By Hans E. Tokke, Sociology
Introduction, Methodology, Findings
This paper is the culmination of two years immersed in participant observation as a fan, village resident, parent, and interviewer in the Varsity and Junior Varsity football games for Nyack High School. The findings are a combination of first hand observations, interviews with players and fans (names have been changed), and social and historical research. I thank all the players, fans, and local residents who gave their input and comments who served as key consultants.
The purpose of this project was to observe and analyze the culture and suburban community surrounding this most American of social cultures: high school football. There are three primary findings I made in this study, along with some ancillary conclusions.
First, freedom to play is voluntary, separating it from the realm of work. No one who comes to the games is required to come, save emergency personnel, referees, bus drivers, and school officials. The Varsity Football games depend on volunteerism: the players, concession stand staff, PA announcer, Cheer Teams, marching band, security. Of course all the spectators are there because they choose to be. This volunteer effort builds a distinctive community spirit.
Second, attending the games is a “stepping out” of reality that enable the spectators to do things they would otherwise never do, and talk with people they would otherwise never talk to. It creates an environment of leisure. In this way, Nyack football creates an escape from the humdrum life of suburban living. It is a “Third Place” (Oldenburg, 1989) that interrupts the regular routine of home-work-home, and the day-to-day realities of life. Nyack football is a diversion away from the Weberian rational and mechanical urban life (Weber, that breeds Simmel’s blasé sentiments and boredom (Simmel, 1950. 1903). There are many people who are Not There For The Football. Despite this, the long-standing traditions of Nyack athletics work to build consistency in community life, despite the forces of change wrought by gentrification. People from all walks of life in the community come to the games. It is, maybe even, a social in the village. It becomes an almost Tonniesian.) social world of Gemeinshaft life of the rural village, (Tonnies, 2004) where everybody knows your name (Oldenburg, 1989.) set against the alienation of the market life of Gesellshaft where everyone just knows their job and privatism of suburban life with people lost in their commuting lifestyle (Lofland, 1973.).
Third, community life forces interactions among strangers (Simmel, 1971; Lofland, 1973.), and people must learn to manage their differences through common cultural symbols. Nyack is home to diverse and various income groups. Friday Night Football provides a common symbol that tries to keep the community together. People come to the games equalizing – if just for a moment class-based status. S trangers engage in superficial relationships with one another, however pseudo-authentic these relationships are. The event also provides a neutral location to discuss the social calendar and everyday life as seen in the archetypes of the Uber-Mom and those Not Here For The Football-ers. Strangers become spectacles to one another in The Mob with the half-dressed Cheer Team and many others wearing the team colors as symbols of solidarity with the team and school.
The most surprising finding in this realm of strangers, was the persistence of race and class divisions in this apparent “social glue” in the community. The archetype of “Village Separatists” shows that race factors play significantly into the choice of team members, starters, social groupings, seating arrangements at the event, and conversations during Varsity football games. This is augmented by a village mentality that has persisted from the formative years of Rockland County.
Nyack football creates community in an otherwise impersonal commuting culture. Nyack High School is a common identifier for In-Group status and magnifies the village mentality. Those who have not attended Nyack High School do not have as strong a commitment to the cause. Race and class have a significant influence in the determination of In-Group status where the football game becomes secondary to the community event. The following ethnographic narrative elaborates on the core findings.
The Suburban Village
It is a warm fall evening with a fresh breeze that whips off the Tappan Zee of the Hudson River and funnels up through the valley where the quaint suburban town of Nyack nestles. The trees are still mostly green from summer, but the rustling of crispy birch leaves in the cooling wind, speckles of colored leaves dropping to the street from their scraggly gray-white perches above my head, and the cooling wind, prophesy that fall is not far away. The sky is dressed in fashionable deep royal evening blue, touched up with brushstrokes of yellow ochre, wisped over a fogged blending of purple and reds hanging onto the sunset that is disappearing over the Catskill foothills to the West. It is twilight in the neighborhood.
