No doubt, the pandemic’s effect on Staten Island sports was overwhelmingly the top local sports story — and even the national one — of 2020.
It was so impactful and affected a multitude of sports and events that it was deemed to be SILive.com’s and the Advance’s top sports story of the year by a panel of editors. See the pandemic story here.
In addition, there were many sub-stories within the pandemic story that were huge news events like Island educator and running enthusiast Arnold Obey dying because of COVID-19 and Little League baseball cancelling Regional and World Series play.
Besides the pandemic, there were plenty of other sports stories that grabbed the local headlines in 2020.
From the Staten Island Yankees ceasing all operations to the borough losing three major sports icons, here’s a rundown of six other happenings that made big news on the web and in the paper.
The end of the Staten Island Yankees
No one knew it then, but Labor Day of 2019 was the Staten Island Yankees’ final game.
The Brooklyn Cyclones rallied for a late victory that day, ending any hopes of the Yankees’ advancing to the New York-Penn League playoffs.
The 2020 minor-league season was canceled because of the pandemic. Then with Major League Baseball’s proposed contraction of 42 minor-league squads coming to fruition, the New York Yankees last month ended their affiliation with the Staten Island Yankees.
Three weeks later, the Staten Island Yankees, not wanting to be a part of any proposed wood-bat college league or an independent baseball league, ceased all operations and launched a $20 million lawsuit against the New York Yankees and the MLB.
That ended a 21-year run for the Staten Island Yankees, which started in 1999 when Stan and Josh Getzler moved the Watertown, New York, Indians to the borough.
Then-NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani and then-Borough President Guy V. Molinari pushed the city to build a $70 million, 7,171-seat stadium on the waterfront at St. George with taxpayer money. The stadium would be called the Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George.
The Yankees played two seasons at the College of Staten Island, then moved in at St. George in 2001. A sellout crowd witnessed the team’s first game at the new park on June 24, 2001. Big crowds were the norm for the rest of the season and years after.
But the Yankees’ attendance, as was true throughout the minors, had waned the past several years.
The team averaged just 1,848 fans per game in 2019, that average less than a third of what the team drew a decade ago.
The decline in attendance, plus a host of other problems including the deterioration of the playing field and the S.I. Yankees’ controversial Pizza Rats promotion, caused the New York Yankees to grow dissatisfied with the Staten Island Yankees.
And when it came time the New York Yankees to pick their four minor league affiliates, the Staten Island Yankees weren’t one of them.
Meanwhile, the New York Mets retained the Brooklyn Cyclones and elevated the club to long season-A ball.
It was a slap in the face for the Nostalgic Partners, a Stamford, Connecticut-based partnership of investors who bought the S.I. Yanks in 2011 for a reported $8.3 million.
Nostalgic purchased the team from Mandalay Baseball Properties, which had operated the club since 2007 for the New York Yankees after the Getzlers sold out.
S.I. Yankees team president Will Smith and his partners were shocked at the New York Yankees’ decision to cut ties with the team. They were even more upset that they found out about the big league team’s decision on social media.
“We believe what has happened to our organization is unacceptable,” a statement by the Staten Island Yankees said in early November. “The Staten Island Yankees made every effort to accommodate MLB and New York Yankees requirements, including securing a commitment from New York City for ballpark upgrades. However, MLB and the Yankees chose not to engage in any discussions with us. We were unaware of the final decision and learned about it by reading the statement on Yankees social media.”
The future for the ballpark and professional baseball on Staten Island is uncertain as the calendar turns to 2021. Borough President James Oddo has been promoting the park as a site for various events or a home base for a team.
Dennis Barrett dies
Dennis Barrett, who brought Monsignor Farrell’s football program to prominence in the 1970s, died in June at the age of 77.
In 14 seasons at Farrell, Barrett coached six undefeated teams – one year the Lions gave up a total of six points all season – and in one four-year stretch the Lions won 33 straight games. The first year they joined the venerable Catholic High School Football League, Barrett’s team won the league title and beat the public school champs in the Metro Bowl.
Then he went to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, a military school with all the rigors of West Point and Annapolis and none of the glamour. He inherited a downtrodden program that hadn’t won a game the season before he got there, and left a decade later with the most victories in school history.
