THE HINDSIGHT of time isn't always needed to elevate an event to
larger-than-life proportions. Anyone who saw Amityville senior Jason Fraser
hoist the wooden New York-shaped championship plaque high over his 6-10 frame
at the Glens Falls Civic Center knew they were bearing witness to history. It
came in the exhilarating moments after Amityville's 67-57 victory over
Peekskill on Sunday for the state public schools Class B title.
Even though Fraser, the state player of the year, has his performances
graded via the Internet and is being talked up as a possible NBA draft choice
out of high school, he stood among a crowd of reporters at the Civic Center as
an 18-year-old awed by the experience. "This third championship is the best,"
he said. "I found myself getting emotional on the court. But I really won't be
able to savor this until it's all over."
Amityville's victory was the culmination of an epic three-year championship
run. When the modern state tournament concludes its 25th anniversary season
with the Federation Final Four, which begins today in Glens Falls, the Warriors
will be there to defend their Class B crown. Three other Long Island programs
with a championship past - Lawrence Woodmere Academy, Long Island Lutheran and
St. Mary's - hope to add to their own legacies.
State champions have been crowned as far back as 1922, in an era before
basketball became big business. Amityville represents how far the game has
come. The Warriors are a nationally ranked power, have played in
corporate-sponsored tournaments before big crowds at impressive arenas, are
outfitted by adidas and boast a McDonald's All-American in Fraser. But there
has been no more majestic stage than the state Final Four. Long Island has
produced an impressive 27 public schools and 16 Federation champions since
1978, and the tournament raised the profile of New York basketball to elite
What would it have meant to such standouts as Kenny Anderson (Molloy,
1987), Elton Brand (Peekskill, 1997), Mark Jackson (Loughlin, 1983) and Chris
Mullin (Xaverian, 1981) to have missed playing in the Final Four? But several
generations of athletes never were able to take part in what has become a rite
Syracuse Central won the first state title in 1922 behind Victor A. Hanson,
who went on to become a three-sport All- American at Syracuse University. But
the state tournament was shuttered amid scandal in 1929.
"Schools were using overage students and bringing them back in to play,"
said Alton Doyle, 77, the executive director of NYSPHSAA from 1975-1990.
"Gambling was big, involving the fans of the towns the kids represented.
"There were a lot of violations of the rules," he added, "and people felt
the state tournament was causing that."
Walter Eaton Jr., the assistant state director, said: "Once it was exposed,
the state shut the tournament down. It took a good 20 years for the memory of
the scandal to pass. So when the idea of a state tournament finally came up
again, the question was asked, 'What can we do to do it right?'"
A statewide tournament didn't become a reality again until after the state
education department approved it, provided enough schools participated, Doyle
said. After one season that ended with state quarterfinals and a second that
concluded with state semifinals, the first state public schools championship
game in 49 years was played in Rochester in 1978.
One year later, the state Federation tournament - pitting the champions
from the public schools, the Catholic schools, the New York City public schools
and the independent schools in six enrollment-based classifications - was born.
"The county tournament used to be such a big thing from the 1960s to the
mid-'70s when the state tournament took over," said East Hampton coach Ed
Petrie, who owns a 613-226 record in 43 seasons. "Now it's been diminished. The
county championship has lost the glitter it once had."
Even the state tournament has undergone several changes in the years since.
In 1981 the two tournaments merged into one, was pared to four classifications
and was relocated to its current home in Glens Falls. A public schools Eastern
and Western representative would meet in the Federation semifinals, with the
winner crowned state public schools champion.
The tournament took on separate identities again in 1988. The public
schools Final Four and the Federation tournament now are played on back-to-back
weekends in March.
"The quality of play is far more consistent," said longtime game announcer
Bill Wetherbee. "It used to be one or two teams were the class of their fields.
Virtually any team has a legitimate shot at a title now."
Today's state tournament is all about opportunity. It's not just a cash
windfall for the state association, it has helped foster competition in other
sports. Eaton said revenue from the two boys basketball tournaments bankrolls
up to five championships in other sports. And its success prompted the state to
create playoffs in other high-profile sports such as boys and girls soccer and
"It's important we're successful," state boys basketball chairman Bill
Higgins said. "This tournament carries other state tournaments."
Long Island's postseason tradition runs deep, from the first meeting of
county champions 80 years ago to Patchogue's berth in the state final in 1925.
In the many decades since, several unforgettable athletes and dynastic programs
have left their imprint on the game. Amityville comes to mind, but not even
the Warriors can compare to the Killer Bees of Bridgehampton, winners of eight
state Class D titles since the modern era began in 1978, including two
The school that produced Hall of Fame outfielder Carl Yastrzemski, a noted
hoops star in his day, also spun out Carl Johnson, Troy Bowe and Maurice
Manning. Johnson, who has coached the Killer Bees since 1992, was a dynamic
guard and the spark behind Bridgehampton's three state public schools
championship teams from 1978-80. Even though he coached the Killer Bees to a
three-peat on the public school level from 1996-98, Johnson's fondest memory is
still his first Final Four in '78. Because the Class D title game was
scheduled before the other finals that season, Bridgehampton actually became
the first team since Albany High School in 1929 to revel in the overwhelming
feeling of earning a championship.
With success comes expectations. "I feel there's a burden on my shoulders,"
Johnson said. "I'm the keeper of the program. My uncles and cousins played
here. As a little boy, I couldn't wait to wear that black and gold uniform.
