Football defines Wallkill
Wallkill 2 An hour before kickoff and the Wallkill High football cheerleaders are practicing in front of school. They are practicing because it's a big night for them too, the season opener for them too.
Down the hill on the football field, Wallkill goes through its routine. Then it's time for a trip to the locker room for final pre-game instructions. They walk off the field in groups of two. Not a word is spoken.
The bleachers are still three-quarters empty and the sun shines brightly from above the Shawangunk Mountains. A postcard evening. Guys in the booth key up "Welcome To The Jungle" and fans stream past the admission table toward the music, toward Friday night football at Wallkill.
By now you realize you are a part of something special. You are part of an event, not just a game, a happening, not just football. This is Wallkill, which came within seconds of winning a state title last season.
Only a few high school sports help define their community. Only a few of them draw discussion at the barbershop or the deli or the supermarket. Football is one of those sports, and Wallkill is one of those towns.
"You know I'm a basketball guy," new Wallkill principal David Bernsley says, kickoff 15 minutes away. Bernsley starred at Monroe-Woodbury and played pro ball overseas. "But nothing compares to high school football."
Bernsley got the job just a few months ago. He loves the school and the community because people care. They care about things, such as football, and they care about each other.
"I'm an NFL fan," he says, the bleachers filling fast. "But I'm a Wallkill fan." Bernsley waves a hand toward the crowd. "These people live and die Wallkill."
It's 6:50 p.m. now, 18 minutes before Wallkill's Paulo Alvear will catch the opening kickoff at his own 19 and return it 14 yards to the 33. Wallkill's cheerleaders are on the track, makeup just right, hair perfect. They tie blue ribbons, Wallkill blue, into each other's hair, and everything's just right.
It's two minutes before 7 and here comes Wallkill, through the gate at the far end zone. And here comes Kingston High, at the same time, streaming onto the field a few yards ahead. "Ladies and gentlemen," the PA man says, "your 2005 varsity."
There are way more than 1,000 fans here by now. And they keep coming past the admission tables up on the hill. The home stands span 45 yards wide and go 10-15 rows high. They are full by halftime, and another 100, maybe 200 folks mingle in the grassy area behind the stands.
Kingston has brought a few hundred folks itself. Their Tigers don't need the home-field advantage. Very soon it's obvious they have an advantage on Wallkill, one based on size, speed and experience. It will be 49-0 Kingston when it's all over.
Right now it's 35-0 at halftime and Wallkill Mighty Mite football players are taking the field for a quick scrimmage.
The 50-50 is up to $200, announces the PA man. The Wallkill Panthers jog onto the field for the start of the second half. They get the same ovation they got before the game. Fair-weather fans are for the NFL. These are families cheering family.
Kevin Gleason's column appears regularly. Contact him at 346-3193 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.