‘Coach Al’ honored with Helen Wright Prince Award by Southold Anti-Bias Task Force

Retired Greenport High School boys basketball coach Al Edwards had the same motto he recited throughout his 34-year-long coaching career: “everybody’s going to grow and everybody’s going to make mistakes.” 

No matter what setbacks his players faced, he believed they all deserved a second chance — on and off the court. This sentiment was celebrated at Peconic Landing in Greenport on Oct. 5, where Mr. Edwards received the seventh annual Helen Wright Prince Award from the Town of Southold Anti-Bias Task Force. 

This award is presented every October to members of the community who promote diversity, unity and fairness. 

“I will continue to strive to help others feel good about themselves and set high goals for themselves — give it all they got,” Mr. Edwards said. “Most of all, [I want them to] show respect towards people they run into on a daily basis, whatever the circumstances may be.” 

The award’s name honors the late Helen Wright Prince, who died in 2013 at the age of 101. Ms. Prince spent most of her life helping children and families in need and decades working at area migrant labor camps, including a notorious camp that operated on Cox Lane in Cutchogue. 

Previous honorees have included Pauline Smith of Headstart in Southold and current Southold Town Board member Brian Mealy. 

“We all have been called to service, we all have a responsibility, not just to better ourselves, but to better our community,” said Mr. Mealy. “It’s a special moment for Southold where we show our unity, our togetherness and our love for and appreciation for each other.” 

Over the past three decades, the beloved “Coach Al” became known in the Greenport community for his dedication to not only the high school’s basketball team, but to the youth and for keeping his players on the right track. 

Mr. Edwards got emotional thanking his late parents for giving him “courage and a path to follow.” His father, Charles, was a mechanic for Mullen Motors and his mother, Sarah, was a school bus driver. 

As a teenager, Mr. Edwards played basketball for Greenport High School and earned the All-American Player of the Year award from the New York Daily News. After graduating from high school, he attended East Carolina University on a full-ride scholarship to play at the NCAA division level. He captained the university’s basketball team during his senior year. 

Following his college career, he returned to his alma mater to coach the Greenport High School basketball varsity team in 1979. He was one of the first honorees inducted into the Suffolk County Hall of Fame.

“With an even-tempered demeanor, he always showed class in victory or defeat,” said LeRoy Heyliger, member of the Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force steering committee. 

Family members, former schoolmates from Greenport High School’s class of 1972, assistant coaches and several players from the past joined together to recognize the achievements of Mr. Edwards. 

This included one of his former players, Everett Corwin, who recalled an early memory from his childhood of Mr. Edwards taking him and a bus full of kids from the Youth Center to the Westbury Music Fair. Many years later, Mr. Corwin worked alongside Mr. Edwards on the sidelines coaching with him. 

“I learned a lot by watching him — I also learned about giving second chances,” Mr. Corwin said. “Some of these kids that we dealt with, they came to school that day because they wanted to come to practice — there might have been some things going on at home and they were acting out, but to kick them to the curb just wasn’t the right thing to do.” 

Mr. Edwards expressed his gratitude for the former players who spoke about how his presence positively impacted their lives. 

“It’s always rewarding when a student graduates, goes away and they come back, they see you with a smile and they really appreciate something little that you did for them or said to them to keep them moving in the right direction,” said Mr. Edwards.