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Greenport's iconic coach Al Edwards finally getting chance to relax

Retired Greenport High School teacher and varsity boys

Retired Greenport High School teacher and varsity boys basketball coach Al Edwards stands in front of the basketball trophy case at Greenport High School. (June 24, 2013) Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Al Edwards is bringing the lyrics of the Otis Redding soul classic to life. Edwards will be sittin' on the dock of the (Peconic) bay, watching the tide roll away. He'll be sittin' on the dock of the bay, wastin' time. Happily.

Edwards, 59, as well known in the small, close-knit North Fork community of Greenport as the waterfront shops and restaurants that are swelling with summer visitors, built Greenport High School into a perennial small-school boys basketball powerhouse. And as a newly minted retiree, Edwards will stroll a few steps from his house to sit on some of those docks he helped build as a high school and college kid and simply fish.

"It was time," Edwards said last week during a lengthy interview in the gymnasium at Greenport High School, a K-12 facility where he has spent much of his life.

He wore a white, sleeveless T-shirt that read "Porters Basketball" and frequently looked up at the more than 20 banners his teams have put on the walls of the old gym.

"I retired from teaching at Eastern Suffolk BOCES in Westhampton after 35 years, so I figured I'd stop coaching basketball, too, and see how that feels. Right now, it feels fine. I'm sure I'll miss it and we'll see when November rolls around how much I really miss it."

The school will really miss him. Edwards was a star guard for Greenport, graduating in 1972 as the leading scorer in Long Island history with 2,117 points. Since then, five players have outscored him. Edwards had the honor of coaching the player who surpassed him as both Greenport's and Long Island's career scoring leader -- Ryan Creighton, who graduated in 2009 with 2,799 points. Creighton and Edwards are the only Greenport athletes to have their retired jerseys on the wall.

After earning a basketball scholarship to East Carolina, eventually becoming team captain and graduating in 1976, Edwards returned to his Greenport roots. He built docks again and did some substitute teaching at his old school. A full-time position with BOCES opened soon after and he began teaching there in the fall of 1978. He was helping his old Greenport coach, Dude Manwaring, with the junior varsity team for three years when Manwaring suddenly decided to switch places.

"Before I knew it, he was doing JV and I was doing varsity," Edwards said. "He said it was time to pass it on to me and I guess you could say the rest is history."

Edwards became varsity coach in the 1981-82 season and stayed until this past winter. According to Newsday's research, he compiled a 383-240 record, with 12 league titles, 10 Suffolk Class D titles and three Southeast Regional crowns that earned Greenport its only trips to Glens Falls for the state tournament. The Porters reached the state finals once, with Creighton in 2009, but lost in the title game. Edwards said he doesn't have a single regret.

"It was really enjoyable coaching here. It's a great town and the community embraced me," he said. "Everybody came out to watch the games during the winter. There are fans that were there at the beginning and were there at the end. That's the kind of town this is. They're either your cousins or they say they're your cousins. Black, white, green, there are no color barriers here. Everyone is on your side."

He cites the years with stars Gerald Crenshaw (1998-2002) and Creighton (2004-09) as the Porters' glory days. They won eight Class D titles and 166 games in those nine seasons.

"We liked to run. We always liked a pressing team to let our defense be our offense. Transition baskets, but if you don't have it, don't shoot it quickly," Edwards said. "Work the ball and don't turn it over."

Eventually, the tenets and traditions became part of the Porters' culture.

"They're all memorable seasons in their own way. Every year when we start, I tell them, we want you to put a banner on the wall so when you come back here later on or your children grow up and they come here, you can say, oh, that's my banner right over there," Edwards said, pointing to the wall. "There's a couple from my years."

His Porter Pride is never far from the surface. "I come in here all the time and look at them and get a real sense of satisfaction," Edwards said. "We got a lot of mileage out of our Greenport guys."

With a Greenport guy steering the ship for 32 years. And now the village's favorite son has time to sit by the dock of the bay . . . watching the ships roll in and then watch 'em roll away again. "Right now, I'm looking forward to this long weekend that I'm on," he said with a laugh. "I hope it's a real long one!"

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