Bridgehampton boys basketball coach Ron White said it best when he was asked about his school’s tiny but storied gymnasium, The Beehive, which will host its final varsity game ever next Wednesday, February 5, when the Killer Bees welcome Shelter Island to town for their final game of the season.
“Smallest gym in the nation,” he said with a smile, “yet created so much of the stir.”
It certainly did, starting with its obvious intimate confines. “The Hive,” as it became known, or “The Matchbox” because of its extremely tight quarters, measures 37 feet sideline to sideline, and 55 feet baseline to baseline, which is 13 and 19 feet smaller, respectively, than a regulation-sized high school basketball court.
The Hive hosted thousands of big games — none of which were a playoff game — and was featured in the nationally recognized documentary “Killer Bees,” filmed by Bridgehampton alums Benjamin and Orson Cummings, who brought to town one of basketball’s greatest players in Shaquille O’Neal, who was an executive producer.
The Hive saw its own share of great players over the years, though, and creating a stir — or a buzz, as it were — was what The Hive did best throughout its 100-year existence. And while the gym will not see the broad side of a wrecking ball as part of the district’s multi-million dollar expansion, it is being repurposed into a new auditorium and library, among other things, and the entire community will sorely miss it.
“For me, personally, the thought of the original Hive no longer being around is like the family house you grew up in as a kid no longer being around or completely renovated,” said Nick Thomas, who played point guard for the Bees from 1992 to 1996, helping them win the first of three straight state titles in 1996, success he carried over to Center Moriches as the head varsity basketball coach. “It will never be the same.”
“People always ask me what it was like playing in such a small gym,” Thomas continued. “I always tell them ‘Home is home.’ Yeah we needed more room — for more banners. And to utilize our speed. With our style of play, we hated playing in small confines. We just hated losing that much more, especially at home. With basketball being our only true school sport, it meant that much more to us and our community. We never wanted to let them down. We always wanted to make the ones who carried the torch before us proud. That was the expectation. We didn’t want to just give people something to talk about — we wanted to give them something they’d never forget.”
Thomas said The Hive, much like the Bridgehampton Child Care Center, were mainstays within the Bridgehampton basketball legacy and community.
“Beyond your home and church, for generations over and over, that was a huge part of your childhood experience growing up,” he explained. “The Center was like our farm system that cultivated our brand of basketball. The talent, the competitiveness — that fire and drive is all woven in the fabric of being a Killer Bee. Once you played on the high school floor — that signified your arrival. Then it was about making your mark, measuring up to the standard that was set, which meant putting up a banner. Nothing less.
“Basketball was relevant in the ’60s, but the ’70s era really blazed the trail and laid the foundation for the program,” Thomas continued. “Not only did they win in the toughest era of Long Island high school basketball, but they three-peated. That set the standard. The ’80s was just an double OT loss from another three-peat, while the ’90s held their end of the bargain. The last title in 2015 was more of a cherry on top.”
Carl Johnson, who estimated he has played and coached somewhere around 500 games in The Hive, won three states titles as a player from 1978 to 1980, then won four more as a head coach from 1996 to 1998 and finally in 2015. The New York State Hall of Fame coach has a number of memories of the gym, but what stands out the most for him were the opposing players and teams who came through Bridgehampton and had to play on its tiny court. From 1971 to 1981, Bridgehampton didn’t lose a home game. The Bridgies lost to Greenport in 1971, led then by one of the best players in the county in Al Edwards, and it was 10 years later, when Edwards returned as head coach of the Porters, that the decade-long winning streak was snapped.
“That stuck out to me,” Johnson said. “But we’ve hosted Longwood, Riverhead when it went on to play for a county championship, Southampton has been there. All those schools came in there and went home disappointed.”
Prior to there being a three-point line, the state didn’t allow a playoff game because the court was too small, Johnson said. Then, with the advent of the three-point line, it couldn’t host a playoff game because the width was too narrow, the three-point line actually running out of bounds in the corners.
White was part of the school’s three-peat of state titles as a player in the late 1990s, and today is the school’s varsity head coach as well as the school board president. The idea of replacing The Hive, let alone being a part of the decision to go forward with a new gym, was extremely tough. But change, he said, is good.
“The Hive is just relocating. The colony is getting bigger, we’re growing, and this new evolution is a testament to the whole community,” he said. “I think, logistically, it was something that had to be done. I think to remain relevant you have to evolve, and what we’ve done thus far has allowed us to branch out.”
Johnson admitted that it will be tough to say goodbye to the old gym.
“I guess it’s like the old Boston Garden,” he said. “It’s gone and it’s sad to see it go, but you can’t stop progress. I’ve got some really, really mixed emotions about it, but we needed a new gym a long time ago, it’s well overdue. The mystique is going to be gone, but we can start building a new mystique.”
White said the addition of the new gym wouldn’t be possible without those who have come before.
“The buzz will still be here, it will just transfer down the hall, and by doing that we pay homage to all of those who ran up and down and put miles on the deck,” he said. “If those rims could talk, they would show a lot of love, tenderness, growth and sorrow, and we pay homage to those who allowed it to exist for as long as it has.
“We needed to get with the times, and it’s necessary to move on,” he continued, “but we’re riding on the backs on some really strong people who allowed us to get to this point where we can now grow.”
Tip-off for next week’s final game in The Hive on February 5 is currently set for 6 p.m. A fundraiser will be held that night for the eighth grade class that is heading to Washington D.C. in the beginning of March. The eighth-graders sold white T-shirts to make the finale a “White-Out Game,” and Johnson will say some final words before the game to send off the gym.