Bonac Football May Come Back

‘If we have the numbers, we will play,’ Joe Vas, East Hampton’s A.D., said
The Jan. 24 meeting in the high school's cafeteria drew 24 prospective football players, each of whom was asked to recruit a friend or two. Jack Graves

“Get into the weight room,” two dozen would-be football players were told by Joe McKee and his fellow coaches during a meeting at East Hampton High School’s cafeteria on Jan. 24.

“If we’ve got the numbers, which appears to be the case at the moment, we’re going to play,” Joe Vas, the East Hampton School District’s athletic director, said during a conversation the next day.

The particulars, said Vas, have yet to be worked out. “There are a number of ideas floating around. We ought to know where we’ll be by the middle of the month.”

In two of the past four years, East Hampton has not fielded a varsity team. It did play a season in Conference IV in 2016 — the conference with the county’s smallest schools — finishing at 1-7. Its sole win — and an exciting one at that — came in its finale here with Bayport.

It was then decreed by Section XI that East Hampton would be bumped up to Conference III, into a league with schools its size — a prospect that McKee said he could live with. But an unexpected falloff in numbers persuaded Vas and the coaching staff and the district’s administration to pull the plug on the 2017 season last August.

As an alternative to playing in Conference III, known as “the black-and-blue league,” Vas had volunteered to forgo the playoffs if East Hampton were allowed to remain in Conference IV, but was turned down.

This time, however, he said, the section’s football committee chairman has recommended such an “alternatively based” move. 

“The debate now,” said the A.D., “is whether we’re placed in a Conference IV that would have 12 teams in it, as would each of the other three conferences, or whether the alignment would be 14 -14 -14 -11.”

The latter, he said, was the arrangement he would prefer, though all else failing, East Hampton, Southampton, McGann-Mercy, Port Jefferson, and Greenport have tentatively agreed to further discuss placement concerns with Section XI.

“It’s all in discussion now — nothing is final,” said Vas. “I’m meeting on Feb. 5 with the athletic directors and superintendents of these schools to talk about it at Section XI’s offices. After Feb. 5, I should have a good feel as to what will happen. The county placement meeting for football — and for all other sports — will be on Feb. 14.”

“The bottom line is if we have the numbers [McKee and his assistants, Ed McGintee and Lorenzo Rodriguez, urged each of the Jan. 24 attendees to recruit one or two more friends], we’ll play,” the athletic director said.

The A.D. said there will be a meeting on Monday, at 6:30 p.m., in the high school’s cafeteria “for all prospective players and their parents.” 

Asked if any of the prospects had played much football — as aforesaid, there has been no varsity here in two of the past four years — Vas said that a paucity of experience underlay his willingness to forgo playoffs. “We just want them to play,” he said.

The turnout of 24, comprising nine juniors, seven sophomores, and eight freshmen, did not include interested eighth graders who will be high school freshmen in the fall.

The minimum required to field a varsity would be 16, he said in answer to a question. 

“I almost died last year,” Coach McKee said at the meeting in the cafeteria, adding that high school football was the focus of community life in towns throughout the country. 

Bob Budd, a longtime volunteer and East Hampton Hall of Famer who has helped coach East Hampton football teams in the past, and who, by his estimate, has been associated with the sport “for 70 years,” urged the students to stick at it and to restore the Bonac tradition. 

“We may not have won every time, but the other team’s coaches and players knew that if they were playing East Hampton, they were in for a game,” he said. “Let’s bring those years back.”

Joe McKee, the varsity coach, at right, urged his prospective players to get into the weight room. Jack Graves