That is the title of a somewhat lesser known Beach Boys song from eternity past. It was formed in an era when kids didn’t shoot up schools, as for the most part, they were actually proud of the school they attended. The message of this song was simple and basic; be true to the school you attended. Be true to that schools as you would be to your boyfriend or girlfriend.
I know, I know…. This may seem archaic to many today, but in the era we grew up, it was very real, and no more real than in the Catholic High School system of New York City. I think that the early-mid sixty’s could safely be referred to as the “hey-day” of these fiercely proud schools, their staff, and students.
As you know from previous posts, I attended one of these High Schools; Cardinal Hays H.S in the Bronx. Hays was but one of many good Catholic Schools in the City. To name but a few, there was Rice, Archbishop Malloy, Power Memorial, Mount Saint Michael, Xavier, Loyola, Seton Hall, Saint Anthony’s, Saint Francis, Stepinac, Cardinal Spellman, La Salle, etc. And these were just some of the boys schools! Yep, the girls had their own schools and their own identity and pride.
Those attending any of these schools could be easily spotted each weekday morning and late afternoons as they rode the bus or subway to and from their schools. Most had a book bag that proudly displayed school name and colors. My Bag had the word “Hays” in large letters across front and back and the bag was adorned with the school colors, Cardinal and Gold.
“Be true to your school now
And let your colors fly”
A line from the Beach Boys song referenced above.
I was proud of my school…. Proud to be a “Hays Man”, a term we were pretty indoctrinated with every day. A Hays Man will behave this way, a Hays Man will never do the following, a Hays Man will never come to school without a shirt and tie…… etc. etc.
Of course, the guys going to the other schools were just as proud of their school and on the subway ride home, when the cars would be filled with book bags and colors of many of the various schools, a lot of trash talk would go on. Some good-natured, some not so much. I remember a few scuffles that broke out from time to time, but they were not the norm. Not because we didn’t want to mix it up, but because if word got back to the Christian Brothers or Priests that some of their boys were fighting in public, there would be hell to pay!
“When some loud braggart tries to put me down
And says his school is great
I tell him right away
Now what’s a matter buddy
Ain’t you heard of my school…….. “
Yep…… Beach Boys again.
Sports was obviously a part of the bragging rights in the city, with Football and Basketball being the top two. My school was never the best in those two sports in the years I attended, but we were good. Actually, we were the best in Baseball, but that took a backseat to the big two. Our big, big rival in Football was Mount Saint Michael. We could lose every game of a season, but if we beat “The Mount”, it was a good year. The game was traditionally played on Thanksgiving Day, which added to the drama and excitement. The week preceding the game was filled with Pep Rallies, with cries of “Beat the Mount” echoing throughout the building, trash talk and attempts to desecrate the opponent’s mascot, flag or school building itself. If I remember correctly, neither school accomplished very much in this arena. Of course, the school that was victorious on Thanksgiving Day had bragging rights for a year, which they would take full advantage of, while the other school would hang their heads on the Subway and mumble “wait until next year” threats.
It was a special time for Basketball in the Catholic School system of New York. One of the schools, Power Memorial, had a tall, lanky Center who was creating waves nationally. His name was Lew Alcindor, many of you probably know him better as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Power Memorial was unstoppable in Basketball in his era and he was the main reason. I remember watching him play a number of times, as one of my few friends went to Power, and we went to quite a few games. I don’t believe I ever saw my school win a game, but I sat amazed, as did the rest of the Country, at this 7’2” Phenom. Clearly, my friend, Joe K, held all the cards when it came to bragging rights, while all I could do was shake my head and say; “It’s not fair, nobody can stop that guy!!” (Which was basically a true statement, but it would certainly have been very “fair” if Alcindor had gone to Hays instead of Power Memorial)
But, even in the worst of times, such as playing Power in Basketball or losing to “The Mount”, .on Thanksgiving Day, one would have to be “true to your school”, and we were. There was always something to brag about, even if you had to stretch to find it. I remember even “bragging” that Cardinal Hays had the toughest, meanest Dean of discipline in the city. (Which I am convinced to this day was true). Other Kids would say that all the ‘smart” kids went to their School, while the jocks and not so bright ones chose Hays or the Mount, etc. (I can hear my brother snickering now, as he went to a very highly regarded Public High School and for the most part, The Public School kids thought those of us attending Catholic School were nuts.). But no matter, overall they were innocent times and we carried our school book bags and colors proudly. It was the right thing to do.
“On Friday we’ll be jacked up on the football game
And we’ll be ready to fight
We’re gonna smash ‘em now……..
So, Be true to your school now
And let your colors fly………….”
If only life had remained that simple…..