The two high school girls basketball teams on the court sported their colors, but their true colors, as evidenced by last Wednesday night’s proceedings, were red, white and blue.
It was Military Appreciation Night at Greenport High School’s Richard “Dude” Manwaring Gymnasium, and patriotism flowed. The night, a Greenport/Southold tradition started by coach Skip Gehring five years ago, was an opportunity to give a big thank you to current and former military service people. It’s a subject that’s dear to the heart of Gehring, a Navy veteran himself.
“It’s just an appreciation for all the freedom,” Gehring said in an interview before the pregame ceremony. “We’re in the best country in the world, and there’s a reason why.”
Later, addressing the spectators with a microphone in his hand, Gehring invited military veterans down to the court, where they were joined by both the Center Moriches and Greenport players while he spoke glowingly about their service to the country. The veterans were presented with military-themed shirts and military veteran coins. Following the ceremony, the veterans received a standing ovation.
Perhaps inspired by the occasion, the Porters then went on to win the Suffolk County League VII game, 53-24, and pull within one win of clinching their first playoff berth in three years.
“Military appreciation is just a great game to be a part of,” said Greenport guard Skylar Mysliborski, who has many veterans in her family, including her grandfather, Stephen Murphy, a Vietnam War veteran who she hugged. “It appreciates all the people that make this possible for us.
“I think it brings everyone back down to earth a little bit. I think everyone kind of takes things for granted and doesn’t really think about who gives us the opportunity to live and live in this country. It’s just such a great thing to do.”
Greenport forward Julia Jaklevic has an appreciation for the event, too, being a member of an NJROTC program. “It’s really a privilege to be able to do it,” she said. “These men and women served for us and they did the ultimate sacrifice. They came home safely, but they were fighting for our country, and we get to play basketball thanks to them.”
The Military Appreciation Night game is a big one on Gehring’s calendar, and it has nothing to do with the opponent. Referring to Memorial Day and Veterans Day, he said veterans “should be honored 365 days a year, not one, not two — all the time.” He said the red on the American flag “symbolizes the blood that was shed during all the wars from all of these soldiers.”
Following the inspirational words from their coach, the Porters (9-8, 7-6) turned in inspired play, never trailing and springing out to a 23-9 lead. Greenport’s defense pressured Center Moriches (4-14, 4-10) into 27 turnovers and limited the Red Devils to 16% shooting (8-for-50).
“We came out aggressive and firing on all cylinders,” said Mysliborski, who had 13 points. “We pushed the ball and we played aggressive defense, and that’s what we do.”
Adrine Demirciyan scored five straight Greenport baskets and netted 13 points during an 18-1 run that gave the Porters a 47-16 lead early in the fourth quarter. She turned in a fine all-around game with 17 points, 13 rebounds, eight steals and four assists. The sophomore guard shot 8-for-15 from the field.
“Overall I think we played a great game,” Demirciyan said. “This was team basketball tonight. Our chemistry was definitely stronger than it’s ever been.”
Emma Morris led Center Moriches with nine points. Lily Murphy added seven points and 10 rebounds.
To seal a playoff spot, Greenport needs one win from its three remaining regular-season games at Hampton Bays Friday, home versus Pierson/Bridgehampton/Shelter Island Monday and at Port Jefferson Wednesday. None of the Porters have ever been in a playoff game.
“It would mean the world and more to get into the playoffs,” said Mysliborski.
Demirciyan said, “As soon as we’re in, it’s a whole new season.”
That would certainly be something to appreciate, but on Wednesday night, it was time for military veterans to be appreciated.
In his pregame ceremony remarks, Gehring said, “It really is a wonderful world because of what these people have done for all of us, for their families, through personal sacrifice.”