Jim Brown has scored again.
The former Manhasset High School, Syracuse University and Cleveland Browns superstar, who already is a member of five sports halls of fame — including the ones for pro and college football — will make it a pick-six when his sensational high school exploits are recognized later this month with his induction into the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame.
“When I heard who I was going in with — Jim Brown — all I could say was wow! I’m humbled and I’m honored,” said former Bellport football coach Joe Cipp Jr., who joins Brown and former NYSPHSAA and current Nassau County executive director Nina Van Erk to give a distinct Long Island flavor to the six-member class of 2016 that will be honored on July 27 in a ceremony at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona.
By the time Brown graduated from Manhasset in 1953, he had accumulated 13 varsity letters in five sports: football, basketball, track, baseball and lacrosse. Among his achievements: winning the 1952 Thorp Award as Newsday’s top high school football player in Nassau County and setting a still-standing county record by averaging 39.6 points per game in the 1952-53 basketball season. At his 2013 induction into Manhasset High School’s Hall of Fame (yes, he’s in that one, too), Brown said, “I always looked upon myself as an all-around athlete that loved all the sports and competed in all the sports. Sometimes they overlapped.”
Though he is far better known nationally for his college and professional successes, the NYSPHSAA Hall of Fame, founded in 2003, is going back to Brown’s athletic roots, and he has not forgotten those. In 2013, Brown recalled growing up poor and noted that Manhasset High School “formed my life. It gave me my foundation. It gave me my confidence. It pointed out to me the value of education, the value of knowledge and wisdom. It taught me never to give up . . . And even though Manhasset was a very affluent community, at no time did I worry about racism or prejudice or see any of that. It was an example of how people should be treated.”
Cipp’s high school experiences were equally moving and lasting. He compiled a 211-87-3 record at Bellport, where he founded the football program in 1976, and won five Long Island championships and 10 county titles and had two teams that finished ranked No. 1 in the state.
His memories are more personal than numbers in a record book. “Recently, a guy came up to me who really isn’t involved in our [Bellport] program and said, ‘You look sad during graduation,’ ’’ Cipp said. “He picked up on something that’s true. You’re happy the kids graduate and progress in life, but they take a piece of your life with them.”
Cipp said he “won’t compare players and won’t compare teams. I never did and I never will. They all had something unique about them.”
He said he created a family atmosphere among his Clippers even though he was a very demanding coach. “They bought in. They had a year-long commitment to getting in shape. Before everyone else was lifting weights year-round, my kids did it,” Cipp said.
Maybe that’s why he said his teams’ trademark trait was, “They always played hard. They kept coming at you. It’s a credit to the family approach we had. A lot of my good friends are my players’ parents.”
Among those players, 48 were voted to Newsday All-Long Island teams and 42 earned Division I football scholarships. Cipp, like Brown, is in multiple halls of fame, having previously been inducted into the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame, the Long Island chapter of the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame and the Sachem High School Hall of Fame, his alma mater.
Of this honor, Cipp said, “It’s great for Bellport, it’s great for Suffolk and it’s great for Long Island.”
Van Erk, who just completed her fourth year overseeing Nassau County athletics after 12 years as the state’s executive director, also was appreciative of being recognized for her 34-year career as an administrator, which also included 18 years as a high school athletic director. “It’s very humbling to be recognized by your peers for doing the work that you love,” said Van Erk, a graduate of St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset.
Among the accomplishments she is most proud of is the creation of eligibility workshops around the state that enabled her to educate and get to know all of the athletic directors. During her tenure as NYSPHSAA executive director, boys volleyball and girls golf became state championship events. Media coverage for all state championship events, especially through television and Internet streaming, increased dramatically while she was in office.
This year, she saw one of her pet projects come to fruition when cheerleading became a recognized interscholastic sport. “I began the work of designating cheerleading as a sport. It took a long while, but cheerleading’s time had come,” she said. “It absolutely needed to happen.”
So three cheers for the local links to this year’s NYSPHSAA Hall of Fame class — a player, a coach and an administrator, each of whom has shone like a beacon. Make that a Montauk Lighthouse beacon.