The Bridgehampton School Board was expected this week to formally appoint Eric Bramoff, a Sag Harborite with strong family connections in Bridgehampton, as the school’s athletic director, replacing Mary Anne Jules, who recently retired following a 32-year career.
It wasn’t all that long ago — in the mid-1990s, as a matter of fact — that Bramoff, a three-sport athlete at Pierson High School, was playing in the din of the legendary Beehive (Bridgehampton’s tiny throwback basketball court whose 3-point arcs overlap the sidelines) against Killer Bee teams that went on to win New York State championships.
“You couldn’t breathe,” Bramoff said during a conversation in the school’s teacher room the other day. “It was like they were playing with seven kids on the floor. And I still haven’t forgotten their cheerleaders — they gave Bridgehampton teams a large advantage.”
“I don’t think I ever won a game here. And,” he said, with a broad smile, “I want to keep it that way.”
For Bramoff, whose parents went to Bridgehampton and whose grandmother lived on School Street, “there couldn’t be a better homecoming — it’s my dream job.”
He’s spent the past decade teaching in Syracuse, in a huge district containing 12 middle schools and five high schools, one of which he led to a section boys basketball championship. “That school, the Institute of Technology for Syracuse, didn’t have a gym in the beginning, so I got a $10,000 grant, the largest given out to a phys ed teacher there, and converted a former welding room into an interactive fitness studio and weight room. We ran a mile in the freezing cold to practice on the Y’s court every morning at 6 a.m.”
“But I’d like to preface all of this,” he continued, “by saying that Mary Anne Jules, whom I’ve known since I was a baby, when she’d stop by at my grandmother’s house during one of her runs, has been a tremendous asset, not only to Bridgehampton, but to Section XI. She’s respected throughout the county. She’s been a great mentor and has really been instrumental in the process of getting me adjusted. . . . I will have some very, very big shoes to fill, but I accept the challenge.”
This writer once tried, without success, to interest Bramoff, a relentless rebounder in basketball who seemed as if he’d be a great linebacker, to give up Pierson soccer for East Hampton football. Interestingly, he went on to play two years of soccer and three of football (at the linebacker position) at the State University at Cortland.
In contrast to Syracuse (or to just about any other school district), Bridgehampton is tiny — with an enrollment of 162 spanning pre-K and 12th grade at the moment. “In Syracuse,” said Bramoff, “so that you can get an idea, I taught 171 kindergarteners last year; there were 88 phys ed teachers in almost 30 buildings.”
While passionate about inner-city teaching, it bothered him, he said, that given the Syracuse district’s sheer size, he, “a relationship guy,” could not form solid connections with everyone.
“You see a systematic failure in these inner-city districts where basic needs aren’t being met, where a kid might not have a place to sleep and doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. Yes, as you say, when you have successes, which are few and far between, it’s life-changing, it’s what keeps you coming back, but it’s very disheartening to see kids falling through the cracks. In a district like this that oughtn’t to happen. I really think you can form a relationship with every student — and with your colleagues and with the community — in a small school like this one.”
As for his plans, Bramoff said he wants to expand the sports program (“my philosophy, and Mary Anne’s, is that participation in athletics enhances a student”) and will build from the ground up. “It’s a goal of mine that some day we’ll have more of our own teams, but that will be dictated by the population.”
This year, Bridgehampton will have its own boys basketball team, as usual, and — for the first time in about 16 years — a junior high girls basketball team.
“We’re combined in almost everything,” said Bramoff, who added that Bridgehampton “will be hosting junior high girls and boys tennis teams, on which East Hampton and Pierson kids will play. . . . The De Groots [Kathryn and Doug] are letting us practice and play on the Har-Tru courts at the Buckskill Club, as they have in the past, and their head pro, Kevin McConville [who also has been a volunteer assistant of Carl Johnson’s in basketball season] will continue to provide world-class instruction. Anything for the kids. I’m going to do everything in my power to offer the Bridgehampton kids what they want. I want to give them every opportunity possible. . . . I can’t wait for September to start.”