Every team here is measured by winning a state title. Even if you have a great
year, it's not a success unless you win a state title."
Johnson was the first in a long line of standouts to take home a
championship. Manning not only led Bridgehampton to three straight titles in
the 1990s, he was a three-time Final Four MVP. Unfortunately for Bridgehampton,
the Federation discontinued its Class D bracket in the 1986 season because of
a lack of participants.
"Bridgehampton was always dominant and always fun to watch," state
basketball statistician Bill Mehleisen said. "People enjoyed seeing them in
Glens Falls and hoped they'd get up here."
Bridgehampton hasn't been the only regular. Not only has Long Island
Lutheran felt right at home playing in the Federation tournament, it's the lone
program to win titles in three classifications: Class C in 1981-82, Class B in
1994 and Class A in 1997. The Crusaders have made 16 trips to the tournament,
falling to CHSAA champ St. Anthony's, 44-36, in the Class AAA semifinal in 1979
in their first excursion and qualifying again this year. Bill Wennington (who
spent 13 years in the NBA after playing at St. John's) was named tournament MVP
after taking Lutheran all the way in '81.
Perhaps the greatest run of all was Westhampton's in 1998. Led by energetic
point guard Dale Menendez, Westhampton went 28-0 and captured the state
Federation Class B title.
"No Long Island team had ever gone 28-0," Long Island basketball historian
George Davila said. "Westhampton has that claim. There have been other great
teams that have gone undefeated like Babylon . But there was no state
tournament then. There was no opportunity."
What would Fraser's legacy be without three triumphant postseason runs? He
owns a remarkable 10-1 record in Glens Falls over three seasons, with one final
game remaining this weekend.
Other great players also have made their reputations at the Final Four.
Hempstead, winner of three state public schools Class A championships, owes
much of its success to Kyle Ivey-Jones. The program's all-time scoring leader
with 1,701 points, Jones won four Long Island titles and was named state
tournament MVP after leading the Tigers to back-to-back state championships in
Another prolific scorer cemented his status as one of Long Island's greats
with a trip to Glens Falls. Kenny Wood, the all-time leading scorer among state
public school players with 2,613, capped his five-year career in 1989 by
delivering a state public schools Class B title to East Hampton.
Seventeen years after Barry Baker led Wyandanch to its second straight
state public schools Class C title in 1982, another Barry Baker returned
upstate. The younger Baker led North Babylon to the state Class A semifinals in
1999. Both father and son were named to the all-tournament team.
There were thrilling finishes, too. Hempstead sophomore Norris Bell hit the
defining shot of his career and earned MVP honors in the 1993 state public
schools Class A final. His buzzer-beating bucket sank Mount Vernon, 55-54.
Bell, now 26, still watches a tape of the game on a regular basis. "That
was a set play we always ran," said Bell, who lives in Atlanta. "Throughout the
whole year I never got it right. That day it finally paid off. I was on top of
Mount Vernon exacted some revenge against Longwood in the 2000 state Class
A final. Greg Jenkins tapped in a miss by Ben Gordon (now in the NCAA
Tournament with Connecticut) to force overtime. Replays showed Jenkins didn't
get his shot off until after the buzzer sounded. Mount Vernon pulled away in
They are just some of the many memories fashioned by Long Islanders in high
school's version of March madness. Who will create the next notable moment?
Janet Paskin contributed to this story.
LONG ISLAND STATE CHAMPIONS
STATE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
1978-Class C: Pierson;
1979-Class A: Malverne;
1980-Class A: Ward Melville;
B: Bellport; D: Bridgehampton.
1981-Class B: Malverne;
1982-Class C: Wyandanch.
1983-Class A: North Babylon.
1984-Class D: Bridgehampton.
1985-Class B: Westbury;
1986-Class B: Manhasset;
1989-Class A: Hempstead;
B: East Hampton.
1990-Class A: Hempstead.
1993-Class A: Hempstead.
1996-Class D: Bridgehampton.
1997-Class D: Bridgehampton.
1998-Class B: Westhampton;
1999-Class B: Southampton.
2000 - Class B: Amityville.
2001 - Class B: Amityville.
2002 - Class B: Amityville.
1979 - Class AAA: St. Anthony's;
A: St. Agnes.
1980 - Class A: Holy Trinity;
C: St. Dominic; D: Bridgehampton.
1981 - Class B: Malverne;
C: Long Island Lutheran.
1982 - Class C: L.I. Lutheran.
1983 - Class A: North Babylon.
1984 - Class D: Bridgehampton.
1986 - Class D: Bridgehampton.
1994 - Class B: L.I. Lutheran.
1997 - Class A: L.I. Lutheran;
B: St. Dominic.
1998 - Class B: Westhampton.
1999 - Class C: Lawrence
2000 - Class B: St. Mary's.
2001 - Class B: Amityville.
STATE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
1981-Class C: Wyandanch
1982-Class A: Hempstead
1983-Class B: Westbury;
1984 - Class A: Sachem.
1985 - Class A: Mercy.
1987-Class C: Wyandanch.
1995 - Class A: Sachem.
1982 - Class A: Hempstead.
1983 - Class B: Westbury;
1986 - Class B: St. Mary's.
1987 - Class C: Wyandanch.
1989 - Class C: St. Dominic.
1991 - Class D: Our Lady of Mercy.
1996 - Class B: St. Dominic.
2001 - Class D: Kellenberg.