For many years, there was a small sign on the south side of Montauk Highway at Butter Lane as you enter the village of Bridgehampton that read “HOME OF NEW YORK STATE’S HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL CHAMPIONS.” Under it, in small print, were the dates from the nine years when Bridgehampton’s high school basketball team had won the Class D state championship.
The last one was in 1996. This sign went up around that year with six dates. I didn’t know who put it up there. When they won in ’96, that year was added in the same black print, and then when they won in ’97 that was added. Who was doing this? The fire department? The town? The school itself? It was certainly a great source of community pride. The student body consisted of only 50 kids at that time. So the team would have to be assembled from just the 30 boys. Invariably, the team was shorter than the other team they were playing. They’d win with enthusiasm, passing, speed and accuracy. Amazing.
After 1997, however, the championships stopped coming. Some years, the team wouldn’t even get to the finals. And somewhere about 2013, the sign came down. I figured, well, this is just not in the cards anymore. Having it up there must just make the current coach and team feel bad. That had to be the reason.
Well, now, it’s time to put that sign back up.
Last Monday, at 1 in the morning, a telephone call came in to the fire department in Bridgehampton that the yellow school bus carrying the team, after five hours on the road from Glens Falls where the final game was played, was now passing through Hampton Bays. The word went out on the fire frequency on the police radio scanners. The firemen, even at that hour, were expecting this. They dropped what they were doing and raced over to the firehouse. Everyone was shouting and hollering and just 15 minutes after the alarm sounded, the vehicles were out the driveway, turning down School Street and left on the Montauk Highway, lights flashing and sirens blaring, heading toward Water Mill to escort this marvelous team back into town and over to the school, where practically the entire community was ready to congratulate them with cheers and speeches in *the middle of the night. What an achievement.
Earlier that day, the Killer Bees had faced last year’s champion, the New York Mills Marauders, and they beat them soundly. Charles Manning Jr., the junior guard, led the charge. He scored 31 points, had 8 rebounds and 5 steals. He was also voted MVP of the entire state tournament.
“We gave up 31 points to one kid in a game—we haven’t done that,” the Mills coach told the media after the game ended.
There were two really remarkable things about this game, other than what went down on the floor. One was that up in the stands, along with more than 100 fans with “Beelieve” t-shirts, was Charles’ dad, Maurice. Seventeen years ago, Maurice led the team to that last championship. And there he was, after this game was over, weeping in joy for his son’s accomplishment. In Maurice’s time, the Killer Bees won three state championships in a row—1995, ’96 and ’97—and Maurice Manning, then age 15–17, was named MVP in each of those years. Now it was his son’s time.
The other amazing thing was that the coach of Maurice’s team 17 years ago, Carl Johnson, would still be the coach of Maurice’s son’s team last Monday. He’s hung in there all these years without a repeat championship since Maurice’s time, and now here it was being accomplished by Maurice’s son, Charles Manning Jr., helped by teammates Josh Lamison, Tylik Furman, Elijah Jackson and the rest of the squad.
The Killer Bees did not have a perfect record this year and were not favorited to win. In particular, they had to beat Moriah, the champion from two years ago, and this year still unbeaten, in the semi-final. Coach Johnson decided to go at them for the entire game with a full court trap defense, which is an exhausting way to play. The Killer Bees worked it to no avail during the first half, and in the third quarter, they were trailing 26 to 25. But then the strategy took hold and Moriah caved. The final score was Bridgehampton 68, Moriah 60.
New York Mills presented a different problem, and Coach Johnson opted for a straight man-to-man defense. Holding New York Mills star Terrance Nichols to just 7 points, Bridgehampton pulled ahead early and stayed there, the whistle blowing the game over with the Killer Bees ahead—Bridgehampton 62, New York Mills 49.
Perhaps the best moment of the game came with about seven minutes left to play. New York Mills was closing the gap and was just 6 points down. And then here was Charles, leaping up toward the backboard, taking a quick pass from Furman and completing a hard slam dunk to take the starch out of Mills’ charge.
I’ve been a resident of the Hamptons for a long time and remember the days when the white community in this town, during the 1960s, fled the Bridgehampton School and reduced its student body down to just 50 or 60 students, almost all of whom were African-Americans.
From that time to this, the school proceeds with a student-teacher ratio similar to that of the best private schools in the country. The ratio is five to one, practically a tutorial situation. Remarkable.
What did those taxpayers want to do back then? Shut the school down, of course, and send the kids to Southampton or East Hampton or Pierson. Reduce those taxes. Two attempts were made to do that, five years apart, in the 1980s. The first failed by a few votes, the second actually succeeded by a few votes. But then there were complaints that some of the absentee voters were not residents, and a recount was done.
“The school stayed open by six votes,” Paul Jeffers, a former student who today is President of the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center, told me. “We got the word of the reversal, and I got in my car and drove to Central Islip where the Killer Bees were playing that school in the County Tournament. I got there at halftime. They were losing. They wore black ribbons on their shorts to mourn that the school was closing. They ripped them off. And they went out there, rallied and won the game. This was for the county championship that year.”
No further attempts were made to close the school after that, and in recent years the white population has begun to increase. Currently, there are about 140 students at the school and the balance today is about 1/3 African-American, 1/3 Hispanic and 1/3 white. It’s an all-American school. And this year the Bridgehampton School was recognized as a top school by the U.S. News & World Report rankings. There are big signs proclaiming it on the side walls of the school building.
And then, also last week, for the first time, the Bridgehampton School entered the island-wide playoffs to select semi-final winners for the annual National Robotics Competition in St. Louis later this month. A team of 11 Bridgehampton students proficient in math and engineering produced a six-foot-two-inch robot they called HugoBot, and, in the gym at Hofstra University, competed to see which robot could stack the most recycling bins and containers in a pile and then fill them with “litter” (pool noodles) in the prescribed amount of time.
Guess who’s going to St. Louis?
The kids need to pay their way to St. Louis. Care to help? Call 631-537-0271 and ask for Tammy.