I walk by a near perfectly done Single-Family-Home wearing white siding accented by mint trim and matching window shades, pink and orange geraniums searching for sunlight in planter boxes below the windows, and a curved sidewalk with all cracks meticulously filled waiting for dinner guests to walk its concrete carpet. Just above the ten foot wide steps an inviting porch hosts a white wicker swing chair couched in pastel flowers printed on the cushions hung with stainless steel chain-works. I’m tempted to trespass and forget about going to the football game and snuggle up on that porch for the night.
The street slopes down towards the river, but I can’t see the end of the road, as there are row upon row of these types of anti-urban homes that look like farmhouses plucked from some apple orchard upstate and dropped into this near perfect valley nest. They have been doomed to a life of Town and Country living of the 1950s working class, to the middle class white suburbanites of the 70s and 80s who fled to Nyack to escape the apparent degradation and crime of New York City, to the modern upscale Manhattan professionals who are now discovering a new passive weekender’s almost lakeside like life a short 1 hour commute to their midtown offices.
Walking the neighborhood, I see remnants of all the eras of Nyack still alive in some way or form. The various houses and stores simultaneously speak of past and modern eras. Having most recently evolved from working class, with a significant black community, village leaders are dominated by the middle upper class white politicians who pushed for a redevelopment of Nyack into an upper middle class enclave. Gentrification is in process with an upper class media community, a liberal gay community, and business community moving in sending some housing prices into the million dollar and up range. A look at the ads in the local magazine Nyack Villager bears this out. New gentrifiers are representative of this new social class, and they do not relate to the public high school, and most certainly not the traditions of the high school football team.
A walk downtown draws a divided conclusion as to what Nyack truly is. Main Street has a selection of quaint boutiques, fashionable restaurants, a Starbucks, Post Office, and used book store. These are the haunts of the upper middle classes and the rich. Mixed in amongst them are a pizza shop, deli, diner, discount store, Laundromat, and bus stop. These are the places of the lower classes. Adjacent to the village center on the one side are upscale condominiums selling in the half million to million dollar range. Adjacent to the village center on the other side is low cost housing for lower income residents (predominantly black and Hispanic) and senior citizens.
From my observation, it could be said the same is true for Nyack as Bahr’s and Hicks reinvestigation of Middletown which found that despite the many movements towards integration, racism still exists in small town America (2007). Prior to the redevelopment of Nyack Village as a developing playground for the wealthy, it was an enclave for the have-nots. Racial division within the housing and shopping arrangements are alive and well, though they appear integrated to the casual observer.
The modern development of the American suburb can be traced to Tonnies’ Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft comparison of rural and urban living (2004). The rural Gemeinschaft life was celebrated as the home of family, friends, and community. In this village mentality people were concerned for each other’s welfare and the natural country life of forests, fields, and idyllic pastoral settings that lent itself to a free, restful, and rejuvenating life. In contrast, the Gesellschaft city was seen as impersonal, unsafe, and technological with strangers interacting with one another in a faceless uncaring world. The faceless architecture pictured this evil environment with its concrete, steel, industry, and lack of greenspace.
As industrialization dominated the growth of the urban landscape of America, transportation systems – rail and the automobile- enabled people with the means to move out of the city and commute in to their jobs. Developers imported this rural concept into the construction of homes and subdivisions on the edge of the industrial city, while retaining the urban privatizing of impersonal single family residences. The Greenbelt suburb envisioned homes built around park areas with quiet tree lined neighborhoods on curving boulevards ensuring privacy. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre design proposed a life of sophisticated urban homes built within the rural forests on the edge of the city, with large acreages to ensure a private family life. Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City urban planning theory was imported from England with its country style homes with trees and yards and white picket fences to designate one’s social boundaries. (Cohen, 2003; Hutter, 2007; Teaford, 2008.) These all exist in some form in Rockland County.
Rockland County has a unique history in the evolution of the typical American suburb. It has retained its village mentality of suburban enclaves while immersed in the New York City Metroplex. In the 1800s it was considered cottage country for Manhattanites whom would take the summer weekend ferry up the Hudson River from the city to their elaborate mansions and small cottages nestled on the riverbanks and hillsides. The sound of the steamboat horn was met at the foot of Main Street with various concessionaries hawking local crafts and foods to the tourists. Many of the visitors stayed in local hotels. With the opening of the Tappan Zee Bridge in 1955, and the advent of the automobile as a commuting means to the city, Rockland County evolved from a quaint rural vacationing and agricultural area into a commuting suburb. The middle class moved in and built up around the various villages that comprised Rockland County, including Nyack.
