Under the Friday Night Lights

The Peglegs have one of the strongest support systems backing the athletes on the team, allowing them to bring an unbridled sense of soul and sport onto the field every game.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Jane Rhee

The overhead stadium lights flicker on, casting a warm and strangely nostalgic glow over the field as the light catches on the blue helmets of the players below. As the sky grows dark, the smattering of people on the bleachers pull up the hoods of their Pegleg apparel, shudder, and slowly gravitate toward each other until they are all sitting close together.

They call themselves friends and family. The team members prefer the term fans.

Regardless of their title, they’ve certainly seen it all. The Peglegs, Stuyvesant’s varsity football team, ended their season last year with a disappointing 0-9 record after losing their homecoming game 42-0 to Frederick Douglass Academy and then being moved down to the C division. But this year, under the guidance of captains Tim Marder, Ariel Melendez, Eddie Zhu, and Ian Sulley, the team bounced back, losing only one game during their regular season to The Michael J. Petrides School.

While the team’s performance has improved drastically, the heart of the team has not changed throughout the last few decades. The Peglegs have one of the strongest support systems backing the athletes on the team, allowing them to bring an unbridled sense of soul and sport onto the field every single time. No one knows that better than the team’s managers.

Their involvement started casually. “Sophomore year, it was just because we were really good friends with Andrew Park,” senior Tiffany Wang said. “He asked us, ‘You guys want to manage?’ And we said, ‘Sure, why not?’ And it just went from there.”

The managers, seniors Tiffany Wang, Isabel Yin, Diana Sattarova, and Kristina Kim, are present at every single game, running the operations behind the scenes to make sure that the team’s equipment is in order, attending to players that are rushed off the field because of injuries, and organizing spirit events. Sattarova follows the entire game from start to finish, noting every play down on paper so that the team can review their performance and strategize.

They also play a much more important and irreplaceable role as managers—being able to work as the players’ support systems after particularly difficult games. “They need a lot of emotional support,” Yin said. “Especially after home games. When they lose, they get really sad. Their effort and general team spirit [are] just really endearing. They always cheer each other up no matter what. If one of them gets hurt, it’s always team members bandaging each other up before the medics do. I think it’s really sweet how much they care about each other. It’s really a family.”

“They’re all soft as [expletive deleted],” Wang said. “I think a lot of people think they’re nothing but rowdy. But that just means [they] don’t know them really well.” She shared anecdotes about the team’s more intimate moments, laughing especially as she mentioned their love of belting Taylor Swift on the bus rides to and from games.

Even Kim, the newest manager on the team, found a surprising sweetness in the team’s dynamic. “I really liked last year’s homecoming game, because they lost every game, and they lost the homecoming game too, but still, at the end, it was so sweet. At the end, all of the moms came out, and it was so sad. It was so sweet; they were going off to college, and it just showed how much of a family they were. They were so upset because the seniors were leaving,” she said. Though the season had just kicked off at the time, she spoke with a softer whisper that already hinted at high school nostalgia.

Former Peglegs are known for coming back after they graduate, a number of them even showing up to games as far out as Queens. Clay Thompson, a member of the class of 1990 and the team under former Coach Falkus[a][b], has short graying hair and a wide stance. Wearing a red jersey with his name printed on the back, he stood with his arms crossed a few paces behind the team as he watched them take down Cardozo High School at Flushing Memorial Field on a Saturday morning in September.

“I actually haven’t seen the team play since I’ve graduated,” he began. “And I look at some of these guys from after us. There’s one guy who served in Iraq [who] got wounded. It just got me thinking about coming and reconnecting with the team a little bit. There’s at least one person here sitting in the stands who I haven’t seen since… since graduating.”

Even after a few decades, he remembers giving speeches in front of the campfire as a senior and all of the small moments in the games he played. As he spoke, his voice rose a half octave, and a soft look came over his face. “I’m really amaz[ed] at just how much everyone remembers, looking on Facebook [and] reading all the comments. Everyone’s kept all of their photos. And Coach had the most. Coach Falkus had articles and stuff; just reading [them] on my phone, [seeing] a picture of a newspaper article from 1986—it’s pretty silly, you know—brought back a lot.”

When asked if he had anything he would want the outgoing seniors on the team to know, he shook his head quickly. “I think they know already,” he said bluntly. “That [with] these guys, you go through a lot together, so these memories are special. So I don’t have to tell them that.”

Family members, too, realize how important the season is to their children. “Some of us haven’t missed a game in four years,” said Andrew Potter, father of junior Owen Potter. He sat in the middle of six other parents and grandparents all proudly sporting team apparel. Sharon Campbell, junior Patrick Fennessey’s grandmother who drove down from Syracuse, confessed that she couldn’t tell which one of the players her grandson was. Regardless, she sat for the duration of the game, smiling and clapping throughout.

These family members are wholly invested in the team and in their kids’ dedication to football. “Even though my son will act like he doesn’t want to talk to me when I’m here, I think he appreciates me being here. Today he called me. He asked me if I was coming, and he said, ‘You know, the game is at Flushing Memorial field, instead of Cardozo,’ so just being here is a good support,” said Judith Dickson, mother of junior Aidan Dickson. “They really need you. There’s a lot of expectation, and they want to give a lot.”

Members of the team are both aware and candid about this expectation to bring home a sort of redemption win. Many of them expressed frustration about being seen as an underdog team, both by other teams and by their peers, as well as a pressure to perform well to upload the legacy of the team’s alumni.

“It’s tough to play when no one expects you to be able to compete with them, but it’s especially tough when it’s your own school,” junior Clement Chan said. “Look at the other school [Cardozo High School], it’s not even a home game for them. Their school’s like 30 minutes away, but they’re still coming, and for us, we get so little support. Even our own school thinks we’re complete trash and can’t win in games.”

Despite his frustration, Chan channeled the heart of the team with what he said next: “We know we’re not going to be as athletic as [other teams]. We’re not as tall, not as strong, [and] not as fast, but we do our best because as long as we do our job, we do it correctly—we’re going to win.”

[a]don't we have to put the full name?

[b]and if it's full name we should put Coach as coach