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May 7, 2018 2:56 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

As Long As Numbers Allow It, East Hampton Football Still Intends To Field A Team This Fall

May 7, 2018 4:27 PM

Twenty two.

That’s the all-important number for the future of the East Hampton football program. If the team can come up with 22 players between now and the end of the school year for the upcoming fall season, it will have a varsity program, East Hampton Athletic Director Joe Vasile-Cozzo and head coach Joe McKee said at a meeting in the East Hampton High School gym on May 2. While the bare minimum requirement put forth by Section XI, the governing body of Suffolk County high school athletics, to field a team is 16 players, McKee and Vasile-Cozzo feel more comfortable with 22 players. Vasile-Cozzo said that he included a football program in next year’s budget, and as long as the numbers hold up, the Bonackers will hit the gridiron next fall.

But McKee made it clear to the players and parents in attendance at last week’s meeting that if the required 22 do not show up at a mandatory football team meeting—which has yet to be scheduled, but will be prior to the final day of school—the program could be in trouble.

“We have got to have a solid set of numbers. We can’t go into the summer, are we or aren’t we?” McKee said. “We are going to find out after this meeting whether or not we’ll have a team.

“I have a strong, strong feeling that we’re going to be fine,” he added.

About two months ago, 30 or so players signed up as having interest in playing football, McKee said, and that was just ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders. That did not include eighth-graders or the student-athletes who have shown interest since that meeting. Assistant coach Lorenzo Rodriguez has started a Saturday afternoon camp that runs from noon to 2 p.m. for varsity and junior varsity players, and 2 to 4 p.m. for those in fourth to eighth grade. McKee urged everyone to start attending that camp. More information regarding the camp, and the football program in general, can be found in the East Hampton Youth Flag Football League group on Facebook.

In February, Vasile-Cozzo announced that East Hampton would have a football team this fall, albeit in Division IV and without the possibility of being eligible for the postseason for the following two seasons. Division IV is where the smallest schools in the county play, and East Hampton just by itself, without any other school districts attached to it such as Bridgehampton or Pierson, has a current enrollment size of 731. That’s similar to schools such as Sayville that play in a highly competitive Division III. By agreeing with Section XI to forgo postseason eligibility for the next two seasons, East Hampton was allowed to field a team in Division IV.

The hope is that after the next two years the Bonackers will have built up the program enough to be able to move back up to Division III and be able to qualify for the postseason.

While being able to play in Division IV is a big step for the varsity program, Vasile-Cozzo said it’s not necessarily what he wants; in fact, he voted against the move to Division IV back in February. He strongly believes that the East End schools should play in a separate division, or possibly even league, so they can compete on a level playing field. He explained that while the school’s enrollment sizes are equal to those 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.

Vasile-Cozzo proposed two different scenarios to the section back in February, 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.

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. The closing of Bishop McGann Mercy High School in Riverhead severely hurt the chances of that happening, though, and now, Vasile-Cozzo said, he’s hearing that Greenport/Mattituck/Southold may not be able to field a varsity team this fall.

“We’re going to do our best,” to have a team, McKee said. “It’s not for a lack of work from any of us. A lot is on these kids’ shoulders. I’m sorry—I’ve said that to them several times—you’ve got to get to your brothers, you’ve got to get to your friends.”

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