It took 17 years, but the Killer Bees finally bridged a generation gap.
Bridgehampton, which hadn't won a state Class D boys basketball championship since 1998, impressively rolled to its ninth title on March 21. From coach Carl Johnson to star player Charles Manning Jr. and right down to the ball boys, there were family ties to past champions all around. Dozens of the old guard cheered on the new guards -- and forwards -- in a familiar venue, Glens Falls Civic Center.
"I love every single one of them that made the trip," said Johnson, who played for the Killer Bees when they won three state titles in a row from 1978-80 and has coached them to four more. "It's like being back home."
It was a homecoming that gave this year's championship team a huge boost. Manning transferred from Riverhead, where his mother lives, to Bridgehampton, where his father -- three-time state champion and three-time MVP Maurice Manning -- lives. Charles Jr. earned his first MVP trophy this year with 31 points, eight rebounds and five steals in the title-game victory over New York Mills and 29 points, nine rebounds and four blocks in a semifinal win over Moriah.
Maurice Manning was one of more than a hundred fans who made the five-hour trip upstate to cheer on Bridgehampton, many wearing "BEE-lieve" T-shirts. He was emotional afterward, saying: "I can hardly talk. I hoped it could all work out this way."
His son made sure it did. Manning Jr., a versatile and skilled 6-3 junior who can play all three positions, lit up the Civic Center with an explosive dunk in the title game.
"It got me so hyped," he said of the fourth-quarter alley-oop feed from point guard Tylik Furman. "It was at the right moment, in the championship game. It was a great feeling. I wanted to be the best player on the court. It makes me feel good that I was able to make my father happy."
Others shared similar familial ties to the proud hoops history of a school with only 61 students, 20 boys, in grades 9-12.
Forward Josh Lamison, who had a double-double in points and rebounds in both state tournament games, has two uncles who played on state championship teams.
Furman's father and uncle played on title teams, as did the brother of sophomore starter Elijah Jackson. Two ball boys have relatives with championship pedigrees, too.
"It's just so amazing," said Lamison, a junior who has started since the eighth grade and, though only 6 feet tall, is a relentless rebounder. "In eighth grade, I wrote down what I wanted to accomplish: get my 1,000th point this year, dunk in a game and win a state championship. It's been a very long time. Now there's a new generation of Bees."
In fact, every player on the roster returns.
When reminded that the Killer Bees are only one title behind perennial Class AA power Mount Vernon for the most in the state, Johnson, who wears a black-and-gold bumblebee tie on game days, said impishly, "Now we have a goal."