East End Football Programs Hope To Restructure

The East Hampton and Southampton football rivalry will remain on hold as the Bonackers will not compete at the varsity level this fall.

A handful of East End school districts plan on petitioning Section XI, the governing body of high school athletics in Suffolk County, for “alternative placement” when it comes to the sport of football, according to East Hampton School District Athletic Director Joe Vasile-Cozzo, who on Thursday said he was looking for ways to return his school’s football program to competition after having to cancel last season at the varsity and junior varsity levels.

What’s on the table now, and what will be debated at a Section XI meeting on February 5, is to restructure Suffolk County’s four divisions and place 14 teams in the top three divisions, and only 11 in Division IV. Of those 11 teams, only East Hampton would be granted an exemption since its enrollment would normally place the football program in Division III, which is significantly more competitive. As a result, East Hampton, despite its record, would not be eligible for postseason consideration.

“At the end of the day you have struggling football programs across the island that we need to address,” Vasile-Cozzo said, a day after a meeting about football led by head coach Joey McKee was attended by 24 high school students with interest in playing next year, not including incoming freshman. “The great thing about Section XI is that there is a process in place and we need to respect that. The local East End teams want to do something, and if we have enough interest, we want to have a team.”

If Section XI opposes the restructuring of its four divisions for football, or if there is enough pushback from schools that would be negatively affected by the move, then Vasile-Cozzo said East Hampton, Southampton, Mercy, Greenport and Port Jefferson might form an “alternative league,” where they would compete against each other, and possibly other programs from both Suffolk and Nassau Counties, and not participate in the traditional Suffolk County and Long Island playoff structure.

“We’ve done it in girls soccer, in softball. Back in the day football did it in the very beginning so there is precedent,” Vasile-Cozzo said of alternative placements. “After we folded last year, after we were denied alternative placement, others have come forward and said, ‘We’re in the same boat.’ Many people work hard to offer opportunities for kids. There is everything right about looking for ways to make things better.”

For many years, Pierson students interested in football used to compete in the shared program at East Hampton, but now they travel to play with Southampton, which is still rooted as a Division IV team. The Mariners also have struggled with numbers, however, and finished 1-7 last season.