Yesterday, the East Hampton School District’s athletic director, Joe Vas, was to have told the placement committee of Section XI, the governing body for high school sports in Suffolk, whether East Hampton’s football program wants to continue going it alone or whether it wants, as was suggested this past week, to merge with Southampton.
And, if the latter is so, whether the combined team wants to play in Division IV, where the Southampton-Pierson-Bridgehampton team is now, with the understanding it would forgo the playoffs, or whether the newly augmented team wants to move up to Division II, as dictated by enrollment, and vie for the playoffs.
Vas and his Southampton counterpart, Darren Phillips, were to have met with their schools’ football players Tuesday to ascertain what it was they wanted — the result of a suggestion Kevin Bunce Jr. had made at last Thursday’s meeting of players, parents, and coaches at East Hampton High’s cafeteria.
Last year, for the first time formally, the possibility of merging the two ancient rivals — the first East Hampton-Southampton football game was played in 1923 — was given serious consideration, but Southampton’s parents, who, in Vas’s words, “thought they had a playoff-caliber team,” turned thumbs down inasmuch as the playoffs would have to be forgone should the combined team play in Southampton’s division, Division IV.
This year, the shoe seems to be on the other foot: East Hampton’s program, according to its coaches, Joe McKee, Lorenzo Rodriguez, and Kelly McKee, all of whom spoke last Thursday, was, they said, finally in a good position numbers-wise after five years of struggling.
“We’ve finally got the ball rolling here,” Joe McKee, East Hampton’s head coach, said as he asked for “one more year,” a proposal that his brother Kelly enthusiastically seconded.
If East Hampton were to go it alone, he might then try to combine with Hampton Bays, said Phillips, whose numbers are down to between 30 and 35. The Southampton-Pierson-Bridgehampton team went 2-6 in Division IV play last fall. East Hampton’s junior varsity (there has been no varsity here since 2016) went 7-1.
It is not just Southampton and East Hampton’s programs that have been struggling: Greenport will not field a varsity this fall, Wyandanch and Babylon are thinking of combining, and the numbers at Hampton Bays are down.
Vas said during a conversation Friday that, all things considered, he favored combining with Southampton now, a move that he said ought to assure boys in both towns of a stable football future year in, year out.
“I don’t want to be riding this roller-coaster every year,” the A.D. continued. “Joe and Lorenzo have done a great job in rebuilding our program, and, for the first time in five years, they’re happy with the numbers. But it’s a gamble. How many of the sixth graders who’ve played flag football are going to play tackle football in junior high? How many eighth graders coming up from junior high are going to play football when they get to the high school? Half the junior high team was eighth graders this fall. Are 20 coming up to the junior varsity or are five? As I say, it’s a gamble. If we combine, we’ll have stability.”
Combining with Southampton in boys lacrosse had proved to be effective, Vas added. “You combine because you don’t have enough kids to sustain a program. We’ve done it in wrestling too — we’re combined with Pierson and Bridgehampton in that. We had over 24 kids play in Southampton’s lacrosse program. They had 24 too, so there were enough for a varsity and a junior varsity, and it meant that ninth graders would play jayvee and not get killed on the varsity level.”
“Long Island lacrosse is the best in the state, you know. Combining enabled Southampton to field two teams; it made it better. This year, we have 11 junior high kids who play lacrosse, and Southampton has nine. Together we’ll have enough for a junior high team. If we weren’t able to do that, 20 kids wouldn’t be able to play. . . . We’re not trying to build powerhouses, we’re trying to build programs.”
Were the football programs to combine, the schools would go halvesies when it came to practices and games — the same, Vas said, that is to happen this spring in boys lacrosse.
The deadline for placing football teams in Suffolk’s four divisions is Feb. 1, East Hampton’s A.D. added.