I went to High School in the Bronx, on the Grand Concourse. Cardinal Hayes HS. This was a time when Catholic High Schools were pretty dominant in New York. Taking the dreaded “test” to see which of the many schools you may “make” was nerve wracking. This test took place when one was in eighth grade, so the peer pressure to make a “good school” was intense.
Is was a big deal which of the cities Catholic Schools accepted you, and then, which you would decide to attend. In many cases there really was no choice; you simply went to the one school that accepted you. It seemed that the “smart kids” always had a great choice. I was not what one would classify a smart kid, but I was not hopeless either, so I had a few choices. The playing field was pretty wide. Power Memorial, Rice, Cardinal Hayes, Xavier, Regis, Loyola, Fordham Prep, Iona Prep, La Salle, Archbishop Molloy, Archbishop Stepinac, Cardinal Spellman, Mount St. Michaels and on and on. A majority of those I listed were all Boys schools…. The girls had their own extensive list.
I chose Cardinal Hayes (after I found out that I had been accepted there). I had friends from 8th grade that found themselves at one of the many listed above. I also had some friends that didn’t get accepted anywhere and went to public schools (of which there were many good ones.) But, those of us in Catholic grade school felt some kind of a need to go to one of the cities Catholic schools and thus the tedious process of testing, waiting, acceptance ( or not), and choosing.
I was happy with my choice. Cardinal Hays, or simply “Hayes” as we called it, had a pretty good reputation. While not one of the intellectually elite schools such as LaSalle or Regis, it had a good middle of the pack standing. I liked the school and most of the teachers as well the environment. It was, after all, only a short distance from The Stadium. (When speaking of “The Stadium” in the Bronx, one could only mean Yankee Stadium.)
However, attending a Catholic High School back in the day was no easy road. The courses were tough and I actually had to go to Summer School once for failing Chemistry. The discipline was nothing to laugh at either. Our Dean of Discipline was a tough Irish Priest named Father Mike (name changed to protect the “innocent”) No one, and I mean no one messed with Father Mike. This was old school Catholic education and corporal punishment was not looked down upon; as a matter of fact parents basically signed off on it. Father Mike was not afraid to employ such disciple when he thought it appropriate. This could leave one with a sore jaw or side of the face for a day or two. Hair length had to be above the collar and could not fall near ones eyebrows on the forehead. Shirts had to be white and not wrinkled, ties conservative. Smoking was prohibited within two blocks of the School. Shoes had to be shined and any cursing or vulgar talk, if overheard, was met with immediate consequences. Any kind of disrespect to a Priest, Christian Brother or lay Teacher was met with certain detention, and if serious enough or repetitive, a good whack on the jaw. Father Mike patrolled the halls like a warden and he took no crap, and mostly, if one were wise, none was given. Father Mike wanted us to turn out well equipped for life in a tough world and he wanted us to be “good men”. I remember once after I had graduated and gone on to Fordham University, I went back to see some of my old instructors. I had signed up with the Pershing Rifle ROTC Company on Fordham’s campus and went back to Hayes in my uniform. Father Mike was not the type to smile very much, but he smiled when he saw me. I believe he felt that being a hard-ass paid off.
This was also a time of intense rivalry amongst the Catholic Schools in New York. Football, baseball and basketball defined who had bragging rights as the best in the City. Our Football team was always good. We played at a stadium on Randall’s Island and our main goal, no matter what happened the rest of the season, was to beat Mount Saint Michael, our traditional rival on the Thanksgiving Day game .Some years we did, some years we didn’t. Regardless, the big game was always proceeded by a huge rally in the auditorium where chants of “Beat the Mount” vibrated off the walls. On Rally Day, classed ended after morning classes and we even got to leave early. The Mount did the same at their school. We were also good in baseball, capturing the City championship many years.
Basketball, however was another story. In my day, Power Memorial ruled the city. I remember attending a game at our gym when visiting Power came in and gave us quite the beating. I was awed by their center, a tall, lean kid who seemed unstoppable. He controlled the pace and tone of the game. I Was so impressed I actually shook his hand briefly during half time. His name was Lew Alcindor…. You may know him today as Kareem Abdul -Jabbar. No One touched Power Memorial in those days. But, I was from Hayes… so I rooted, though in vain, for our team.
The Beach Boys once wrote and recorded a campy little song called “Be True to Your School”. In those days ,one was. There was a sense of pride in where you were “from”, in your teams and yes, even in your teachers. We may have feared, and at times hated, Father Mike. But in our minds he was the toughest, baddest, best Dean of Disciple in New York. … And we were, after all, as Father Mike always reminded us…” Men of Hayes”.
..” So be true to your school
Just like you would to your girl or guy,
Be true to your school now,
Let your colors fly……”