On a late-summer day in 1972, a group of teenage friends, most of whom had attended East Hampton High School, were goofing around in the water at Albert’s Landing Beach in Amagansett. They were within the roped-off swimming area, and no one on shore thought much of it when they heard cries of “Help!” But it was serious: One of the young men, Roy Lee Mabery, was in trouble, seized by cramps and in over his head. A friend tried to pull him to safety, but lost his grip. By then, bystanders had dived into the bay to help, but by the time they reached the spot where Mr. Mabery, aged just 18, had been, he had disappeared. Less than an hour later, an East Hampton Town police patrolman, who had played football alongside Mr. Mabery at the high school, found his body about 45 yards offshore.
Mr. Mabery’s death rocked the community; the entire East Hampton High School football team, on which he had been a star running back, attended his funeral at Calvary Baptist Church. The Bonackers dedicated their fall season to him. Pete Carril, the head basketball coach at Princeton University who had worked with Mr. Mabery at his summer camp, recalled him as an “embodiment of everything that is good in the world.. . . I can never forget him nor can anyone who knew him at the camp.”
We’re writing in hopes and expectations that the East Hampton Village Board has not forgotten Mr. Mabery, either. It is in his memory that the basketball courts — recently bulldozed at Herrick Park — were dedicated.
Touchingly, the kids of East Hampton — those who gather to shoot hoops on idle afternoons — are aware of this. We know this because a few of them have told us so: They recognize the name from a sign placed in this long-lost student’s honor, the Roy Mabery Memorial Basketball Courts.
The loss of this young man was a big deal in 1972, and the community meant for his memory to live on. Within days of his death, a committee of East Hampton School Board members set to work. A $10,000 fund-raising goal was set, the first event of which was a Harlem Wizards benefit basketball game that December. There was a bake sale at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post and a raffle with the top prize of a bicycle. The committee spokesman was Ed Petrie, who had coached Mr. Mabery on the high school basketball team. “He had the kind of personality which made people take notice of him,” he said at the time. The Roy Mabery Memorial Basketball Courts were torn up a couple of weeks ago as part of an overall redesign of the park.
It is not clear when Mr. Mabery’s courts will return. In an earlier version of the new park layout, they were supposed to be relocated to a spot closer to the middle school and Newtown Lane. But a village official recently said that no firm plan had been set, beyond the work now taking place. Cost overruns have already pushed back the date by which a renovation of the village center’s only public bathroom will reopen, and have forced a change from brick sidewalks in the park to less-expensive concrete.
That means that, for now, East Hampton kids too old for the swing-sets — like those who have gathered in the park for decades before them — have little to look forward to in Herrick Park. A lot of effort has been going into tennis and other more adult-oriented paddle sports there, and we would like to suggest that the village also prioritize the rebuilding of the Roy Mabery Memorial Basketball Courts.
Those who knew him said he was an exemplary young man, and it’s beautiful to know that generations of young athletes who followed have heard his name. Let’s not lose that tradition.