Over the years, these villages have been maintained with local councils limiting the urban development. Unlike the modern suburb that many sociologists and urban researchers critique as an impersonal world of privatization and individualism that is primarily concerned about caring for the nuclear family rather than building a sense of community, Nyack has retained some of the social rules of the old rural village. Thus, long-time residents dominate the local councils and wield significant political and social power in dictating the life of the community, intensely protecting its traditions and insular values. In fact, one student related that their grandparents had never been to New York City.
A local resident’s opinion was that, “Nyack has a village mentality. So does all of Rockland. Though it is a county with half a million people, it is broken up into little villages. Nyack, Nanuet, Spring Valley, Suffern, New City, Haverstraw, Valley Cottage…on and on it goes.”
An African-American resident who had lived in New York City prior to migrating to Rockland County stated that, “The village mentality of Nyack isn’t much different than my small town back home in Mississippi. Everyone there went to football games on Friday nights. In the South it’s much more of an event than in New York. When anyone goes home to visit, they go to the football games to connect with old friends.”
Nestled snugly along the Western shore of the Hudson River, with its post-card or home-lifestyle magazine looks, Nyack lives on its unique neighborhood traditions, culture, and differences. Despite being only 22 miles from the border of the Bronx, Nyack could be a million miles from the urban angst and energy of the biggest city in America. Though being a part of a metropolitan area of 18.5 million people, this village has a life all its own, and it’s played out every fall in the neighborhood culture and community of Nyack High School Football.
Robert Putnam, in his book Bowling Alone (2000), brought to the public the social criticism that modern suburban living had lost social capital. Americans had built into the early suburbs of the post-war era civic associations and community places where people could get out of their private homes and interact with one another. In the modern era, suburbanites stay in their private homes and don’t get out that often. This is especially true in a generation of technological connection where people connect online, but never meet face-to-face. The shopping mall as an invention of the consumer society, became the preeminent meeting place in post-war America, but people went to shop, not to meet. In Nyack, many residents do head out to the Palisades Mall on Friday Night when there is no football. For some Nyack High School teenagers, The Mall is the place to build social relationships, and not just shop. But on fall Football Friday nights, many come to the games for their socializing. It is a place to not be alone.
Ray Oldenberg developed the social theory of Third Places as an attempt to define social world in urban and suburban areas (1989). He claims that to maintain a sense of life balance, every urban or suburban person needed a stopping off point between work and home. The Third Place popularized by the television series “Cheers” is where “everybody knows your name” plays this out. It is a regular stopping point within the equally self-absorbed and impersonal world of home-work; a place to connect with neighbors and friends. Nyack High School has retained an essence of this civic association in being the place where everybody from the community can go whether they are football fans or not. It becomes the Third Place where everyone can meet and interact, interrupting the home-job cycle, and have fun together. One local resident stated, “There is nothing else to do for entertainment in the village except go to the mall. So people go to the games for entertainment more than anything else. Once you start going when you’re young because it was the only thing you could get to, you keep going when you’re older.”
I had a discussion about this with some teenagers. Jaybee said, “There is nowhere else to go on Friday nights. I’ve been going to Varsity games since I was a kid.” George said,“(I ) went with parents first. My brother went. Then I went with my brother.” Jeremy added that “It’s a place to hang out.” Sammy was glum about his social life outside of football. “Won’t do nothin’ on the weekend. Football is somethin’ to do.” Nyack High School Friday Football does add a positive social life for everyone in the village who chooses to participate.
