Hope’s Flames Fanned in ’16

The news having to do with East Hampton’s young basketball, baseball, swimming, and girls volleyball teams in particular was pretty much all good
In the sportsworld here this past year, the emphasis was largely on youth, John Franco, splitting the Artists-Writers Game’s traditional grapefruit, being the lone exception in this layout, and the promise it holds for better athletic days ahead. Axel Alanis, below, one of the young ruggers Kevin Bunce has brought along, played well with the Montauk Rugby Club this fall. Craig Macnaughton, Durell Godfrey, Ricci Paradiso, Jack Graves Photos

Sportswise, hope’s flames continued to be fanned here in 2016, which is to say that the news having to do with East Hampton’s young basketball, baseball, swimming, and girls volleyball teams in particular was pretty much all good.

Meanwhile, Bonac fans, in some instances at least, must wait for the promising results that ought to attend the matriculation of these eighth, seventh, sixth, and fifth graders at East Hampton High School, which didn’t have all that much to brag about in the year past — Erik Engstrom’s county cross-country championship, Turner Foster’s county championship in golf, the boys tennis team’s perfect league record, and the girls track team’s eight school recordholders being the salient exceptions.

And therein lies the silver lining: While such programs as football, boys lacrosse, and wrestling continue to be challenged when it comes to participation, the lifetime sports — golf, tennis, swimming, and running among them — seem to be in the ascendance.

Two runners, Engstrom and Gabby McKay, won the school’s Paul Yuska awards given to the senior class’s best athletes in June, the first time apparently that that has happened. And two swimmers, Cecilia De Havenon and Christian Brierley, were similarly honored by the Old Montauk Athletic Club at its holiday dinner earlier this month.

Joe McKee, who with his six athletic brothers was inducted into East Hampton’s Hall of Fame at homecoming, and who oversaw the introduction of a popular noncontact youth league at Herrick Park this fall, continues to try to breathe life into football, a sport that has been played here for almost a century.

Should the numbers, which at the moment are said to be sufficient, dwindle in coming years, a South Fork football team (the Marinackers?) may arise, a solution that has already been arrived at in boys lacrosse, which will field a Southampton-Pierson-Bridgehampton-East Hampton team in the spring with Southampton’s Matt Babb as the head coach. There may be a sharing arrangement in the future with wrestling too.

Of course low numbers don’t necessarily translate into noncompetitive teams, as tiny Bridgehampton High, a winner of nine state boys basketball championships to date, has for years attested. It comes down to a matter of will, if you will, and to practice, practice, practice. 

Asked during a recent interview how the Killer Bees got to be that way, Carl Johnson, the veteran coach, the only one in New York State to have won three state titles as a player and three as a coach, said, “In the winter, if the snow [on the basketball court at the Bridgehampton Child Care Center] was shovelable, we’d shovel it off. We played outdoors all the time in those days. We were told to be home by sunset. You didn’t need a watch. You’d look at the sky. We had it down pat, how long it would take you to get home. . . . We always wanted to play up, to challenge ourselves, to play against guys one or two years older. And the majority of times — though they might deny it — we beat them. The older guys were always respectful; they wanted the best for us. It was like family.”

Johnson’s predecessor, the late John Niles, who had tapped him as his successor, was inducted, along with Carl Yastrzemski, Bill Stavropoulos, Billy DePetris, and Sandy McFarland, into Bridgehampton’s Hall of Fame in November — the hall’s inaugural class. Niles, who won state championships in 1984 and ’86 (with arguably the best team Bridgehampton has ever produced), and Roger Golden, who, according to his longtime friend Wayne Rana, “got the Killer Bee brand of basketball going, with its uptempo style and ball-hawking defense that produced tons of turnovers,” died within about two months of each other — Niles, at the age of 84, on Nov. 21, 2015, and Golden, at 74, on Jan. 23, 2016. Golden undoubtedly would have been included in the inaugural group except, unlike the others, he had not been a Bridgehampton graduate.

East Hampton boys basketball was in the headlines this past year when Larry Brown, an East Hampton resident who has won national championships at the college and professional level, said he might be interested in coaching the Bonackers given the departure of Jesse Shapiro, who had taken over after Bill McKee retired. While grandparents with basketball-crazed kids in the Midwest toyed with the idea of becoming their legal guardians, Brown decided not to accept the athletic director Joe Vas’s offer, because, with all his commitments, he could not give it his all. He did allow as how he would remain as “a resource,” however.

Dan White, who came over from Pierson, where he’d coached its boys varsity team for seven years, is East Hampton’s coach now, and while the results so far this season have been mixed, the young squad remains interesting and clearly has potential.

Also worthy of mention when considering the youth movement here are Buckskill’s high-school-age ice hockey team, an amalgam of 12-through-18-year-old players from all over the South Fork, and a North and South Fork under-19 rugby team one of whose coaches is Kevin Bunce. The Montauk Rugby Club, for which the tyros are expected one day to play, made the Empire Geographical Union playoffs this fall. Not to forget the men’s soccer team, the East Hampton Football Club, which continues to be among the top amateur clubs on all of Long Island.

As for ice hockey, Cory Lillie of Buckskill said Monday the rink there is open now, and that the team, which made its debut there last winter, practices Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings.

As for advice given in 2016, Amby Burfoot, who won the Boston Marathon in 1968, and who ran in this year’s Shelter Island 10K along with Bill Rodgers, Joan Benoit Samuelson, George A. Hirsch, and more than 1,000 others, has said this when it comes to running — though it could apply to most any athletic endeavor:

“It’s not about speed and gold medals. It’s about refusing to be stopped.”

Jack Dickinson pitched East Hampton’s 9-10s into the Little League district finals.
The Buckskill Winter Club’s high-school-age ice hockey team is in its second year.
Esteban Valverde, taking flight, is among the talented young players contributing to the East Hampton Football Club’s Islandwide success.
Luke Castillo (109), a sixth grader, has already made himself known in local road races.
Turner Foster, a Bonac sophomore, turned heads as he won the county golf championship this fall.
Nina Piacentine and her Hampton Lifeguard Association teammates finished third in the national tourney in California.
Sam Merritt has been making strides as East Hampton High’s softball pitcher.
Erik Engstrom (1385) the high school’s first county cross-country champion, is running now at the University of Massachusetts.