There isn’t a much better show on the East End than a Friday night home game for the Westhampton Beach varsity football team.
The school’s parking lot, which is not small, is full to the brim, leaving many to settle for spots blocks away from the field. Both home and away stands are packed. The student sections, when it’s a cross-town rivalry or a big game, are loud and boisterous. It is the epitome of “Friday Night Lights,” and everyone from the players, to their parents, to school administrators, can’t get enough.
“There was nothing better than Friday Night Lights,” said Dylan Laube, one of the best players to have come up through the Westhampton Beach program, and who broke a number of school and county records during his senior year in 2017 while helping the program win its first ever Long Island Championship. “I’ve been to other team’s home games on Friday night and it was nothing like what we had. People would come from all over to see us play. When we came out from underneath the tunnel and you see the whole crowd is roaring, there was nothing like it. And everyone was there to support us. Definitely after scoring a big touchdown or after a big win, it was electric. We definitely had a home field advantage.”
Westhampton Beach may have one of the top football programs in Suffolk County, but it took hard work and dedication from many supporters to put it all together. In the third and final part of the The Express News Group’s series examining the state of football on the East End, we dive into what Westhampton Beach and the surrounding communities have done and continue to do to build a juggernaut of a program that seems to have sideswiped the current issues that plague programs not far east of it.
It Takes A Village
When Bill Parry first started coaching the varsity team at Westhampton Beach in 1997, the program was, for all intents and purposes, in a similar position that many East End football programs currently find themselves in. Parry was the team’s third head coach in four years and the program had won a total of three games during that time span. The varsity team had 17 players and Parry had to dress three junior varsity players just to have a full team.
The team enjoyed a successful season that first year under Parry. With the likes of Dale Menendez and Brian Bookamer, the team finished 5-3. For the next three seasons, the Hurricanes went 2-6, but the program hasn’t had a losing season since 2000. It’s made the playoffs the last six straight years and 12 out of the last 13, having won Suffolk and Long Island titles in Parry’s final year of coaching in 2017.
So the big question is, how did Parry turn it all around?
“I think the fact that being in the building made it a lot more sustainable and gave us an opportunity to recruit kids,” he explained. “I made sure I had a coach in every one of the buildings, from elementary on up, and this was when our PAL was just starting. We didn’t have a PAL, I don’t think, until 1999 or 2000. But PAL helped tremendously with getting numbers and getting kids to play football.”
With coaches in each building, Parry said he and his staff were “tagging” kids who could be potential players for them down the road.
“We always kept an eye on those kids. Drew [Peters] passed them on from the elementary school on to Bryan [Schaumloffel] in the middle school who would pass them on to us in the high school, and we’d keep a relationship with them,” he explained. “We would take turns going to PAL games. We didn’t go every Sunday, but a lot of Sundays we’d be standing on the sideline and watching those kids play.”
Many of the team’s current players, who played within the program’s PAL program, such as Jaden and Jesse AlfanoStJohn, Matt Leotta and Jack Naglieri, don’t exactly remember seeing their current coaches at their youth football games, but they do remember some of the varsity players coming down to practice to give them pointers. Each of them said their PAL days have had a direct link to their current success.
“We probably wouldn’t be playing football right now,” Jaden AlfanoStJohn said. “I’d be excited to go to a PAL football game. That’s what got us into playing football.
“The community was always behind our backs, even from when we were little all the way till now,” Naglieri added.
Laube said his time coming up through the PAL ranks and into middle school made him the player he is today, which is a scholarship football player who is now playing at the University of New Hampshire. He said that learning from coaches such as Parry, Schaumloffel, Vincent Mangano and Cole Magner made him grow as a person, something he wouldn’t have without football.
“Definitely playing with the older kids helped me to mature at the pee-wee level,” he said. “That’s when I started to adjust to competing at a high level. And then middle school breeds you into that mindset of working hard, competing and getting to know that family atmosphere.”
Parry added that in order for a program to be successful, it needs a supportive athletic director. Kathy Masterson started her tenure as AD in 2006, the same year the school put lights on its grass field. Then, three years later, the school approved, by just four votes, its current turf field. Masterson and Parry both said that getting the lights, and then turf a few years later, was huge.
