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Feb 6, 2018 4:33 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

East Hampton Football Is Preparing To Play This Fall In Division IV If Numbers Allow It

The last victory for the East Hampton football team was over Southampton for the Hampton Cup in September of 2015. Brandon Johnson stretches out for a score. PRESS FILE
Feb 6, 2018 4:55 PM

Here we go again.

The East Hampton football program is eyeing a return to the gridiron this coming fall, albeit in Division IV and without the possibility of being eligible for the postseason for the following two seasons. East Hampton Athletic Director Joe Vasile-Cozzo announced as much at a community meeting in the cafeteria of East Hampton High School on Monday evening.

Although enrollment numbers haven’t budged much since last season, when East Hampton had to fold its varsity and junior varsity seasons due to not having enough players, Mr. Vasile-Cozzo was able to convince Section XI, the governing body of Suffolk County high school athletics, in a four-hour-plus meeting on Monday to allow his program to compete in Division IV, where the smallest schools in the county play. East Hampton, with an enrollment size of 731, is technically supposed to play in Division III, alongside highly competitive programs such as East Islip, Half Hollow Hills West, Westhampton Beach and Sayville, but since it was willing to forgo postseason eligibility while playing the next two seasons in Division IV, the county agreed to allow East Hampton to play in a less competitive division.

That was just the first hurdle though. The county agreed on the same move last season, only to have the county football committee deny the move. Without wanting to go into detail, Mr. Vasile-Cozzo said there was opposition when the committee met last season, but that he has been reassured by Section XI officials that everyone is on the same page this time around.

As long as enough players come out for the team, Bonac football is slated to return this fall.

“If we have kids, we’re planning on having a team,” Mr. Vasile-Cozzo told the 70 or so people in attendance at Monday’s meeting. “Some people in the community are saying, ‘You’re crazy. We don’t need to have football anymore, it’s done.’ If the numbers are there I’m going to have football. If the kids want to play—and we can put them in a safe environment—then we can play.”

Increasing numbers for the varsity and JV squads are now the main goal for Mr. Vasile-Cozzo, as well as varsity head coach Joe McKee and his coaching staff. Around 25 players signed up to play before last season—which is somewhat low for a typical high school team but good for East Hampton—but of those 25, only a dozen or so players were showing up for preseason practices. A minimum of 16 players are needed for a legal roster.

A few parents and community members in attendance on Monday night said that there is a complete disconnect among the separate programs for elementary-age players, the middle school and the high school, and that communication among all of the feeder districts—which include Springs, Montauk, Amagansett and Wainscott—also needs to improve. There is also a disconnect, they said, between the school district and the local Police Athletic League. Mr. Vasile-Cozzo and Mr. McKee both wholeheartedly agreed that communication needs to improve and they will be working on that going forward.

“There has been a call to really connect with the youth program, and the coaches have committed to do that,” Mr. Vasile-Cozzo said. “For whatever reason there was a break or lull in communication, and it’s time to rekindle that.”

While Mr. McKee is a little disheartened with not being able to play for playoffs in the current setting, he said he understands the situation.

“Knowing where the program is at, in order to get to where we have to go, that’s what we have to do. I don’t know if we’re a playoff-caliber team right now,” he said. “Last year I thought we would have been. We had a pretty good team two years prior to that, but we had one win and two wins in the two prior seasons.

“We’re going to take these two years, build, and get to where we have to,” Mr. McKee added.

Some community members asked if a shift of focus should be put on the middle school program and build up to having a varsity program. Mr. McKee didn’t agree with that plan.

“First of all, we have low numbers across the board. It’s at all levels, we’re rebuilding throughout,” he said. “If we don’t have a varsity there’s nowhere for the younger players to look up. Part of my reason for being here is because last year’s ninth, 10th and 11th graders didn’t have a team and they’re heartbroken. So I’m here for them and we’re going to do everything we can to get them a team.”

While being able to play in Division IV is a big step for the varsity program, Mr. Vasile-Cozzo said it’s not necessarily what he wants; in fact, he voted against the move to Division IV. He strongly believes that the East End schools should play in a separate division, or possibly even league, so it can compete on a level playing field. He explained that while the school’s enrollment sizes are equal to that of schools on the other side of the county, the actual number of players coming out for the sport severely differs, and is much closer to that of smaller East End schools.

Mr. Vasile-Cozzo explained that he proposed two different scenarios to the section on Monday, both of which were shot down. The first proposal he put on the table was that there would be 14 teams in the county’s first three divisions, with 10 mostly East End schools in the fourth division, since 52 teams are expected to play football this fall. The second proposal he put forth had 12 teams in all four divisions, with a fifth division including most of the East End schools.

After three years of trying to change the football landscape across the county and realizing that is a futile effort, Mr. Vasile-Cozzo would ultimately like to pull his football program out of Section XI and, along with a half dozen or so schools mostly from the East End, create a completely separate league that would have its own playoff system. He said he’s already spoken to superintendents from those schools who have expressed interest in making that move but some aren’t quite ready to do it just yet. There will be more meetings to discuss what exactly the separate league outside of the section would look like in the near future.

“If football does not address its needs, there will be seven or eight teams from across the island that will collapse within the next few years,” Mr. Vasile-Cozzo said. “I met with six other superintendents and five of those are committed to leave Section XI and create an alternative or independent league, that’s what I want. It’s the best for our kids, it’s the best to grow football out here, that’s where we belong.”

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