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Feb 6, 2018 4:25 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Members Of 1997-1998 Westhampton Beach Boys Basketball Team Gather For 20-Year Reunion

Feb 6, 2018 4:40 PM

“Bizarre.”

That’s the word legendary Westhampton Beach boys basketball head coach Rich Wrase would use in response whenever his father and community member Larry Makransky told him they believed his 1997-98 team would win a state championship. Of course, they were spot on with their prediction—the Hurricanes completed a perfect 28-0 season by winning both the New York State and Federation Championships, earning the distinction of being the best team in the state, among public and private schools.

Memories from that season were shared once again when the Hurricanes came together for a 20-year reunion at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5350 in Westhampton Beach on Saturday evening.

Wrase, who put the event together, was on hand, and spoke about the predictions made by his father, who goes by the same name, and the late Makransky, a former school board member who was a big supporter of the team.

“They would always tell me even before the season started, ‘I really think we can win the state championship,’ and I was just looking to get to the Long Island Championship and do everything one step at a time because we had lost the year before to Amityville in the county championship,” Wrase explained. Whenever they made their lofty predictions, Wrase recalls trying to temper the expectations. “‘That’s pretty bizarre that you think that,’ I would tell them.”

Makransky wound up getting a green sign made up with the word “bizarre” in bold lettering at the top of it for Wrase following the perfect season.

Wrase and more than 70 others, including former players, coaches and community members, were there to listen to that story, and many others, on Saturday. Wrase even had videotapes of the championship games.

Jermain Hollman, captain of the championship team, made the trip in from Los Angeles, where he’s currently an actor. He led much of the conversation on Saturday night and was elated to see his teammates, or “brothers,” as he called them.

“It’s like a brotherhood in many ways,” he said. “It really is good to see everyone back at home because you don’t get to come back here that often, [and] just talk about the stories—the good times, the bad times—it really is a good time.”

Hollman and Wrase are hoping to add Bronson Martin’s jersey number 44 to the team’s collection of retired jerseys—Hollman and Dale Menendez both had their numbers retired by the school. Martin, a sophomore during the 97-98 season, went 117-12 during his six-year career and won six league titles, to go along with the county, Small Schools, Long Island, state and federation titles that were won in 97-98. He was also a three-time All-State and All-County selection, a Newsday All-Long Island selection and was featured in Slam magazine and USA Today as one of the top high school players in the country during his playing days. On top of everything, Martin still holds the career scoring record at Westhampton Beach, 1,708 points, which surpassed Hollman’s previous scoring record of 1,289.

When he stepped up to the front of the room to speak on Saturday night after Hollman handed over a plaque listing his accomplishments, Martin, like so many others who also spoke that night, got choked up. He was able to compose himself, though, and appreciated just being there with old friends.

“The biggest thing is seeing people that I grew up with. We get to relive memories that never die,” he said. “I haven’t seen some of these people in 20 years. To come back and get to spend time with them is just a nice feeling and it reminds you of the team, the hard work in practice, and what people don’t realize is, yeah we won 28 games, but the practices got us there. Every day, the grind, and really doing it together, is what I remember for the most part.

“It always sticks with me, everything I did with this team,” Martin added. “I work in the city now and there’s times where I think about people I played with. I visit them. They’re like my family.”

The Canes went 20-1 the season before going 28-0, the lone loss coming at the buzzer to Amityville in the Suffolk County Class B Championship. Westhampton Beach went on to win its first five games of the 1998-1999 season before suffering a loss to Southampton. All told, the Canes incredible run during that time was 53-1. Many of the players from those teams, including Martin, Jeremy Liggon, Mike Ford, Tyrone Ford, Mark Green and Quinton Brooks, grew up on the same block on Hazelwood Avenue in Westhampton Beach.

“I dreamed of winning a state title with them—Jeremy, Jermain, Jason, Mikey—we all talked about it as kids, we all grew up together. To accomplish it was awesome,” Martin said. “It was the first time in my life that I accomplished a dream.”

Bryan Dean was a Westhampton Beach school board member at the time and remembers how the gym at the high school would fill up so much that he would tell his wife and kids to stay home.

“You couldn’t get near the place. It was the hottest seat in town, by far,” he said. “I can look through the crowd now and remember seeing parents of kids who already graduated in the stands, and they would follow the team when we went upstate. There was an amazing amount of people that would travel.

“It was really a unique group of kids,” Dean continued. “Wrase had a way about him, he knew how to motivate kids, kids who maybe would have went in the wrong direction if it weren’t for him. I was blown away to see how much they have matured and how well those kids have done.”

Wrase is all smiles when he talks about his former players, but mostly because all of them are healthy and doing well for themselves now.

“We weren’t that good my freshman year as coach, but we kept building each year. These kids worked hard, and you hope that the kids believe in what you’re trying to do—we had a whole team that did that, it was amazing,” Wrase said. “Nobody averaged more than 17 points per game, but we had two who would average between eight and nine points, then we had five who averaged over 12, and all seven of them were high scorers in games, you don’t find that anywhere. Usually you have that one guy that the opposing team can focus on, but with this team every game was a different guy stepping up and having a big game. That was special.”

The 1997-1998 state and federation champion team included players Kenny Andria, Lucien Bloxon, Andrew Cruz, Shaune Galloway, Adam Kandel, Keith Maieski, Jason Ritchie and Dwayne Sanders, to go along with the aforementioned Mike Ford, Green, Hollman, Liggon, Martin, Menendez and Ritchie. Coach Wrase was joined by assistants Jack Vivonetto, Bill Hempfling, Bill “Doc” Farrell, and junior varsity head coach Bill Matros and assistant coach Ron Gholson. Two members of the team have since passed in Galloway and Farrell. The team was saddened by the recent loss of Farrell, who died just last week on January 27 at the age of 64. Wrase, who spoke on a regular basis with Farrell, said his former coach had been looking forward to being at Saturday’s event but unfortunately didn’t make it.

Wrase, now 66 and a survivor of prostate cancer, says he takes things day by day now and doesn’t think too far ahead in the future and couldn’t say exactly when another reunion would take place, but his former players, like Hollman and Martin, would like to see their former teammates more often than the 10 or 20 years it took to get everyone together. Hollman had an idea for eight years down the road, when the reunion number would be particularly symbolic.

“Twenty-eight year reunion would be nice,” he said.

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