Homecoming weekend was one for the history books in East Hampton. Along with taking back the Hampton Cup from Southampton in a huge 42-7 victory, East Hampton High School honored its long history of athletic talent and triumphs by inducting the Bonac Sports Hall of Fame’s inaugural class on Saturday.
East Hampton’s nominating committee, comprising 13 voting members, put out a call for potential nominees back in February and the resulting athletes, teams and coaches, along with one local sports reporter, were officially inducted in a ceremony accompanied by breakfast at the school on Saturday morning.
Inductees were limited to athletes who had graduated more than 10 years ago and the individuals include 1951 graduate and star athlete in baseball, football, basketball and track, Leroy DeBoard; four-sport athlete from the class of 1979, Margaret Dunn; brothers Howard and Kenny Wood, both of whom excelled in basketball at the school in the classes of 1979 and 1989 respectively; and 1994 graduates Ross Gload and Ellamae Gurney, who are the youngest inductees and played baseball and field hockey and softball.
Rich Balnis Sr. of the class of 1963, Frank Jewels of ’29, Bill McDonald from ’66, Walter Sheades, ’30, and Kendall Madison from the class of 1991 rounded out the class of 12 individual athletes with posthumous inductions.
Coaches Ed Petrie Sr. and Fran Kiernan were also inducted. Petrie retired coaching Bonac basketball in 2010 after 50 years on the bench, more than 40 at EHHS, and becoming the “winningest” public high school boys basketball coach in the state with 754 career wins and state championship wins in 1977 and ’89, as well as making it to the finals as recently as 2008. Along with his addition to the Hall of Fame, East Hampton’s basketball court was named in his honor last year. Kiernan, now 100 years old, is a former athletic director at East Hampton and he coached football, basketball and baseball between 1945 and 1960.
Finally, two exemplary Bonacker teams were inducted on Saturday: Kiernan’s 6-0 undefeated 1952 football team and 1989’s field hockey team, which, under coach Ellen Cooper, made the state finals and was the women’s sports program’s first ever participant at that level of play. “Even though they fell short on the field, they did not fall short in our hearts,” East Hampton’s current athletic director Joe Vasile-Cozzo said of the field hockey team, which did not win the state final that year.
Vasile-Cozzo brought out the assorted inductees and spoke about them before kickoff at homecoming on Saturday night, to big cheers from the crowd.
“It’s an honor just to be here,” George Cafiso of the 1952 football team said, noting that coach Kiernan taught the team how to win, how to lose and to always keep their composure on the field. Cafiso was the highest scorer in Suffolk County the following year with 13 touchdowns. “I had good guys in front of me,” he said.
Kenny Wood, who led the Bonackers to a state basketball championship in 1989 and went on to play in Spain and South America, said it felt great to be back in East Hampton for this honor, especially in front of friends and family, and alongside his brother Howard. Wood, now living just outside of Washington DC in Maryland, said he spends his time “chasing my kids,” adding that because of his two daughters and son, “I’m on a court or a field every day.”
Howard Wood, now the head coach of the Lady Bonackers basketball team, was named among the top 100 players of all-time at the University of Tennessee in 2009, and he played professional ball briefly for the Utah Jazz in 1981, but he said the Bonac Hall of Fame was among his proudest moments. “It was a great feeling, especially in your hometown and your home school,” Wood said. “This is as big as it was in Tennessee,” he added. “It’s just as important to me.”
Gload, now a professional baseball player, made a rare trip home to East Hampton for the induction. “It’s just amazing it’s the first one ever,” he said of his inclusion in the inaugural Hall of Fame class. “It’s an honor.” Gload, who was with his young son on Saturday, said East Hampton baseball was of paramount importance to his career. “It was the reason I got where I am,” he said, noting he played first base for three years and right field during his freshman year at Bonac. He has since played for the Chicago Cubs, the Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, Florida Marlins and most recently the Philadelphia Phillies. He is currently a free agent.
With the new tradition in place, the East Hampton Sports Hall of Fame induction committee has made it clear that there remains a goldmine of talent to mine for the next class of inductees, and with the school’s recent successes in various sports, it appears the field of potential choices is only growing.