“When we put in the lights, that’s when that field became more than just a football field,” Masterson said. “And the turf field was something that the community came out and really fought for. We had tremendous support from the PAL community, who utilizes the field, and it’s not just a football field, it’s an athletic, all-purpose field. All of our phys ed classes use it from middle school up to high school.
“It’s the best thing that ever happened to the community,” Parry added. “My kids grew up with absolutely nothing to do on a Friday night, so when the lights and the turf came in, it turned into what everyone did on a Friday night. We went from having 400 to 500 people to, I couldn’t even tell you how many, 1,500 people, at least? And if you’re a kid playing a sport, and this is not a knock on any other sport, but do you want to play in front of 100 people watching you or 1,000?”
“The Pride Of The East End”
Westhampton Beach is playing in its 90th season as a varsity program, according to Schaumloffel, who, on top of being the program’s varsity football head coach, is a middle school history teacher and therefore a history buff. In 1932, Westhampton Beach won what Schaumloffel referred to as its “mythical” first county championship, having to go through all of the schools in the county, since teams were not separated by enrollment size like they are now. It was just three years prior to that when Westhampton Beach had started its varsity program in 1929, being the smallest school in New York State to do so.
Since then, Westhampton Beach has seen its share of success as well as its fair share of losses. But this recent string of success has led Schaumloffel to call his program “The Pride of the East End,” in many of his social media posts.
“We take a lot of pride in our program, and that’s kind of tooting our own horn a little bit, but I like to say we’re the pride of the East End when it comes to football,” he explained. “Riverhead is having a great year this year, and it’s great to see Riverhead do well. And even though we’ve had success, I’d love to see Hampton Bays, Southampton and East Hampton have success, too. I’m a football guy, and I want those schools to be successful. We wish those programs would be on top like they used to be.”
Something else Schaumloffel will have in his posts is “#EMO2EQ,” which is a call to the fact that the Westhampton Beach School District and its athletic programs are made up of feeder districts from East Moriches east to East Quogue. While that may bring a large number of athletes Westhampton Beach wouldn’t have otherwise, it takes time molding the players and building team chemistry.
“We’re not necessarily unique, but we have a lot of kids who are coming from East Moriches all the way to East Quogue, and our kids don’t necessarily go to elementary school together or middle school together, so when they come here in ninth grade, that was a thing that Coach Parry started a number of years ago, to kind of bond those players together,” Schaumloffel explained. “That was one of the reasons we went to camp so early, so the kids could come here, get to know each other before school even started. I think that’s our rallying cry — I love the kids from East Moriches, and we love our East Quogue kids. We’re all one big football family.”
Traditional Football Is Here To Stay
While many other districts on the East End are finding ways to jump-start their programs with flag football or other alternative forms of the sport such as eight vs. eight as opposed to the traditional 11 vs. 11, many within the Westhampton Beach football program don’t see the need for that for their program, at least for now.
“I love the game of football,” Schaumloffel said. “I think the game of football has huge ramifications and positive ramifications on the field, especially off the field, as they go. I might be biased, but I think football is special. It’s a contact sport, it’s a tough sport, it’s a grind, and I think the positives of football outweigh any of the negatives that come along with it.
“We’re conscious of the risks, and we try to limit those risks and protect our kids,” he continued. “I think our school and our training staff with Scott Leogrande do a great job of identifying potential concussions. As football coaches and educators, the safety and well-being of our players is our number one concern. I have my own son on the team, so we’re conscious, we’re doing things to keep our kids safe, to limit the risk in the game of football. Obviously, it’s a game of football, but I think we do a pretty good job identifying the risks and limiting the risks and putting our kids in a good position by teaching them the right technique.”
And while Westhampton’s youth program isn’t immune to what has gone on in the sport in recent years, Schaumloffel said, he doesn’t foresee his program seeing a huge decline anytime soon, and Masterson agreed.
“I feel like football is going to stay the same here,” she said. “I think eight-man football is a wonderful thing and should be embraced within the communities that are struggling, and I think you’re going to see a state championship for that very soon because it’s giving kids an opportunity to play. The sad thing is you have kids from East Hampton who just want to play varsity football who can’t, and their struggles are real and have been going on for awhile. But I think we’re blessed in the fact of the success and I attribute it to all of the men who have really put the time into our program.”