Eye on the Ball: Island sports in 2015

BOB DeSTEFANO

BOB DeSTEFANO

When I look back to just one single year in my life, the longest was when I went from 17 to 18. Now, one year goes by so fast it seems like a month.

With this, the last Eye on the Ball for 2015, I’m  centering my thoughts on how sports, in this tiny, unique place, shows us the importance they play in our lives.

Imagine, a school with graduating high school classes of 20 competing on an even basis with schools two to five times that size.

If, in any year, a few children decided they not to compete in organized sports, we wouldn’t have any teams.

Keeping students fulfilled with activities gives them little time to just hang out. Our high percentage of student involvement not only gives them the much-needed exercise but benefits them in the life lessons sports teaches.

The only major sport we don’t have is football; I wonder if that is really a negative.

The most popular sport on the Island is basketball, where we only need five players to make up a squad. For years, I’ve enjoyed watching young players starting in CYO with little ability, then going to junior high bringing the basics they’ve learned in CYO.

The next time I see them, they’re playing JV ball with many more essential skills in place. Finally, when it’s time for the varsity, they’re fully grown youths sporting almost a lifetime of training in the rules, court management, ball handling and shooting skills.

Over the next two months, there will be plenty of basketball games. If you attend, you’ll see the stands filled with supporters watching well-trained athletes. Through the years, not enough has been said about our dedicated coaches. They are the unsung heroes and heroines of our high school sports program. Believe me, it is not easy taking the few children we have and molding them into excellent athletes.

For little or no money, the coaches devote an unbelievable amount of hours to our children. I guess the reward for the coach is the enjoyment of developing young athletes. A bonus reward is simply that with that child, they’re developing a friend for life.

Touching on a few recent 2015 performance highlights, we can start with the boys basketball team, winning a league title, while our varsity volleyball team won the county title this year for an incredible 12 years in a row.

This year, our boys and girls cross country teams won the league title and then the boys finished 7th and the girls 9th in the State Championships.

Other organized school sports, played at highly competitive levels include baseball, softball and golf.

Away from the school, for the 37th straight year, little Shelter Island will host the annual 10K race, attracting the finest runners in the world. For the past two years, Meb Keflezighi raced. Meb is not only an Olympic Silver Medalist but the 2013 winner of the Boston Marathon. Along with Meb, you could also be running next to such legends as Joan Benoit-Samuelson, Bill Rodgers or Frank Shorter.

Keeping us entertained again all summer was our own Shelter Island Bucks in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League. These players are from colleges all over the country, who come to live on the Island and compete against all the surrounding towns on the East End. This was a particularly fun year with the Bucks thrilling us right to the end, finishing the season as league champions.

Again, without remuneration, managers and volunteers did all the work. The games were held at Fiske field where we sported the largest crowds in the league. I would call this program — “Team Shelter Island.”
Islanders opened their homes to house the players and coaches. Island businesses sponsored the program. The players and

Islanders took care of the field while volunteers cooked hot dogs and hamburgers. After every game, local restaurants donated meals for all players from both teams.

We have two golf courses, with one open to the public while the other is private. In the private club, 59-year-old member Jay Sessa won Long Island Senior Golfer of the Year for the last three years. There’s also 97-year-old Sid Beckwith, who leads the nation at shooting your age. Sid has accomplished this feat — are you ready? — 1,150 times.

Still looking for more activities? We have an active bowling alley with organized leagues. One of the members, Kevin Lechmanski, rolled a perfect 300 game this year.

You could also be a member of a the Shelter Island Yacht Club, which hosts  a tremendous junior program. Of all the stories I wrote this year, I felt the one about the men and one woman from our yacht club racing a 60-foot sailboat over 5,000 miles this past summer was the best. The main race was the 3,000 mile-transatlantic race to England, where they finished in third place.

The team also finished second in the prestigious 2015 Atlantic Ocean Racing Series. This award was based on their combined score for the Caribbean 600, Transatlantic, Fastnet, and Middle Sea races.

Yes, 2015 was quite a year on our Island. One column can’t even come close to capturing Island sports.

For me and my family, with this being our 55th year here, we guessed right. We felt that we were in a place that would provide us our bottom line to happiness.

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