East Hampton’s sixth-grade boys basketball team cruised to its fifth straight tournament championship at the Southampton Recreation Center on Saturday, afflicting the St. John’s Saints of Southampton, 59-15.
But the coach of Southampton’s team, Dan Sullivan, and parents of his players were appalled, saying afterward that East Hampton’s coach, Don Reese, habitually ran up scores, and accused him of poor sportsmanship. Sullivan, moreover, in an email sent Sunday to Scott Johnson, S.Y.S.’s executive director, said that East Hampton’s coach was “poison for our league and he should not be allowed to coach here.”
For his part, Reese, who heads up East Hampton’s youth football and basketball program, said, when questioned in a telephone conversation Sunday, that he would not apologize. “Everybody played. We weren’t out to run up a score, though it’s a fact that we’ve dominated at S.Y.S. for years.”
Reese said that over that six-year span his S.Y.S. youth teams were 99-1 all told.
With East Hampton leading 55-15 with about three and a half minutes left in the game, a St. John’s father called out so that everyone could hear, “Isn’t it a big enough lead, Don? Do you still need your 6-footer in there?!”
At which point Reese sat “the big kid,” James Conigliaro.
But Conigliaro, while he towered over the opponents and finished with 15 points — Sullivan said he had 10 blocks — did not seem to be the chief difference-maker. Luke Reese, the point guard, who had 12 points, 3 steals, a number of assists, and a block, and Jack Dickinson, a forward who wound up with a game-high 17 points and rebounded as well if not better than Conigliaro, were more impressive in their all-around play.
Luke Reese, clearly the best player on the court, came out of the game a couple of times. Dickinson did too.
“They play very well together, and I’m not going to stop them playing,” the elder Reese said. “They’re good guys, they play with their hearts, and I love it that they do. . . . I know I’m the most-hated coach over there.”
The young Bonackers came up with 15 steals in Saturday’s final, according to one count, a number of which were parlayed into layups. Dylan Fee, whose older brother, Kevin, a former star East Hampton High School guard, is at the Canterbury School in New Milford, Conn., now, led the way with five.
“There is something very wrong with a youth basketball coach who when up by 40 points in the fourth quarter still has starters in. . . . He demoralizes 10-year-old kids without a thought about it,” Sullivan said in his email to Johnson.
In an email sent to this writer, Sullivan said in part that “even playing high school ball for St. Anthony’s, if we were up 15 points or so most if not all the starters were taken out. . . .” He urged, therefore, that, in line with limitations placed upon youth lacrosse and Little League baseball teams, full-court pressure be taken off when a youth basketball team was leading by more than 10 points.
“We have a coach,” he went on, “who continuously abuses and demoralizes dozens to kids in the S.Y.S. youth basketball program. Why has this been allowed to continue for years now? The S.Y.S. league is better than Don Reese. No other coach have I ever seen does what this guy does and yet he is allowed to continue his reign. . . . It’s time for parents, coaches, and players to stand up and say, ‘Enough!’ ”
Reese, whose elder son, Jack, played the point for East Hampton High’s boys basketball team this past winter, said, concerning basketball in East Hampton, that “the problem lies in the fact that these young players I’ve had haven’t stayed together through their high school years — they’ve been going different ways.”
“Jack’s team beat Southampton when they were this age, but all their guys, six or seven of them, went on to play on Southampton’s varsity,” the Long Island, county small schools, and League VI champion. “Jack and Phil Zablotsky were the only ones left [on East Hampton’s varsity] from that youth team.”
“You wonder what’s wrong. We’ve got to keep the sixth graders together. If we do, we’ll win. I may make up an A.A.U. team and play up the Island . . . it will be up to the parents.”