Discussions of a combined South Fork football team ended with just that after a February 5 meeting between athletic directors and members of Section XI.
East Hampton had to forgo its season last year due to dwindling numbers, which forced Athletic Director Joe Vasile-Cozzo to come up with a creative solution to help the school field a varsity team. He had started talks with Southampton Athletic Director Darren Phillips last year to look into the Bonackers combining with the Southampton/Bridgehampton/Pierson team. For Phillips, there was one issue: the combined team would not be eligible for the playoffs. His program boasts about 30 kids between junior varsity and varsity, enough to keep the team afloat for now, and having to forfeit a chance at the playoffs was a deal breaker for him.
After East Hampton combined with Ross, Vasile-Cozzo had petitioned for the school to have its placement changed from League III to League IV. Section XI allowed it under a two-year trial period as long as the team did not participate in the playoffs. If all five districts were to combine, enrollment size would jump to 1609 students, placing the team in Division I with the largest schools in the county, like perennial powerhouse William Floyd, Ward Melville, Connetquot, and Longwood. Section XI members said if the schools were to combine but remain in Division I, playoffs wouldn’t be a problem.
“Psychologically, our parents and kids think those kids are so much bigger and stronger, and they’re afraid to get hurt,” Phillips said. “It’s just not fair to do that.”
That’s why the athletic directors met with Section XI to discuss the possibility of combining, but remaining in Division IV. The board agreed to allow the team to remain in Division IV, the only caveat being they would not be able to participate in the postseason.
“The reality is, ability-wise and numbers-wise, that’s where we need to compete,” Phillips said. “I felt terrible that last year East Hampton couldn’t front a team and had a handful of seniors that couldn’t play, and even though we haven’t made the playoffs in a number of years, we have a pretty good group of seniors next year who are hard to tell that they won’t be eligible.”
Sag Harbor Athletic Director Eric Bramoff sees playoffs as a huge motivator.
“Would I like to see a combined team in Division IV that can still qualify for playoffs? That would be the golden ticket — no one would lose out if that happened,” he said. “The problem is, I think not having playoffs really slights the Southampton program, which has been working so hard all these years to build up. Conversely, if we run a Southampton team eligible for playoffs, East Hampton may not have a varsity team, and the seniors will be left out because they cannot play at the junior varsity level. With either scenario, someone is going to lose out, and as a community we don’t want to see kids to lose out.”
So, for now, the teams will remain divided. Vasile-Cozzo said 30 kids have signed up so far for junior varsity and varsity football positions. As long as the numbers don’t change, the school will be able to field a junior varsity and varsity team.