In early March 1971, while he was still a junior on the Greenport boys basketball team, Al Edwards launched a jump shot in a playoff game against Islip that sank through the bottom of the net just like so many before. That basket vaulted Edwards to the position of all-time scoring leader in Suffolk County, a record that would stand for 17 years.
The game was momentarily stopped and Edwards was presented the basketball as the crowd cheered in a standing ovation. It was a sterling achievement but, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t ready to celebrate.
The story in the next edition of The Suffolk Times reported, “As he was presented with the basketball, the radio announcer commented that despite this great honor, Edwards didn’t look too happy because his team was behind. Everyone who knows Edwards agrees his main concern was Greenport’s winning first.”
That mentality and dedication to his work never eluded Mr. Edwards in the decades that followed. As a coach and teacher, he always strived for excellence. And in doing so, he happened to become one of the most recognizable and beloved figures on the East End.
For his three-decade career in coaching Greenport’s basketball teams, his work as a teacher at Eastern Suffolk BOCES and his ability to lead generations of young men, The Suffolk Times has chosen Al Edwards as 2013 Educator of the Year.
In May, after an illustrious 34-year career on the bench for Greenport, Mr. Edwards announced his retirement.
“He’s an icon,” Greenport athletic director Robbie Costantini said earlier this year, following Mr. Edwards’ announcement. “Are you kidding me? Greenport basketball, Al Edwards.”
Few people got to see Mr. Edwards in as many lights as Ev Corwin. As a kid growing up in Greenport, Mr. Corwin first met Mr. Edwards at youth programs. When he got older he became the ball boy for Mr. Edwards’ teams before eventually playing under him for the Porters. He went on to coach with Mr. Edwards as Greenport’s junior varsity coach and has now succeeded him as varsity coach.
“I think Al has a lot of patience, number one,” Mr. Corwin said. “He has a real good ability to listen to people and to not make snap judgements.”
After an all-American career during his high school days at Greenport, Mr. Edwards played college basketball at Eastern Carolina. He returned to Greenport following college and became varsity coach there in 1979.
He held that job until this season.
“I learned a lot, other than basketball X’s and O’s,” Mr. Corwin said. “I learned a lot about his class, his dignity.”
For as much as Greenport’s teams could be counted on to win each season, they did so with class. Mr. Edwards led by example and his teams followed.
“He took pride in the fact we won three or four county sportsmanship awards,” Mr. Corwin said. “He won those while winning Class D Long Island titles as well. He wanted our teams to try to represent the school with a lot of honor and pride.”
Mr. Edwards spent a majority of his teaching career at the Westhampton Beach Learning Center as a physical education teacher for special-needs students. He most recently worked at the Port Jefferson Academic Center.
Mr. Edwards also retired as a teacher, a position he started at BOCES in the fall of 1978.
A few months ago, Mr. Edwards was already back on a court, working with Mr. Corwin at a basketball clinic for students in grades three to six.
“It didn’t take him long,” Mr. Corwin said, “because that’s what he does.”
Mr. Corwin and Mr. Edwards have developed a close friendship over the years, so it was no surprise when Mr. Corwin received a phone call from his idol on the eve of coaching his first varsity game.
“He gave me a little pep talk,” Mr. Corwin said. “He’s always at the games still. He’s not going anywhere.”
After all, in Greenport, Al Edwards is Mr. Basketball.