In light of these observations, Kraeger appears correct in saying that, “In many U.S. secondary schools, interscholastic sports play crucial roles in structuring student status hierarchies and peer friendship networks…The predominance and visibility of sports in schools encourages all students, regardless of their gender or athleticism, to orient their behaviors towards these activities and define their own identities in relation to the most popular athletes and athletic cliques. (2007)”1
Cheers, Jeers, and The Mob: Community Spirit
The stands are full of people, billowing out onto the grass area at the far end of the field, the small hillside on the west end by the old high school, sitting under the trees on the decorative rocks by the scoreboard, and on the edges of the running track surrounding the field. There must be about 2,000 people here at the game, this in a small suburban town of just over 10,000.
“N-Y-A-C-K!!!! Go Indians!!!”
“Pass the Ball!!!”
“Eight yard gain on the play. Ball on the 42 yard line. Third down!”
“LET’S GO NYACK! LET’S GO NYACK!
Most everybody is here: young, old, male, female, mother, father, grandfather, babysitter, elementary kids, middle-schoolers, high schoolers, midget football kids, soccer kids, cheerleaders, cheer teams, fully dressed, half dressed, formally dressed, casually dressed. Racially, it is a blend of about 70% white folk sprinkled with a seasoning of blacks and Hispanics. The common color theme among most everyone is crimson red and black with several people, young and old alike, wearing Nyack High gear- white and red letters on black cotton t-shirts, hats, jackets, hoodies, sports jerseys. This is high school football in Nyack a quintessential suburban neighborhood of metropolitan New York. The Varsity Football games are a prime “happening”.
Assistant Principal Ms. Montanez boasts, “We have great school spirit!” She is in charge of the Pep rallies that heighten school spirit on Friday afternoons. Students are encouraged to come to games on the weekend to show their commitment to the school. Announcements are made of the locations, the Cheer Teams get everyone excited, the Varsity players are introduced, and cheer music is played. Montanez contends that the educational agenda of school spirit is: “if students feel positive about their school it will result in better schoolwork and relationships” with peers. It may also help to alleviate some of the racism that has existed in the past. The motivational value of sports results in more motivated students.
Friedrich Schiller, 2 in O n t he Aesthetic Education of Man (1954)3, describes how in Ancient Greek society, play was blended with education to build well rounded character. Play theory took on the form of both athletic contests and the use of creative imagination. Society was held together partly in the ability to play. Huizinga (1933) in his seminal work on play claims that, “We found that one of the most important characteristics of play was its spatial separation from ordinary life.”4 Play exists even for animals so there is something inherent to the social interaction that happens in times of play. Play creates its own world of rituals and rites: team colors, cheers, mascots, music. Colors, Cheers, and Jeers.
I look over the general scene. The game is already into the first quarter. The Nyack Indians are dressed in crimson, helmet to toe, as they tumble around the middle of the field. The uniforms have black letters outlined in white accents. On the far sideline are the Nyack football players looking like a rag-tag military squad that is waiting for inspection, with the coaches – in Nyack white and red letters on black t-shirts – serving like generals, policemen, and teachers in a three-for-one package.
The Mob is a special section of the bleachers unofficially reserved for Nyack students whom are planning on cheering on the team. About 200 or so youth all packed tight like people riding the Subway in rush hour. Their primary purpose is to provide a crazy but controlled group of classmates to cheer on the players and create school spirit.
The Mob is led by two groups: The Cheer Team, and Cheerleaders. The Cheer Team consists of 6 girls and 6 guys. The guys have no shirts on, dressed in jeans, and with various kooky hats. One has a baseball hat with long ribbon attached, another a striped blue wool hat, another a red and white mop head, and another a Nordic style hat with ear flaps and a long neck tie hanging down. The girls wear black or red sports bras or bikini type tops exposing their midriff. None in the Cheer Team are dressed appropriately for the weather, especially as late fall cold sets in. There is simultaneously something sporty, sensual, and silly in their getup, but that’s exactly the point. To get noticed. To be seen. To be on the stage. To be special. I noticed at one game, they “cheated” and snuck away for some warm drinks. The Cheer Team alternates girl, guy, girl, guy etc. in a row. They have individual letters painted on their midriffs in alternating red and black. Several of the team members have additional paint on their bodies and faces. This is appropriate, I suppose, in that they are the Nyack Indians after all. The Cheer Team stands on a railing edge in front of the crowd (blocking the view to the game, though many in The Mob are not watching the game anyways) and attempt to lead the team in various cheers. D-fense. D-fense. N-Y-A-C-K INDIANS!!! They try to lead the wave which is successful in The Mob, but dies a quick death as it reaches the farther end of the bleachers where the parents and older folk are sitting and couldn’t be bothered.
