It didn’t matter which gym I walked into during my four years at North Rockland High School. Whether it was the main gym or the annex gym, the walls were covered in red hardwood plaques highlighting the great Red Raider athletes and teams that came before me.
I was never a part of any of those great teams, and I was far from one of the school’s great athletes, but it was overwhelming to see my school’s rich history of sports success.
Most schools opt for banners to honor their greatest athletes or teams. Some, like Ossining’s three-time state champion girls basketball team, use 4-by-8-foot team photos to do both.
“It’s motivation for the kids,” Pride coach Dan Ricci said, admitting he got the idea after seeing Bob Cimmino and the Mount Vernon boys basketball team do the same thing in years prior. “Every time we have a practice in there, or an open gym, we point up there and say, ‘If you guys want to get to that point someday where your picture is on the wall, these are the things you have to do…’ ”
Ossining unveiled its 2013-14 championship photo during last year’s season-opener, since no-one on the team graduated. The school put up the 2014-15 photo by the end of the school year so that departing seniors could see it before heading off to college.
The banners and plaques do not just reflect superior sports teams and athletes; they are a feather in the cap of the school as a whole. Some players can be proud merely to be a part of a program with such a storied heritage, even if they weren’t on a championship team or stood out individually.
When Suffern volleyball unveiled its 2014 state championship banner before Wednesday’s match against Ursuline it was understandably profound for the current Mounties still on the team, who were a part of that success, and former coaches, but it also hit home for first-year head coach Samantha Gutmann.
“It was definitely a monumental moment for Suffern,” said Gutmann, an alumna of the school. “My senior year was 2007, and that was our first section title in like 20-something years, so to see the program really being brought to the next level and to top it off with a state title was really significant for me.”
Gutmann said she kept tabs on the team’s championship run last year.
Whether it’s plaques, banners, or photos, the paraphernalia located around the schools bridge the gap between the past and present. It brings the school community closer together, both athletes and non-athletes alike, if ever so slightly.
Even if current students are not athletes, maybe they know someone on the wall or who is part of the team. Maybe they’re friends with an honoree’s younger sibling. Maybe they see the name or photo of a current coach or teacher at the school during their teenage years.
I’ve had all three — from graduating with wrestling great Marc Zurla; to bowling with Alex Rodriguez, younger brother of other wrestling greats, CJ and Joseph Rodriguez; to learning biology from 1996 state volleyball champ Lauren Bernardo, who now goes by her married name Lauren Myers and is an assistant varsity coach of the Red Raiders.
“The girls say that seeing the plaque, they want to get a plaque up in the gym,” said Myers, whose team photo is showcased along the hallway outside of the annex gym.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t approach Myers when I first stumbled upon the photo my sophomore year, and I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t humanize one of my teachers.
Every year, a new crop of students graduate high school. A small percentage of them will leave with the name of their teams on the wall of their now alma mater.
An even smaller percentage will go on to teach or coach at their school, where they will undoubtedly be approached at some point by a current student spots their name or picture on the wall.
“I see (the photo) because I have lunch duty in the hallway that it’s in, but I find most interesting when my students see it and they comment on how what a great honor it was to have played on a team with such great players,” Myers said.