“It’s crazy. I’ve been going to the Hamptons for 20–30 years and I thought the Hamptons was all about rich people. But there’s another side of the Hamptons that you really don’t see. And this team, they’ve been winning championships for the longest time. And it’s a great story. When I saw it I called them up and said ‘I want to be an executive producer.’ It’s a great film. Check it out.”—Shaquille O’Neal, Producer, “Killer Bees”
Two years ago, two brothers, Ben and Orson Cummings, had the idea to make a documentary about the Bridgehampton Killer Bees basketball team. The Killer Bees have won nine state championships in the last 40 years. After they win in the finals upstate, they head home on the team bus, a six-hour drive.
Those on the bus—the players with “Killer Bees” on their uniforms, the coaches, the cheerleaders and some fans—keep in touch with people in Bridgehampton so when they get out past Riverhead, well after dark, the fire trucks and the police cars can head out to meet up with them and, with lights flashing, guide them the rest of the way home. There’s a party on the school’s front lawn, a little one anyway, as the kids meet up with their parents who have stayed up late to take them home. If there were a way to measure pride and excitement, it would be a 10 out of 10.
Ben and Orson are Bridgehampton alums. The pair had made three films before this hour-and-a-half long documentary called Killer Bees. It premiered at the Hampton International Film Festival last October. Here’s how it is described by IMDB.com, where reviewers have given it 9.4 stars out of 10.
A championship high school basketball team provides pride, tradition and hope for an African American community struggling to survive in the middle of one of the wealthiest communities in America—The Hamptons.
As things sometimes happen, even with the best of documentaries, it would be entirely possible that this independent film might never have seen the light of day again after its premiere. But Killer Bees will not die.
Last week, the filmmakers announced that they had inked a contract with the film distributor Gravitas Productions. Killer Bees will be available as a film on demand on iTunes, and if that is successful it could expand distribution to Netflix, Hulu and a whole bunch of other sites.
By the way, next week, the film is off to the Toronto Film Festival, by the Festival’s invitation. It will be making the rounds.
Last October, at our film festival, two scheduled showings sold out, then a third was scheduled that also sold out. In January, the film was shown in its entirety in the auditorium of the McCall Building at the Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center to a packed house. I had missed the earlier showings, so I first saw it there.
The Bridgehampton School has a history of sports successes. In the 1950s, the young baseball player Carl Yastrzemski starred on the high school team, and then went on to become a legendary star for the Boston Red Sox. In more recent years, the focus has been on basketball.
The school had just 191 students last year. There have been times when all the boys in the senior class played on the team. They win not because of size—those they play invariably are taller than they are—but because of their speed, playmaking and relentless full court offense that often overwhelms their opponents when it comes down the home stretch.
But the real story is about the African-American neighborhood nearby that the school serves. Back in the 1950s and before, African-American students, many the children of migrant workers who came north to pick the potato crop here, made up about 20% of Bridgehampton’s student body. But beginning in the 1960s, as white flight took hold, the school shrank to little more than 100 kids, and African-American students composed about 80% percent of the school.
By 1970, largely because laws governing student-teacher ratios required certain minimums, the school was basically providing a private school education. At the same time, real estate prices began to soar and a substantial number of New Yorkers began to move in, who were now paying substantial school taxes to keep this public school for mostly minorities open. An attempt was made to shut the school down.
The largely African-American student body should be bused to East Hampton High School or Southampton High School, some said. A community vote was taken and the attempt failed by just a few votes.
Today, the school is cited by U.S. News & World Report in their annual rating of schools around the country. Bridgehampton School, which is now about 26% African-American, trumpets its achievements on great billboards that are hung on the front of the building. It is also undergoing an expansion.
Prominent in the film is former Coach Carl Johnson, who is now retired but who led the team to its last six championships and who years ago played on three teams that won the title. But the real stars of the film are the enthusiastic boys and girls and the parents who root for their team even as the entire world of the East End has largely changed into an enclave for the rich.
Ben and Orson Cummings, who spent their entire childhood’s in one home on Narrow Lane in Bridgehampton, the sons of Mary and Richard Cummings, began making their film while the team was winding its way through the 2016–2017 season.
It was hoped that the film would climax in that fire-engine escort coming home with the state championship trophy, and the entire film is encased in the various games they play toward that effort, but there are also interviews with local merchants, teachers, real estate agents, parents and friends, and one especially nice one with Bonnie Cannon, the Director of the Bridgehampton Child Care Center where the film was later shown.
Do they make it? You think I’m going to give that away?
It will be available on iTunes shortly. Watch it.