Well before the festivities began, Al Edwards was shaking hands with friends in the stands when all of a sudden, a round of impromptu cheering erupted: “We — are — proud of you! We are proud of you!”
Those words were directed at Edwards.
The night was all about Coach Al, as the former Greenport High School boys basketball coach is known. Edwards, whose retired No. 33 jersey hangs high on a wall at the school’s Richard “Dude” Manwaring Gymnasium, now looks down upon Coach Al Court.
Edwards is Greenport basketball royalty, now more than ever.
The court was officially dedicated in Edwards’ name Wednesday night. “A long time in coming,” said athletic director Chris Golden, who called Edwards “a true Greenport legend.”
When Edwards joined Golden at center court for the pregame ceremony, he received a standing ovation. Then he whirled around to recognize the applause from all quarters and reciprocate.
Standing in the middle of a bigger, brighter gym than the one he played in when he wore a Greenport uniform, Edwards, 63, addressed the crowd. He expressed thanks to Greenport staff members, other coaches, his former players and his wife, Denise. He choked up when he spoke of how his parents taught him to “work hard, to always be the best you can be.”
The Porters (4-1) took those words to heart and beat Mattituck, 80-59, in a non-league game, with a career-high 40 points and eight assists from Ahkee Anderson and 23 points and 12 assists from Jaxan Swann. Jude Swann, Jaxan’s brother, collected 16 rebounds to go with six points, six blocks and four assists.
“Everyone was calling it Coach Al Day, so we all wanted to try to put on a show for him today,” said Anderson.
Xavier Allen, who is Anderson’s cousin, led Mattituck (5-2) with 18 points. Ryan Seifert added 13 and H’Nadahri Joyner had 10. Isaiah Johnson had eight points and 10 assists.
But, first and foremost, the storyline was about Edwards, who starred for Greenport as a player before going on to play for East Carolina and then returning to coach the Porters for 34 years.
After the game, Edwards said, “It adds a little extra touch that my name’s on the floor in Dude Manwaring’s gym.”
There’s a good reason why Edwards has been called Mr. Greenport Basketball. As a player, he scored 2,117 points for Greenport (all before the three-point shot was introduced) and was recognized as a New York Daily News All-American. After taking over from Manwaring as the team’s coach in 1979, his teams won 383 games, 12 league championships and 10 Suffolk County titles. He also guided the Porters to three straight trips to the state final four, including an appearance in the state Class D final in 2009. Edwards was among those in the first class inducted into the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame.
“It’s really been a pleasure to say that I coached at Greenport High School,” Edwards told the fans in attendance. “I really appreciate the support from everybody out here.”
Being in the glare of the spotlight is not something Edwards prefers, those who know him say. “I know Al doesn’t like the public stuff, but I could tell this meant a lot to him,” said Greenport coach Ev Corwin.
The first thing Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood mentioned when asked about his thoughts on Edwards was how he maintained his calm demeanor while coaching.
“Everyone would be going crazy, the players on the floor and the fans, and he was always calm and he was always even keel no matter what was the situation,” Ellwood said. “He had been there, done that. So the kids really fed off that. That’s why I think Greenport always played so well in big games, because of Al’s confidence and calmness.”
In a postgame interview, Edwards said: “The turnout was overwhelming. I just hope that the Porters can continue their winning ways and put another banner on the wall.”
It would go well with the name on the floor.
Photo caption: Former Greenport player and coach Al Edwards applauds the fans during the pregame ceremony in which the school’s basketball court was dedicated in his name. (Credit: Garret Meade)