parents wanted him to continue to play, but we said, ‘No, no.’ ”

Further on the subject, Gardiner said the P.A.L. staff is availed of professionally guided annual “Heads Up” tackling clinics whose aim is to promote safer tackling techniques. “We use that tackling dummy machine over there,” he said, pointing to a rig nearby, “to teach them to tackle with their heads up, not down, and to make contact in the mid-range. You don’t want to come in at knee level with your head down. That can be dangerous.”

“Nationwide, there’s been a 70-percent fall-off because of all this unfavorable publicity,” he continued, “though adding to it here may be all these distractions — the beaches, tennis, golf. . . . That makes it hard to get Mom and Dad into a football mood, if you will. But, on the whole, we’ve done well. We should have a 5-and-6-year-old team, a 7-and-8-year-old team . . . we’ll probably have to combine the 9 and 10-year-olds, and we’ll have an 11-year-old team [coached by Ron White] as well.”

“Some of these programs up the Island,” he went on, “have five 8-year-old teams, whereas we’re happy to put one team of 7 and 8s together. . . . We have different levels based on ability, and we move teams up and down according to how they perform. You don’t want a team to go winless in a 10-game season; you would like them to be 5-5. Also, there are scoring restrictions. If a team is leading by 18 points, its first string has to come off. If a team is winning by 27, that’s it.”

“We’ll get a good showing,” Ron White said, when told Reese had been hoping for more competitors. “There were [Little League] baseball games today that kept kids away.”

Saturday’s winners, based on cumulative punting, passing, and kicking totals, were: Jack Reese, 13-14-year-olds; Dimitris Barranco, 11-12s; Luke Reese, 9-10s; Hudson Meyer, 7-8s, and R.J. Hernandez, 5-6s.

Redlus, who, because there’ll be no varsity football team here this fall, is to coach a junior varsity squad that has, he said, 25 or so signed up so far, a good number of them incoming freshmen who played on the first undefeated East Hampton Middle School team since 1972.

Reese has said he hopes that number can be increased to between 32 and 36.

“Absolutely I would like to have more come out,” said Redlus, a champion of the P.A.L. program who, ideally, would like to generate interest in football here “at all the grade levels.”

East Hampton’s junior varsity has been bequeathed the jayvee schedule of Stony Brook, a Division IV school that will not field a junior varsity this fall.

“I wanted a Division III schedule,” said the coach, “but Section XI gave us Stony Brook’s. We open up at Wyandanch” on Sept. 13.

Greenport-Southold-Mattituck, Southampton-Ross, McGann-Mercy Ba­by­lon, Hampton Bays, Port Jefferson-Knox, and Bayport-Blue Point round out the schedule.

There will be no homecoming football game this year, though Reese said if he had his druthers the jayvee and a couple of the P.A.L. teams would play.

In a separate conversation, Joe Vas, East Hampton’s athletic director, said the question had been put to a vote by the student body, which, “by a margin of 82 percent,” had said it wanted the boys soccer team, which seems always to be a contender for league and county championships these days, to play under the lights that (Sept. 20) night.

The student council, Vas added, is raising the money, which he estimated at $3,000, that is needed to rent the lights, “since there was no money budgeted for that.”

“We’ll probably play the game [with Hampton Bays, a nonleague opponent] at 6:30. . . . Jayvee football has always been away on homecoming weekend.”

Trophies were given out to the top three in each of the five age groups. Craig Macnaughton