Bonac’s Football Program Skating on Thin Ice

The athletic director weighs the options
Joe McKee, East Hampton’s coach, expected at least 26 at Tuesday’s after-school meeting for those interested in playing football. Craig Macnaughton

East Hampton High’s football program continues to be on thin ice, as it were, with the prospects as of earlier this week remaining as iffy as they have been over the course of the past half-dozen years.

The last time a Bonac football team made the playoffs was in the fall of 2012, when Bill Barbour was the coach. There was a varsity the next year, but then, owing to a lack of numbers, things began heading south. There was no team in 2014 — only the fourth time in the school’s 90-year history that that had happened; there were varsities in 2015 and ’16, but no team in ’17, and no varsity this past fall either, though there was a junior varsity coached by Joe McKee and his assistant Lorenzo Rodriguez.

During this period, Joe Vas, East Hampton’s athletic director, has been trying to keep the program afloat, suggesting — as yet to no avail — to Section IX, the governing body for high school sports in Suffolk, that East Hampton, despite its Conference III enrollment numbers, be allowed to remain in Conference IV, a somewhat less competitive conference.

Vas has told Section XI’s football committee — of which he is a member, as is Southampton’s A.D., Darren Phillips, and six other A.D.s — that when it comes to placement, East Hampton intends to field a team in Conference IV, “to keep the door open,” though the placement question remained up in the air as of Friday, when East Hampton’s athletic director was interviewed. Ther deadline for conference placements is fast approaching.

“A couple of years ago, if you remember, our proposal to stay in Conference IV and forgo the playoffs passed in the committee, but lost when it came to a vote of the four conferences’ 52 schools.”

“We’re not the only school on the Island that’s struggling when it comes to football. Greenport is struggling, Mercy’s closed, Stony Brook isn’t in Section XI anymore . . . Bayport-Blue Point . . . Hampton Bays. . . . We’re trying to maintain, but it’s not easy, especially when you consider that there’s no youth football in East Hampton anymore.”

Combining with Southampton, which already is combined with Pierson and Bridgehampton, and with the Ross School in the mix as well, “would result in an overall enrollment of 1,609, and would put us in Conference I, with schools like William Floyd, Central Islip, Bay Shore, Riverhead. . . . I can’t see us doing that. That wouldn’t be a sound decision.”

Another option — and one with which Phillips agrees, Vas said — would be to petition Section XI to combine and to play in Conference IV for one year and vie for the playoffs, after which an assessment would be made.

East Hampton’s A.D., who met with about 50 South Fork parents and school officials at Pierson High School in Sag Harbor the night of Jan. 30, said, however, that his sense was that Southampton parents were not in favor of combining if it means playoffs are not in the picture.

The football committee’s placement meeting was to have been held Tuesday in Smithtown. 

In the meantime, Phillips was to have met with his players to ascertain what they would like. Likewise, McKee was to have met Tuesday with ninth through 11th graders interested in playing on Bonac’s team. If all those on this past season’s jayvee roster turned out, there would be around 26. At least 16 players are needed to field a football team.

There wouldn’t be enough, Vas said, to have a varsity and a jayvee here, and, if it were decided to stick with a jayvee, seniors would not be able to play.

“My view,” he said, “is that we should combine and vie for the playoffs.” Given the waning interest in football of late, combining was the only thing that made sense, the A.D. said. “We haven’t had a varsity in two years and the numbers aren’t promising. Kids aren’t playing football as they have in the past.”

Plan B, he said, was to “go it alone, as a varsity or as a jayvee.”

And, assuming the worst, he was asked if there might come a time when the plug would be pulled.

“That possibility has been part of the conversation, though we’re trying everything to keep the program going,” East Hampton’s A.D. replied.