By Gavin Menu
Buried in an equipment closet in a stuffed file cabinet at the Sag Harbor Elementary School are records on some of the most memorable moments in Pierson athletic history. The de-facto keeper of the records is Sean Crowley, an elementary school physical education teacher who has coached various sports at Pierson Middle-High School for the last 25 years.
When he arrived at Pierson in 1987, Crowley replaced Bob Vishno, the long-time coach and athletic director who had kept record books, basically stats from game-to-game, for golf, baseball and basketball — the only sports available to boys at the time — and for girls basketball. In total, the books are the most-reliable record of high school athletic history in Sag Harbor, even as the tales passed down through generations at The Corner Bar or The Sag Harbor Golf Club might tell a different story.
“As time passes the legend is sometimes better than the reality,” Crowley joked on Tuesday while looking through some of the old books. “But I’m proud of this. When you look at these scorebooks, you can see the stories of the games. The annals are past on but that moment in time can easily be forgotten.”
Such as the eighth inning of the Suffolk County Class B-C-D Championship game in the spring of 1996, when the Whalers baseball team, with Crowley as the coach, pulled off one of the biggest upsets in school history. Bobby Schmitz, Dan Mitchell and Bridgehampton’s Ian Tiska rallied to score three runs in extra innings to give Pierson a 7-4 lead. Eric Bramoff pitched a complete game to pick up the win, all according to the record book.
“If we played that team 100 times, we probably would have won just that once,” Crowley said, clearly excited as he recalled a game from almost 16 years ago. “It’s a moment in time that if you don’t preserve it, it gets lost forever.”
Flipping through an older baseball book, Crowley stopped on a game between Pierson and Bridgehampton and pointed out a row with a player named Yastrzemski, who had picked up a couple of hits that day. The player, of course, was future Hall-of-Famer Carl Yastrzemski, who grew up in Bridgehampton.
But the first book Crowley pulled on Tuesday was from the 1978 boys basketball season, which, with Vishno as the coach, produced the only New York State basketball championship in school history. The Whalers knocked off upstate Hamilton High School, 71-68, on March 18 that year to win the state title at the War Memorial in Rochester. Eric Brown led the way with 20 points and Willie and Darnell Coffey chipped in with 17 points apiece.
Ten years earlier Pierson’s boys basketball team was led by a young head coach named Ed Petrie, who went on to win more public high school basketball games than any coach in New York State history. In 1967, Petrie led the Whalers to the Suffolk County final, where they lost a heartbreaker, 75-71, to Half Hollow Hills. Pierson’s star player at the time, Bob Vacca, was in foul trouble early in the game, but roared back to score 11 points in the fourth quarter. Phil Carney was on fire in the second half, scoring 32 points in an effort that ultimately fell short.
“This is not about re-living your glory days, but you have to give everybody credit for their moment in time,” Crowley said. “Back in ’67, the whole town revolved around basketball. There was basketball and then there was everything else.”
Some of the record books bring back tough memories as well, like those from the girls basketball teams in the mid-1980’s, some of which were led by star player Kate Browngardt, that fell just short of a number of state titles.
“You could be in here all day,” Crowley said as he told stories and shuffled through files in the cramped closet.
Crowley said there have been a number of coaching changes in recent years as well as a revolving door of athletic directors that has resulted in a lag in the record keeping. Crowley has been the head golf coach and continues to keep records, but said there are now some missing years from the basketball and baseball programs.
“I’ll try to assemble as much as possible and people should feel welcome to contact me if they have old record books,” Crowley said as he locked the closet holding the crown jewels of Pierson’s athletic past. “All I need is another filing cabinet and to make sure they don’t get thrown out with the next renovation.”