The Junior Varsity football players are encouraged to come to the games, stand and cheer in the bleachers, and support their older compatriots playing in the game. JV player Stephane claimed that, “I’ve gone to the games since middle school wearing my football outfit. Hope to be Varsity sometime, so I go to hang out with the football guys. And the chicks.”
On the other side of the spectrum are the jeers laid out by fans onto the coaches, players, and of course the referees. Many of the men in the crowd swear vulgarities at others in the crowd.
There is a an acceptance among many football coaches that the vulgar putdown is used as a motivation tool to attempt to anger or the players, the opposing coaches, or the referees to gain competitive advantage. The assumption could be made that aggressive language and “trash talkin’ ” leads to more aggressive play. It is assumed to toughen the players.
Huizinga, in his study of Play Theory (1955) concludes that besides playing key role in education, play induced competition which improved the skills of people. The antagonistic role of competition enhances skill improvement and excellence. In this sense, the complaining Dads are personifying the antagonistic role using negative reinforcement and criticism to encourage improvement. If it works to yell so much, I guess it’s a good thing! Pseudo-Coaches are needed….I guess.
Not Here For The Football: Archetypes of community life
George enlightened me about the purpose of Football Fridays. “No one really watches the games. They go there to do whatever that’s fun. Usually we just hang around with friends.” Jay-bee was honest in admitting that he “Don’t go for football, but for to be with others. Went when we were kids. Lots of people go. It’s fun, and there’s nothing else to do.” Stephane admits it. “Friday Night Football is place to come pick up chicks.”
In this Third Place world of meeting friends from the community, I have noticed several conversations that have nothing to do with what is happening on the field. There is a connecting with others that you would never see on another day, and then brag about your life. There is a self-aggrandizement that boasts about family, lifestyle, health, houses, and the stuff one has. Perhaps football games are the ideal place to show off to other families. For example, there is a group of women whom appear to be players’ Moms chatting about everyday things that are important to the upper middle class: their houses and decorating, real estate values, the preferred restaurant to eat in, painting the house. The women are also talking about a Disney vacation and places they have seen. These are the purview of The Consumer Society.
Hyper-Uber-Mom appears to be a woman in her mid-forties, with fashionable blonde straight shoulder length hair, wearing designer jeans with a fashionable sweater poncho assemblage. The accessories are muted, but the sparkle of the diamond stud earrings still sends a tiny shimmer of football night lighting my way. She is talking a mile a minute, describing an overinvolved life in a fast paced, high impact galloping-voice. Not-So-Hyper-Dad stands dutifully beside her, disinterested as she talks, and talks, and talks, and talks, at her listening girlfriend (I think the girlfriend is listening!) She talks and laughs while talking and laughing and talking. She speaks with obsession about her workout regime and high paced lifestyle so we can all hear about it. “ I’m working out…………and I…………………… and I and………………… I……………………………………and then I………………I………….and I have to…………….but I…………I…I…….I can………” and goes on and on and on and on to give a detailed description about how, and how many, and how long, and who with, she does her exercises.
Their bodies and figures are important to these Hyper-Uber-Mom women. “My shins are hot,” she remarked in a self-confident “I’ll be the judge of myself” tone. “I drive 3 – 5 miles to the gym. Sundays are my only day off.”
Big-Shot-Business-Guy hasn’t been able to disconnect from the office linked to his cell phone, despite the fact his son, or his girlfriend’s son is the quarterback. Big-Shot-Business-Guy is yakking and yelling on his cell phone, hardly concerned or interested in the game. There is more interest in doing business on the phone, than watching the ball game. He is talking loud so we can all hear he is worried about “coverage” at his business and the “production.” He is intense, focused, and seems obsessed with his job. Several times he leaves the field to talk on his cell phone.
