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Its QB Recalls the Team That Wasn’t

Tue, 09/26/2023 - 11:18
The 1978 East Hampton High School varsity football team, from that year’s high school yearbook.
East Hampton Library, Digital Long Island Collection

Rick Slater, who would have quarterbacked the 1978 East Hampton High School football team that three “taxpayer revolt” budget defeats torpedoed, said, when questioned the other day about that austerity year, “It’s still a nightmare.”

Dick Cooney, in a 75th anniversary account of football here published in 1998, said that the budget defeat “resulted in the season drawing to a conclusion before the first game was played. Uniforms and equipment were collected amid tears and shattered expectations. The student-athletes, especially those of an exceptional senior class, were deprived of the opportunity to enjoy and excel in high school football.”

Whereupon he named 26 seniors, all or most of whom, Slater said, would have been on that varsity team.

Thomas Peele, a 1979 classmate of Slater’s, in a letter to the editor in the Sept. 14 issue, said the team “was expected to contend for a county championship.”

“Yes, probably,” said Slater, who lives in Amagansett. “We’d moved down a league. Newsday said no one was going to touch us.”

Asked if he could remember the positions his teammates played, Slater, who was a defensive back/strong safety on the other side of the ball, said, “Percy Howard was a running back with great speed, the fullback was Peter Steckowski, Peter Rana and Jim Fischer were the tight ends. The split end/wide receiver was Peter Erwig, who had amazing hands — he caught everything I sent to him. . . . Bob Miller and Steve Leese were the guards, Steve Pluchino and John Ecker were the tackles. Steve Marley was the center, a great snapper. . . . We had a great defense, with good speed, and, atypically, a line that averaged between 205 and 220, which was big for East Hampton. . . . Tommy Gilliam and Paul Markert, whose father ran the cinema, were linebackers.”

“Ted Meyer, Mike Burns, and Big Jim Miller, who had played with Billy McDonald on the ‘65 team, and who played semipro ball for the Giants, were our coaches . . . they were beyond outstanding. Dick Cooney and Bob Budd, who were to come back the next year, had stepped away for a bit. Dick Hoadley,” who in 1982 provided the handsome Hampton Cup for which the longtime rivals, Southampton and East Hampton, vie whenever they play, “and Bill Leese were great supporters of ours.”

Steve Bromley Jr., then The Star’s sportswriter, imagined in his Oct. 12, 1978, “Between the Lines” column an East Hampton-Southampton game played at Southampton on Oct. 7 before 3,000 spectators, most of them Bonac fans. The Mariners’ Duane Arnister, he said, ran the opening kickoff back 94 yards and kicked the extra point for a 7-0 Southampton lead.

With 1 minute and 20 seconds left, Erwig, “in perfect stride,” caught a long third-and-one pass from Slater near the right sideline and ran unmolested into the Mariners’ end zone to tie the score at 20-20. “[Bob] Lenahan’s boot was sure and true” for a 21-20 victory that prompted, 17 seconds later, a joyful celebration.

Other East Hampton players Bromley mentioned in his imagined account were Hermon Lenhardt, Tom Porzio, Leese, Markert, Chris Sarlo, Fischer, John Ecker, John Lycke, John Doyle, Marley, Roger Foster, Pete Gilliam, Jim Minardi, Nelson Samot, Rana, Steckowski, and Dennis Heffernan.

The column ended: “Some other Oct. 7, some other Saturday, perhaps, it may happen. . . .”

“That brought tears to my eyes,” said Slater, who, in signing off, said, “That last budget defeat occurred just before we were to open at Greenport. I still have dreams that I can’t make it to that game. I can’t find my cleats, or my helmet. . . . It still hurts to this day.”


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