Parents question decision to drop Greenport from lacrosse team

Reese Costello began playing lacrosse at 8 years old, developing skills through the North Fork Lacrosse Club. As an eighth-grader he joined the junior varsity of the Mattituck/Greenport/Southold boys lacrosse team. A year later, he was among the call-ups to varsity when the team reached the playoffs.

“He lived and breathed lacrosse,” said his mother, Karen.

Now a junior, Reese had his sights set on becoming a full-time member of the varsity next spring. But as a Greenport High School student, the 16-year-old will no longer be eligible to participate on varsity, according to school officials.

The Mattituck School District opted to drop Greenport from the combined team for varsity in 2018, leaving behind angry community members who have questioned the reasoning for the decision. As is common in many varsity sports on the North Fork, the boys lacrosse team combines students from multiple schools. Since the program began in 2010, Mattituck, Southold and Greenport have all participated — until now.

“We would like an answer as to why Greenport was cut,” said Ms. Costello, who lives in East Marion.

She spoke at Thursday’s Mattituck school board meeting along with several other community members who expressed disappointment over the exclusion.

“I see this move to exclude players that are from Greenport as just simply wrong,” said Bob Syron, who spoke of the opportunities his daughter Grace received as a Greenport student to play soccer and softball on combined teams with Southold.

Greenport students, including juniors, can still play junior varsity lacrosse, officials said. Reese is the only upperclassmen from Greenport who has expressed interest in boys lacrosse this year; Southold has between eight and 10 players and the majority of the team would be Mattituck students, officials said.

Charlie Anderson, the BOE vice president, said at Thursday’s meeting the decision was the result of a recommendation from the athletic directors of each school, who meet to determine which teams should combine each year.

“It has to do with what they felt, their recommendation to us, was for health and safety,” he said. “We had to take that strongly into consideration, which we did.”

The decision more likely stems from enrollment numbers, which would allow the team to compete in a smaller, less-competitive classification during the playoffs by excluding Greenport.

Greg Couch of Mattituck, director of the North Fork Lacrosse Club, spoke at last Thursday’s school board meeting and said every kid should be given an opportunity. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

Tom Combs, the executive director of Section XI, the governing body for Suffolk County sports, said the host school — in this case Mattituck — is not obligated to accept another school. He recently had a meeting with Greenport Superintendent David Gamberg, the athletic directors from Greenport and Southold and Ms. Costello. A Mattituck representative did not attend, he said.

“Mattituck chose not to take Greenport because it puts their numbers over and puts them into a different classification,” Mr. Combs said.

Last year, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association expanded boys lacrosse from three classifications to four. For the upcoming 2018 spring season, schools with an enrollment of 424 students or fewer qualify as Class D. Schools with an enrollment between 425 and 749 qualify as Class C, according to the NYSPHSAA classification numbers.

The enrollment number for a combined Mattituck and Southold team is 416, which would qualify as Class D in boys lacrosse. The addition of Greenport bumps the enrollment number to 459, thus qualifying the team as Class C.

For the spring season, only three Suffolk County schools qualify as Class D: Mattituck/Southold, Babylon and Port Jefferson. That means the road to the state tournament requires beating out only two teams. The path in Class C is far more challenging, with perennial top programs like Shoreham-Wading River, Sayville and Miller Place.

The classification numbers are different in girls lacrosse, so any combination of North Fork teams would still qualify as Class D (the girls team reached the state final four last year in Class D).

“As superintendent of both Greenport and Southold, my objective, my goal is always to expand opportunities for all students as much as possible,” Mr. Gamberg said. “As the sending school district, both Greenport and Southold, I would say we want to see opportunities for students who have made a commitment to a sport to be able to continue and that’s been our position all throughout.”

In boys lacrosse, teams are divided into two divisions and seeded according to a preseason ranking based on input from coaches. Mattituck is in Division II.

“From there, a computer spits out a schedule based on seeding,” Mr. Combs said.

That means the teams seeded higher play mostly against equal competition and vice versa for the lower-seeded teams. The team’s classification doesn’t factor directly into the schedule.

Last season, the Tuckers’ schedule featured games against schools of all classifications, the majority against Class B and C schools. In 2015 and 2016, before the expansion to four classifications, the Tuckers reached the county championship in Class C, losing both times to Babylon.

Mattituck BOE president Laura Jens-Smith said the combined teams are re-evaluated each year.

“The goal is to be able to have kids be able to participate in as many teams that we can field teams for in a safe environment,” Ms. Jens-Smith said.

That leaves Reese on the outside this season. Ms. Costello said her son, who wasn’t seeking the spotlight, is frustrated and unsure whether he’d want to continue with the program.

“He’s really upset,” she said. “He also feels kind of slighted and embarrassed.”

Top photo caption: Mattituck coach John Amato huddles with his players after the team’s 2016 county championship game. (Credit: Garret Meade, file)

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