Villager photo by Judith Stiles
Craig Scardapane of the Xavier Knights football team
Xavier football tries to tackle home-field dilemma
By Judith Stiles
After 156 years on W. 16th St., the well-known Xavier High School is definitely a hometown school, with a hometown population of city boys. Back in the days when W. 16th St. was considered way Uptown in the country, the school opened its doors to city lads, offering first-rate academic and athletic programs, founded in the Jesuit tradition. Now more than a century later, why is it that the hometown boys must travel all the way to Brooklyn in order to practice and play football and rugby?
Yes, ball fields are scarce all over the city, but surely this school has been in the neighborhood long enough to deserve a better slice of the Big Apple’s pie when it comes to recreational activities. The commuting back and forth from Xavier to the ball fields in Brooklyn can sometimes add on as much as two hours of traveling per day, and every student athlete already has a jam-packed schedule. Take a look at a day in the life of star football player Craig Scardapane, who grew up on Morton St. and now is a junior in high school. He rises at 6:30 a.m. for school, which becomes a full day of nonstop college prep courses. Because he plays football, his gym period is converted into a study hall, which helps put a dent into his homework load.
At 3 p.m. the football bus takes off to battle traffic through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, often squandering a good 45 minutes each way of what could have been precious homework time. The practice lasts up to two and a half hours, so by the time Scardapane heads back to school and then home, he’s lucky if he walks through the door at 7:30 p.m. Shower, eat dinner and take a quick nap, in any order, are next on his agenda, according to his mother, Doreen Scardapane. She is concerned that he is often up after midnight doing homework, while he gave up hours of potential study time commuting. Football coach Chris Stevens tries to see the bright side by noting that this rigorous lifestyle builds character.
“This sets a precedent that will benefit these young men later in life because right now they are learning about hard work, dedication, commitment and responsibility,” said Stevens.
But as young Scardapane says with a smile, “It would certainly help us all if we practiced closer to school.”
When Coach Stevens attended Xavier himself in 1979 the football team practiced on the softball field in East River Park at E. Houston St., when nobody else really wanted to use it during football season. In 1985 they moved to Red Hook, Brooklyn, making do with neglected fields full of rubble. In 2004 the Xavier rugby team practiced there as well, during an undefeated season when they became a nationally ranked team. Yet Xavier’s athletic homecoming events had to be held in Greenwich, Conn. This year, their rugby team, known as the Xavier Knights, was rescued by a knight in shining armor from the Hudson River Park Trust. David Katz, the Trust’s director of recreation, recognized their plight, and did the best he could to help them, by shuffling field allotments and squeezing in time slots for practices at Pier 40 at the end of W. Houston St. But like the Xavier soccer and football teams, the rugby lads are still gypsies, using fields as far away as Floyd Bennett Field, which is on the shores of the Rockaway Inlet in Brooklyn.
Xavier Director of Athletics Rod Walker is energetically tackling this problem, as he tries to open doors and unlock gates for these young sportsmen of Lower Manhattan. Coach Stevens, who doubles as a history teacher, views the problem of lack of field space in the same positive way that he coaches his team. He teaches his players to focus on triumphing over adversity both on and off the field.
The Xavier football team’s 14-game season is still young, with two wins and two losses. Their most recent game at Floyd Bennett Field was a triumph as they walloped Christ The King, a team from a higher division. They beat the “Kings from Queens,” 22-7, in part, thanks to the great speed and agility of starting cornerback Scardapane. On offense, Scardapane also plays wide receiver where he is one of quarterback Kirby Williams’s favorite options. In this game, Jonny DiMola had three touchdowns and 171 yards rushing, along with Ryan McTiernan also from the neighborhood who ripped off a 50-yard run, in spite of a broken hand.
After the win, these young student-athletes spent most of the weekend catching up on their studies. Hopefully, the riddle of obtaining neighborhood field permits will be solved sometime soon, and then Scardapane and his teammates might catch up on their sleep as well. This will also translate into more energy for touchdowns. But, more important, they just might carve out some old-fashioned downtime, meaning an hour or two where there is nothing on the agenda at all. This would certainly make Doreen Scardapane and the other football mothers happy.