Barrett was known for jumping into his players’ lives, and staying there.
“You have to love ‘em,” he once told a friend who was thinking about getting into the business. “You have to love ‘em … and they have to know you love ‘em. And once they know that, you can do anything with ‘em.”
He earned a spot in the Staten Island Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.
Heyward Dotson dies
Heyward Dotson, who had Hall of Fame basketball careers at Stuyvesant HS and Columbia University before becoming the Island’s first Rhodes Scholar, died in May. He was 71.
The West Brighton native and Markham Intermediate School graduate was accepted into prestigious Stuyvesant HS. The 6-foot-4 center dominated with the Peglegs, not only averaging a whopping 34.0 points per game his senior year, but finishing with 1,109 career points before graduating in 1966.
Dotson starred at Columbia University as well. In three years of varsity ball with the Lions, he averaged 16.7 points (including a career-high 18.6 ppg. as a junior) and 5.5 rebounds a game in 76 contests.
He finished his career with 1,266 points, making him the first Islander to score 1,000 points at the high school and collegiate levels.
Dotson was drafted by both the NBA (Phoenix Suns) and ABA (Indiana Pacers) in 1970, but declined to join either franchise after becoming the first Islander to earn a Rhodes Scholarship.
He is a member of the Staten Island Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 1996.
Larry Ambrosino dies
Larry Ambrosino, an educator, athlete, coach and community leader who spent a lifetime championing the legacy of a police officer killed in the line of duty, succumbed to a two-year battle with cancer in August at the age of 72.
The charismatic guy known as Ambro raised awareness about Police Officer Rocco Laurie, a childhood friend who was ambushed and killed with his partner in Manhattan in 1972. Ambrosino worked to get Intermediate School 72 in New Springville named for the fallen officer, and established a scholarship program in his name that continues today.
Ambrosino’s passion was coaching and mentoring children, especially those in under-served communities. He stayed in touch with many of them through adulthood.
A graduate of New Dorp High School and Wagner College, he began his career as a teacher before he was appointed principal of PS 57 in Clifton at the age of 32, becoming the youngest principal in New York City. He later served as superintendent of schools in Shrewsbury, N.J., a post which he held for 10 years.
Ambrosino was a founder and chairman of the Staten Island Sports Hall of Fame and served as president of the Staten Island Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
Fourth straight SIHSL tourney title for St. Peter’s
Top-seeded St. Peter’s claimed its fourth consecutive SIHSL Tourney crown with a 69-54 victory over surprising New Dorp in February.
The Eagles, in fact, had their hands full against the Central Cougars for more than three quarters before a 13-3 run helped them pull away.
Curtis is only other school with four straight SIHSL Tournament titles, winning the John Singleton Trophy from 1997-2000. St. Peter’s has won six of the last seven tourney titles and has won the tourney 12 times since its inception for the 1992-93 season. Including the pre-tournament era, St. Peter’s has won 35 SIHSL titles.
Senior Liam Murphy was named tournament MVP after pouring in a team-high 28 points and grabbing 22 rebounds. Murphy’s outing, which included a 10-for-13 performance from the free-throw line, overshadowed an outstanding performance by New Dorp junior guard David Shkolniy, who had 36 points (eight treys) and 10 rebounds.
Three weeks later, Murphy scored his 1,000th career point in his final game as St. Peter’s suffered 60-58 loss to Molloy in a CHSAA AA Intersectional second-round game. Right before the pandemic hit, the Columbia University-bound Murphy was announced as the boys’ Jaques Award winner as the Island’s top player.
Melious first frosh to win Jaques Award
Two months before her freshman basketball season started in 2019 at Susan Wagner, Nicole Melious verbally committed to Purdue University.
Once the season started, you could see why the Boilermakers were interested.
On her way to becoming the first freshman to win the Jaques Award as Staten Island’s most outstanding player, Melious averaged an Island-leading 27.9 points per game, scoring 755 points for the 24-3 Falcons, who reached the semifinals of the PSAL AA playoffs. She finished with 97 3-pointers (3.6 per game) and had a career-high and tournament-record 44 points during the MLK Classic in January.
“She was a walking bucket,’’ said Lelis Borden, a Jaques selection committee member.