Respected for winning more games in high school boys basketball than any other coach in Long Island history and for being fiercely competitive despite his professorial demeanor and attire on the sideline, Ed Petrie was once called "the John Wooden of Long Island basketball" by a rival coach.
That's a fitting description for Petrie, who won 754 games in a 52-year career, 588 at East Hampton. Petrie idolized Wooden, the legendary UCLA coach who won 10 NCAA titles, the most in men's basketball history, and also was known as soft-spoken but intense.
"He was the most competitive person I've ever met," Petrie's son, Ed Jr., said this past week. "He wanted to beat you if he was playing ping-pong."
Petrie, 82, died last Sunday in East Hampton of a sudden illness, leaving behind an enviable basketball legacy. He won more games than any other public school coach in New York State history. Petrie won 20 league championships, three Suffolk County crowns and two New York State titles. He is a member of the Suffolk County and New York State sports halls of fame.
"The thing I took from him is that you can be a fierce competitor but still be an educator and a gentleman," former Amityville coach Jack Agostino told Newsday in 2010 after Petrie retired at East Hampton High School with a 588-224 record in 41 years. Petrie also won 146 games in 10 years at Pierson and 20 in his one season at Bridgehampton.
Agostino was part of what Ed Jr. said was "a massive turnout" at Thursday's wake in East Hampton. "The community showed up in force. Coaches were there. Players from his first team at Pierson in 1959 were there," Ed Jr. said. "My backcourt partner at East Hampton, Kenny Carter, came up from South Carolina. Kenny Wood drove up from Washington, then had to drive right back."
That's not surprising because Petrie made a lasting impression on his players on the court, in the classroom and in the community. "His players would graduate and always come back and visit him," Ed Jr. said. "I had so many calls this week and many of them started out, 'If it wasn't for your Dad . . . ' ''
Petrie grew up in Westchester, where he was a star at F.E. Bellows High School (now Rye Neck High) and a captain of the 1951 team. That's where the coaching seed was planted.
"When I was in high school, I had determined that was what I was going to do," the elder Petrie told Newsday in 2010.
But first he had to see how far his playing career would take him. Petrie was a star at Seton Hall University and a late cut by the Knicks in 1957. He answered an ad for a coaching position at Sag Harbor's Pierson High School in 1959 and said he needed to look on a map to find out where the hamlet was before driving out for his interview. He was offered the job and never left the area.
"I fell in love with the East End," Petrie said in 2010, and the feeling was mutual. He built a popular powerhouse despite a small talent pool that produced several stars, including the Wood brothers: Kenny, who starred at Richmond, and Howard, who played at Tennessee. He coached sons Ed Jr. and Mike in the late 1970s, and both earned Division II basketball scholarships.
"That was special," Ed Jr. said, "because we got to see the respect all the kids had for my dad. There was never an issue playing for him. He treated Mike and I the same as the rest of the players. Then we got home and he was our dad."
Brian Carey, currently the coach at Huntington High School and a longtime opponent of Petrie's, called him "the most prepared and smartest coach I ever encountered. Coaching against Ed forced you to be a better coach. Always humble in victory and respectful in defeat. Just a great coach and a better-than-great person."
Petrie is survived by his wife, Nancy; sons Mike and Ed Jr.; daughter-in-law Julie; daughters Cindy and Miriam; three grandchildren and nine step-grandchildren.
The family asked that any donations in Petrie's name be made to the Animal Rescue Fund in East Hampton. Said Ed Jr.: "My dad was a huge dog lover."