Ron White has been part of what’s old-school and new-school about Bridgehampton — especially when it comes to its basketball team.
On Sunday, February 14, the head coach was able to express his love for the court, but also his sadness as the Killer Bees began their first season inside their new hive — the school district completed a $29 million school expansion this winter, including a brand new full-size gymnasium.
“It’s bittersweet,” said the former state champion, who won titles with the team from 1996 to 1998, coming one basket short of being the first player to go to the final game all four years of his varsity career. “We are very grateful, it’s an amazing facility, and this step forward for our district was necessary, but there’s definitely a different feel.”
What made the home-opening game most difficult for White, who is also the school board president, was the fact fans couldn’t be there to celebrate. A grand-opening event is scheduled to take place next year pending any changes in the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I was very sad because we didn’t have the whole Bridgehampton community with us to experience the moment. It’s unfortunate,” White said. “I just wish that things were different, and we could have experienced this moment together, because everybody played a big part in creating this and bringing this to fruition. But I think at the end of the day, the game was a great experience. I’m very thankful to our Bridgehampton community for giving us the opportunity to better our community. We just want them to experience what we experienced.”
At the end of last season, the Killer Bees, which finished 0-14, bid farewell to the historic 37-foot-by-55-foot-court built in 1931. The district made way for a new one as part of the expansion project. A regulation NBA court is 94 feet by 50 feet; a regulation high school court is 84 feet by 50 feet. High school rules list a court size of 74 feet by 42 feet as the smallest allowable.
The old beehive, also called the matchbox, is where the basketball team won thousands of games that led to nine state titles — second only to the 11 won by Mount Vernon — 25 Class D crowns and 33 league ones.
Bridgehampton is the smallest school to ever make it to the overall Suffolk County final game. The maximum enrollment for a Class D school is 149 students in grades 9-12, according to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. Last year, Bridgehampton had just 54, ranking it the 25th smallest school in the New York. Back in 1996, when Bridgehampton legend Carl Johnson returned to coach his former team, he led White and his teammates to their first state title, it was the third-smallest.
Johnson said the hive was often referred to as the team’s “sixth man,” although it wasn’t built for a competitive advantage, but because it was all the district could afford. The baselines were barely a foot from the gym walls, and the arcs intersected with the sidelines about a dozen feet from the baseline, meaning no player could ever try for a three-point shot from the corner.
“I’m sure most of the opponents like Shelter Island, Pierson, Longwood, Riverhead and Southampton are happy,” Johnson said during the farewell ceremony last year, smiling. “They’d come through this gym and look around and the first thing they’d say is, ‘Oh yeah, we’re in trouble.’ Most of them don’t know how to brace themselves for a fall, or hitting a wall, the stage, cheerleaders shoving pom-poms in their face.”
That’s one thing White will miss most in the seasons ahead.
“The old gym was an advantage because we were used to the size of it. It was a catalyst in so many ways,” the coach said. “But now we get to practice in a gym like any other gym we play in, which helps.”
The space has big windows that let in a lot of natural light, where the old one had none. There are also six basketball hoops, which White said is a big deal during practice.
“We can really expand our practice itinerary because we have so much more space,” he said. “With 12 kids on the team we can have two to a court. We can get skills and drills in, more easily practice jump-shots and layups. The space is giving us the ability to really expand our game.”
Kris Vinski and his twin brother, Scott, are hoping to follow in the footsteps of many basketball greats to come through the school.
“Our team has found ourselves competing with teams early on in games, we just have to close games out,” the sophomore said. “Coach Ron knows what being a Killer Bee means, and he’s trying to pass that on to everyone on the team. When the old gym closed, he really put it into perspective how much history has happened in that gym.”
Standouts like Bobby Hopson, Troy Bowe, Javon Harding, Charles “Mo” Manning and Carl Yastrzemski have walked the halls and the old hive. The Red Sox Hall of Fame outfielder helped Bridgehampton to a Suffolk County title in 1957, setting a county scoring record that season with 628 points, which was broken by East Hampton’s Kenny Wood 30 years later. His team also broke the record for most points that season, with a 117-49 win over Hampton Bays. Bridgehampton broke that one though, with a still-standing state-record 155-71 rout of Shelter Island in 1970. The Killer Bees were up 101-30 at halftime.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re a young team with a lot of promise. We’re heading in the right direction,” White said. “We just have to pay more attention to detail, we have to find ways to become more consistent as a team because even though we are very young, the things we need to do are doable. We don’t need to be superhuman to get it done.”
Scott Vinski said he likes how his coach is always honest with him and his teammates.
“He keeps everything real with us. He is very down to Earth,” the sophomore said. “If we aren’t playing to our full capability, he’ll tell us. That is one thing that not all coaches do, which I think is a necessity. Not only does he want us to be successful basketball players, but he wants us to be successful in life. The first few games are always the toughest to find a rhythm, and starting to find that rhythm in this new gym is definitely a great feeling.”
With two seventh-graders, an eighth-grader, a freshman and sophomores, White is hoping to set up his future team for success. The boys dropped their home-opener to Port Jefferson, 55-35, Saturday, but Scott Vinski led the Killer Bees (0-4) with three three-pointers. Junior Anthony Cabrera (8 points) and seventh-graders Alex Davis and Jai Feester also sank shots from beyond the arc. The guard, who racked up a team-high 13 points, also said he can’t wait to get the hive buzzing again.
“It was great to knock down some shots,” Vinski said. “I was really excited to play — it’s nice to have more space — but fans were definitely missed. I’m sure I can speak for a lot of people when I say that fans bring a whole new atmosphere to any gym.”