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Girls Basketball: A league without wins, losses

The adjective in the East End Super League may be the word that best describes how girls basketball coaches and players feel about the fledgling summer league. It’s unlike any league most people have ever seen before.

The most obvious difference between this and other leagues is that in the EESL, well, there are no winners and no losers, and there will be no champion. Try wrapping your mind around that one.

Teams in the 10-team league play 12-minute quarters for an hour. Often, at the end of each quarter, the scoreboard is wiped clean and it’s back to 0-0, unless the coaches desire otherwise.

No scores. No standings. No timeout limits.

No complaints.

The other thing observers will notice is that in the EESL, it’s not uncommon for coaches to walk onto the court during a stoppage and give instructions to players as if it was a practice. Games are treated like game scrimmages, with an emphasis on instruction.

“It’s pure instructional,” said Greenport/Southold coach Skip Gehring, whose enthusiasm shows when he speaks about the new creation he was centrally involved in forming. “You’re playing the Brookhaven League or at Island Garden [in West Hempstead], and they’re keeping score, so where does the opportunity [come] for the kids to practice what they’re working on during the summer? So, they learn a new skill. When do they get a chance to use it if they’re keeping score? In the summer league, the coach is worried about winning and losing. Here, the score doesn’t matter.”

The EESL is run in conjunction with the Island Garden Super League. Gehring, who is on the board of directors of the Long Island Lightning, based in West Hempstead, wanted a summer league in which players could improve their skills and build their confidence without the complicating pressure of winning games. After consultations with other coaches, the EESL was born, beginning play in early July and wrapping up its first season this month.

In addition to Gehring’s Greenport team, the league also had teams representing East Hampton, Hampton Bays, Mattituck, Pierson, Riverhead, Southampton and Westhampton Beach.

Gehring felt so strongly about the EESL’s mission that he picked up all the league costs himself, including those for insurance, uniforms and referees.

When he first discussed the idea for the sort of league he envisioned, Gehring was initially met with puzzled looks. “Once we got into it, after the first week, everybody was on board, everybody,” he said.

The idea behind this is, by removing winning and losing from the equation, players can feel free to work on their weaknesses and try things that they might not otherwise feel comfortable trying in a game that counts in the standings.

“I was really happy about it because you don’t have to stress about the score,” Greenport freshman guard Skylar Mysliborski said Friday evening before her team played Pierson at Southampton Youth Services. “The biggest positive, I think, is everyone gets better.”

Teammate Adrine Demirciyan, a sophomore guard, said playing in the EESL was “weird at first. It was so unusual, but once you get into it, was so much fun. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about getting better. And it’s less nerve-wracking.”

Greenport eighth-grade guard Aiko Fujita said: “It’s definitely mostly improving on your skills and not about if you mess up or anything. It helps me a lot because now I’m not worrying about making a mistake.”

In this league, you will see things you never saw before, like a Pierson player wearing No. 407 or a coach helping out a player from another team — during a game.

Jenna Sledjeski, a freshman forward and the youngest player on the Mattituck team, was taken aback by what happened in her first EESL game against Greenport. Gehring walked onto the court and gave her tips on boxing out. “I was like, ‘What the heck?’ I was surprised,” she recalled.

Even the referees are part of the instruction, and can be seen talking to players and explaining calls to them.

Sledjeski, who played junior high school ball this past school season, said the league is easing her transition to the next level. “It kind of gives me a chance to see what varsity is like,” she said. “It’s helping me a lot. It’s showing me what to expect.”

Mattituck coach Diane Nicholson said the EESL has opened up opportunities for players who may not be ready to play in the Town of Brookhaven Summer League. “They just want to get better,” she said. “It should be fun. Summer’s fun, and that’s the way this league has been.”

Riverhead coach Pat Fabian said his players had favorable reactions to the league with no standings.

“I think it was good,” he said. “It was not even like they thought about it. They just went out played. It was like organized pickup … It was instructive pickup.

“We’re the only league that has been like this that we have seen. It’s just different. It’s not winning and losing. It’s just getting out there and playing. This is what coaches wanted. It’s just perfect.”

This could be a revolutionary concept for a summer league. Who knows what the future holds, but Gehring has seen positive signs. “I’ve already had calls from eight other schools to join this league next year,” he said.

In a sense, all of the league’s teams are helping make each other better.

“It’s a perfect way to describe it,” Sledjeski said. “It definitely made my summer a lot better.”

Greenport junior guard Jenna McFarland admitted that from time to time she glances up at the scoreboard. Old habits die hard.

She said, “At the end of every game, we’re like, ‘Who won?’ ”

Maybe everyone.

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Photo caption: Greenport/Southold coach Skip Gehring makes a point to Jenna McFarland during an East End Super League game Friday night at Southampton Youth Services. (Credit: George Faella)