Plug Is Pulled on East Hampton High School Football

Coach McKee said he was not giving up
The above photo was taken during East Hampton’s 36-21 upset of Bayport-Blue Point in last fall’s finale. Craig Macnaughton

Joe Vas, the East Hampton School District’s athletic director, announced this week that the school will again field no varsity or junior varsity football teams in the fall.

“The bottom line,” he said, “was the lack of numbers — we only had 14 show up for practices on a regular basis. To field a team you need a minimum of 16.”

Joe McKee, the varsity football coach, who has tried his best in the past two years to boost the program from the early grades on up, told the players of the administrative decision on Aug. 23.

Dawn Tuthill, whose son would have been the Bonackers’ quarterback, wrote in a Facebook post: “A sad day. As my son, Jacen, went up to have his picture taken for Newsday as one of the top 100 players on Long Island, it was announced that East Hampton’s football program is no longer. . . . There are a few of them who are passionate about the sport and are so upset that it has ended for them, and in their senior year. . . . So sad.”

This is the second time in the past four years that East Hampton, which began playing football in 1923, has had no varsity football team.

Vas, who said he had heard there would be no Police Athletic League teams this year, as well, said football will continue to be played at the middle school, with Nick Finazzo, Scott Abran, and Dave Fioriello as the coaches. “We’re hoping to rebuild, but I can’t give you any time frame. We used to have 48 to 50 on the middle school team — last year we had 20,” the A.D. said.

Don Reese, who heads up the youth football and basketball teams here, said East Hampton would continue to field a fifth-and-sixth-grade P.A.L. team, “the same as last year.”

“We’re not folding up,” he added.

The decision to pull the plug this week was made, Vas said, so that the players who were turning out for football practices could switch to other fall sports if they wished. Josh Brussell, who coaches the boys volleyball team, said the A.D. had asked coaches to accommodate any of the football players who wanted to sign on.

Don McGovern, who assists Rich King with East Hampton’s boys soccer program, said that 84 were trying out for varsity and jayvee soccer.

But the apparent falloff in the popularity of football here couldn’t solely be ascribed to changing demographics, McKee said during a telephone conversation Tuesday morning. When the student body was smaller, perhaps half what it is now, East Hampton fielded competitive football teams. There were probably a number of reasons why, the coach said, though he added that he was not giving up. 

“We’re going to have a weightlifting program and football drills at the high school for the kids who are pursuing the sport, and I’m going to volunteer my time with the junior high. We’re also going to continue the flag football program that I introduced last year, which was popular. It will be for kindergartners through sixth graders, boys and girls, at Herrick Park. The first night will be Sept. 11, at 5:30.”

He said he knew that there was a “Save Bonac Football” petition that was being circulated by parents on Facebook, but, while he agreed obviously that Bonac football should be saved, “it’s a little too late.” 

Last spring, McKee said in connection with moving up to Conference III from Conference IV — a move owing to a spike in enrollment — that he expected to have 16 seniors on the 2017 varsity, and about 26 to 27 in all. When it came time to begin preseason practice recently, however, half a dozen of those expected senior returnees were not there. 

“One of our top linemen, from Bridgehampton, decided to go over to Southampton, another top lineman went to another school, and a running back-defensive back was hurt in a lifeguarding accident. Several other seniors decided not to come out, and two kids who played jayvee last year and would have been juniors decided not to play also. I thought we’d have 25 at the preseason practices — 16 varsity and 9 junior varsity players, but at the 10 practices we held we had no more than 11 show up. . . . It’s not just us, though we’re the only program to throw in the towel. Babylon, which used to be a perennial power, has had no jayvee the last two years. Some guys did come out after the announcement was made. I know some have said more might have come out on the first day of school, but they would have missed four games because of the missed practice time.”

Ultimately, assuming the program here is revived, McKee would like there to be, as Vas has suggested, a new ability and geographically grouped Conference V. He’d even thought of suggesting that East Hampton — as is the case, he said, with Port Washington, and with other schools in Westchester County and in the Bronx — play as an independent.

“I tried to keep it going,” he continued. “I’ve been the varsity head coach for the past two years, this would have been my third, but I’ve got 20 years of coaching football here under my belt. I bring a lot of enthusiasm and energy to it. Of course I’m disappointed, I feel like I failed. Maybe next year. That’s my hope.”