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Aug 6, 2018 5:41 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

East Hampton Little League's Resurgance And If It Will Lead To Success At The Varsity Level

The 11U softball All-Stars were one of a many successful teams for East Hampton this summer, placing second in the state tournament. WILLIAM KUNETH JR.
Aug 7, 2018 9:29 AM

About 10 years ago, those within East Hampton Little League playing in the annual District 36 Tournament had a saying: “Lose two and barbecue.”

It may not have been the most positive motto, but as longtime East Hampton Little League coach Tim Garneau explained, it was the cold hard truth—East Hampton would enter the tournament, lose two games and quickly be eliminated, but everyone enjoyed the post-season barbecue that followed.

It may have taken some time, but things have certainly changed. Not only has East Hampton made it a regular occurrence to win more than two games the past few years in the tournaments that ultimately lead to the Little League World Series, but its teams have been reaching, and sometimes even winning, district titles.

Last season, East Hampton’s 9- and 10-year-old Minors All-Stars won the league’s first district title since 1992. They repeated as champs again last month. Their older counterparts on the 11- and 12-year-old team reached the district finals this summer before losing to a strong Riverhead team that reached the state tournament.

Softball has also found success. The 11-and-under All-Stars reached the state tournament this season and placed second. The 12-and-under team reached the district finals but lost to perennial powerhouse North Shore, which reached the state tournament.

The run has given the community hope that the success will create a ripple effect and lead to a resurgence for the high school’s varsity baseball and softball programs, which have struggled in recent years.

Garneau had multiple children coming through the league about 10 years or so ago, and realized that after entering teams in the district tourney in the 1990s, the league had stopped doing so, citing a lack of coaches willing to take on the task, he said. Garneau stepped up and volunteered to coach.

“We were involved in a lot of lopsided games this year, like 38-1,” he said, referencing blowout wins by current East Hampton teams. “We were on the back end of those kind of losses back when this started. The important thing was, though, letting the community know that we had these teams because no one even knew that we entered into those tournaments. And early on it was a struggle because a lot of the good East Hampton players would sign up for travel teams up the island and parents wouldn’t participate, so it took a few years for all of the East Hampton kids to participate and know that there is an All-Star team.”

During the third season as Garneau’s run as coach and liaison between the league and tournament directors, East Hampton finally won its first tournament game.

“People started to notice us,” Garneau said. “We had actual All-Star uniforms and it began to grow. Everything came full circle last year when we won our first district title with the 9- and 10-year-olds since the 90s. My daughter’s 11- and 12-year-old softball team made it to the district finals. A lot has changed in the past 11 to 12 years.”

Garneau said this was his last summer as a coach, with his daughter, Lola, aging out. His two sons, Henry, entering his junior year at East Hampton High School, and Burton, a sophomore, aged out of the league a few years ago. He’s confident the league is in good hands.

Vincent Alversa took over East Hampton’s varsity baseball team two years ago and has a son, Kai, that has won two district titles on the Minors All-Star team. He, along with his junior varsity head coach Andrew Rodriguez, are heavily invested in bringing back not only the town’s baseball culture but elevating the school district’s play as well. The East Hampton varsity program has struggled over the past several years—it ended a losing streak that spanned 51 games and more than three years when it defeated Amityville, 6-2, on May 7—but Alversa and Garneau are hoping time times are changing.

“Having young volunteers doing year-round baseball, there are more kids playing travel baseball more than ever,” Garneau said. “All these things combined have really made for the resurgence that we’ve had. Between Rodriguez and Alversa, they’ve put a lot of time and effort into the youth sports, and it’s going to pay off for them. They’re basically funneling players into their system through the Little League.”

When Alversa got back into East Hampton baseball four years ago as the JV coach, no one was playing travel baseball, he said. He started things easy, starting a local team that played other districts such as Sag Harbor and Southampton, but eventually, Alversa said, his teams needed to branch out, so they started playing up island in Brookhaven Town summer leagues.

“I guess it kind of caught on. As of right now, or a few weeks ago, between third grade and 12th grade, we have 87 kids playing, split up between five different teams. About seven or eight kids play on other travel teams, on top of our teams,” he explained.

Alversa added that many of the older players, such as Riley Duchemin, Zach Minskoff, Hunter Fromm and Seth Kappel, all seniors who graduated this past June, started the run that East Hampton has seen now. A big thank you, Alversa said, goes to the volunteer coaches of the Tomahawk travel teams, which include Ken Dodge, Mike Meehan, Henry Meyer, Mike Hand and Cole Dickinson.

The resurgence has been felt in softball as well, said Kathy Amicucci, who has coached the varsity softball team at East Hampton the past few years, but was not retained by the district and won’t be returning this school season. She took over for longtime head coach Lou Reale, who was forced to step down following the 2015 season after turning East Hampton softball into a powerhouse, leading his teams to 24 straight playoff appearances before missing out on the postseason for the first time in 2013, which was the last time the program has reached the postseason.

Amicucci was the 12U softball coach for East Hampton Little League last season and said the amount of players coming up should mean success for the school’s softball teams in the years to come. She’s confident that young players such as Maddie Brown and Emily Kennedy, who went through East Hampton’s Little League, will be big players for East Hampton’s school teams.

“The little league program is amazing. It’s nice that they’re getting everyone involved,” she said. “It’s also nice to have a little bit of a look also. If I didn’t know Maddie Brown from coaching her on the little league team, I wouldn’t have known her and she may not have been a late-season call-up for me on varsity this past season.

“What’s nice about having the Little League is that you don’t have to teach these kids the basics,” she said. “Instead you can teach the players how to operate a first-and-third situation or other game-like scenarios.”

Whether or not the success of a local Little League can transfer to its school district is the real question. Alversa said that as long as the players continue to play they should find success at the older levels.

Scott Johnson, Southampton’s varsity head coach, agreed. He pointed to two different occasions, in 2003 then again in 2011—when Southampton Little League won district titles—that many of the players from those teams went on to find success on varsity.

“As far as I’m concerned, there’s absolutely a direct correlation with that success leading to varsity,” he said. “In 2003, those kids who won a district title ended up winning two Long Island Championships. And then the kids that won the district in 2011—and there were eight kids at minimum that played on the district championship team and then on JV and varsity—they had really good seasons as well.”

Johnson said that winning helps, but it’s really a culture change that is needed to make the necessary changes.

“When you get a chance to feel success you want to continue that momentum, and that definitely translates at the varsity level,” he said. “East Hampton has had a rough number of years and sometimes it gets to a point where the players expect to lose. But a lot of time, that culture change comes from Little League. They’ve had pretty considerable success at that level and to me that’s important. When I took over the team with Gary [Pike], we developed a certain culture of doing everything, and when they meet it there’s going to be success.”

Whether that translates to success for East Hampton, only time will tell.

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