He is either the visiting team’s quarterback’s son or the boyfriend of the quarterback’s mother. After the game the woman he is with goes to greet the boy, but the man does not. Big-Shot-Business-Guy does not even talk to the boy, and makes yet another call on the cell phone while leaving the field. I wonder to myself, why come to the game at all if your mind is not here and you don’t have even enough courtesy to congratulate the boy on his efforts? Why come to the game at all if you don’t really seem to care? Can you turn off your phone?
Play theorist Joseph Pieper states that leisure created the culture within which we live as opposed to work (1963). Entertainment has a significant role to play in how a society defines itself. This stands against Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism that concluded that the American work ethic was built on a Protestant Puritan ideal that leisure or idleness somehow was evil and could be construed as sin. Thus, play – going to Friday Night Football – would be considered idle wasteful time. This pressure to work over play pervades the Northeast culture that glorifies work, competition, and achievement over play. For Big-Shot-Business-Guy, play was a foreign idea, and workaholism – even at the football game – continued to drive his behavior.
Every game had Wannabe Glam-Girls. Three white girls in junior high age that continue to walk in the pathway at the front of the bleachers pointing out at certain times, people they recognize, things other girls are wearing, guys they are impressed with, or whatever they are pointing out. They returned about every 5 – 6 minutes, doing this circuit all game long
Debord is right that society lives to be a spectacle that is a representation of an image and not necessarily the real self. The Glam-Girls are like this. Veblen spoke about people purchasing for the purpose of display, in his construction of conspicuous consumption. Bourdieu defines the distinctions that are created by classes and what is refined taste, often based on one’s ability to pay. These Wannabe Glam-Girls certainly attempt to play variations of all these roles, even if it is done predominantly with the fakery of knock-off brands.
At the games, there are always The Play Kids who have come to play with friends with no intention of watching football. A group of elementary school boys on the grassy knoll hillside off the east end of the field have created their own wrestling arena. They roll down the small hill and play wrestling on the grass, getting muddy from the wet turf, and dirty from spreading each others face with mud in the wrestling holds. Another group of junior teens play-fight as if imitating WWF Raw or some other professional wrestling TV show or video game; with full self-made live commentary no less. “ONE! TWO! THREE! Ding!” There is a hilarious game of tag going on behind the bleachers, with six and seven year olds (they appear to be about that old) racing to one end and back to the other.
Suburban Separations: Racial inclusion and exclusion in village life
A professor at a local college claimed, “Nyack is a separatist society that reflects the larger culture of Rockland County that is split into ethnic and economic enclaves. The school has a history of race based conflict. There is an evolution of groups living in Nyack.”
Parilla, in his analysis of multi-cultural America, believes that for all the work that has been done in attempting to build racial equality to eliminate segregation, that American suburbs still have pervasive racial tensions and immigrants have trouble integrating into the well-established communities (2006). As a result, they create their own ethnic enclaves. Abrahamson in his studies of urban enclaves suggests that many urban or suburban neighborhoods have social rules and boundaries based on race, family, and ethnic connections and find ways to separate themselves from others. Naturalization used the homogeneous unit principle in claiming that people like to be with people like themselves.
In The Consumer Republic, her historical sketch of the development of the post-war consumer society, Lizabeth Cohen explains how blacks moving into the white suburban neighborhoods were met with severe opposition and community protest and racist political and civic legislation to keep them out (2003). A recent court case in Suffolk County outside New York City demonstrates these racial tensions still exist 40 years later. A black father was convicted for killing a white teenager connected to a white mob or gang whom apparently threatened his son with racial slurs and false accusations of rape. They were a lone black family living in a white neighborhood.
A local resident claims that, “Nyack High School has had problems with racism in the past.” From my observations of the crowds, I believe racist tendencies and ethnocentrism still exist. I saw these types of these segmented cliques of people at each game I attended throughout the season. The village mentality becomes even more defined with those parents whom have grown up in the community creating in-groups. Invariably, these in-groups would often be race based, with black families sitting together, and white families sitting together. If fact, in the main bleacher areas at MacCalmun Stadium most of the black folk sat in a section on one end around the 20 yard line, the visiting fans next around the 35, the predominantly white parents in the middle near the 50 yard line, then the mob between the 40 and 20 yard lines, with band, and scattered fans taking up the other half of the bleachers.
At the corner of the field complex outside the entrance gate, there is an alma-mater war veterans memorial that honors all those who died in the wars and have played on the field. Around the memorial sign, are garden benches and tree stumps all full of Hispanic and black men – mostly, but there are some women and children too – who are watching the action. They sit outside the $1 admission gate, not entering into the fray on the other side of the fence. Most appear to be very poor, even homeless, a strange sight in this upscale neighborhood. They are welcome to observe from one side of the fence, but certainly are not immersed in the action on the other side.
In a recent study of suburban migration, Murphy demonstrates how suburbs have drawn impoverished communities into it (2007). With the increase in inner city land values through urban redevelopment and gentrification, many of the poor are finding low cost housing in suburban poverty enclaves. A number of these have mushroomed in Rockland County namely in Spring Valley, Nanuet, and Haverstraw. But Nyack also has its share of the suburban poor, many riding the buses to school in the morning while the middle upper class students are driven and dropped off by parents. There are a few low cost housing projects in the area. The suburban poor are watching the game along with everyone else, and several are the players on the field.
Though the Nyack Football events force an interracial component to work, the older generations retain the same prejudices. From my observations, there was little interracial contact in the crowd except among the students in The Mob. Whites sat and talked with whites, blacks with blacks, and Hispanics were partly segregated to watching the action from outside the gates by the English Garden gazebo. Though this was not by design or the intention of the organizers of Friday Night Football it was nonetheless an observable social fact. 5
In theory, football is a colorblind society, but about 90% of the Nyack football starters are black. Is there a racial bias towards black athletes? Is there equal opportunity to win a starting position on the squad? These are debatable points. There is inequality in the locker room and on the bleachers. Perhaps an African-American I discussed this with is correct in her claim that, “in the South, playing football is the way out for poor black kids.” For some of the black kids in the neighborhood who are not from the well –to – do homes of the white middle class, football is a means to an end. Perhaps they work harder and play less. Football becomes a job not a play event. Kreager (2007) elaborates further on the inequalities of high school athletics:
Rather than building socially competent young men and women, it is suggested, the conditions of contemporary athletics embed youth in value systems marred by homophobia, sexism, racism, and ruthless competition. Within these contexts, middle class white males have the most to gain, while disadvantaged minority and females athletes are either marginalized or forego long-term attainment in favor of short-term status benefits and illusory professional careers.”6
At the end of the final home game in honor of the coaches, the players pick up the water coolers loaded with ice and Gatorade and dump them on three of the coaches. It is an odd football ritual instituted by the Chicago Bears in the mid 1990s after winning the Super Bowl. Seems everyone wants to go home tonight, for 20 minutes after the conclusion of the game the lights go off and the park is deserted except for me standing there looking over the empty scene.
Over at the Fieldhouse Training Facility, there is a pizza party for the Junior Varsity team celebrating the victory, and the end of the home schedule. One of the players kindly brought me out a couple of pieces. There is one more away playoff game but this is the yearend celebration with some of the players never playing on the same team again. It’s a great way to end the season, and plans are already underway for spring and summer workouts so the tradition can continue next season.
The Varsity Team went on to great heights. In an amazing playoff run, they won the Section A Championship and went onto the semi-final game in the State Championship where they were defeated in a heart-breaker on a bitterly cold frosty November Friday night. For many of the players it was a bittersweet a way to end their high school football lives. There will be no “next year” for some, but for the juniors, in their senior year will be one final chance to make their mark in Nyack football folklore and place their stamp on this local tradition. Maybe Next Year we can win the championship!?
Derek A. Kraeger Unnecessary Roughness? School Sports, Peer Networks, and Male Violence American Sociological Review Vol. 72 no. 5 October 2007 p. 703
4 Johan Huizinga p. 19
6 Kraeger p. 706
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