Back in the early days of Wantagh High School, there were no sports for girls, but there was Sports Night. The annual competition has withstood the test of time, even with the advent of Title IX and a wealth of opportunities for female athletes.
Last Friday night marked the 60th year of Sports Night, and to celebrate, dozens of past Gold and Black team captains were on hand. They were introduced one by one to thunderous applause in the packed gymnasium, and from a special section of the bleacher watched this year’s competition.
The past captains spanned the entire history of Sports Night, which started in 1956. The co-captains of the Gold team from the program’s second year attended the event, along with all four leaders from the most recent graduating class, plus many in between.
Ann MacDonald Greene and Barbara O’Brien Wecker, members of the class of 1957, were the first ones introduced. Before the main event, they and other past captains were treated to dinner in the north gymnasium, a space new to most of the alumni.
“I haven’t been back to a Sports Night reunion since probably the 1970s,” Greene said, “so I felt this was a good time to come.”
Every year, each team picks a theme and does a skit. Green and Wecker, who grew up as neighbors on Lufberry Street, said they still remember the calypso theme they chose in 1957 and the sailor attire they wore. They lost to the Black team and its circus theme. “But we still had a good time,” Greene said.
Wecker, who said she still has a picture of the team hanging in her office, now lives in Suffolk County but said Wantagh would always have a special place in her heart. The same is true for Greene, who now lives in Florida.
Greene’s sister, Dorothy MacDonald Neuf, graduated in 1961, and her children and grandchildren all graduated from Wantagh High as well. Neuf said she enjoyed being back at the school last week to see what has changed and what has stayed the same.
Colleen Farrell Nicholas and Kim Matson Pizzileo were co-captains of the Black team in 1991. They recounted all of the practices — many held in secret in their basements or at local ball fields — breakfast with the entire team the morning of the event, and toilet-papering their teammates’ houses. The excitement leading up to Sports Night was as intense then as it is now, they said.
“We wouldn’t miss it,” Nicholas said. “It signifies our high school experience.”
“It’s like my favorite memories from high school,” Pizzileo added.
Nicholas’s younger sister, Jeanine Tinoco, was a Black co-captain in 1995. Last Friday night, she brought a potential future captain to the event. “My daughter is 7,” she said, “and she’s already talking about how she wants to be captain.”
The captains are chosen by the Sports Night advisers and must apply, a process that includes an essay. They are responsible for selecting the theme and costumes, organizing practices and delegating duties to the captains of the individual events.
Grace Hostetter and Erin Gallagher captained the Black team in 2013, and were on hand to cheer many of their former teammates on to victory last week. “You really get to bond with everyone on your team,” Hostetter said, “and you really get to know the freshman, sophomores and juniors.”
Hostetter, who attends the College of New Jersey, said it was fortunate that her spring break was last week so she could return for Sports Night. Gallagher added that the event brings all of Wantagh together.
Julie Knob Argueta, the Gold captain in 1982, was there to cheer on her daughter, Alexis, a junior and also a “Goldie.” Argueta said she still remembers the friendships made while practicing for Sports night, but also the disappointment when the Black team won.
She enjoyed reminiscing with old friends on Friday night, and looking at the many photos of Sports Nights past that were on display. “It has a history for 60 years,” she said. “For the girls, it’s the thing. It’s the event of the year.”
The Wantagh High School jazz band provided entertainment as guests noshed on wraps, sandwiches, salads and cookies. The plates and napkins were black and gold. There was connection of the past and present, with Superintendent Maureen Goldberg and retired Superintendent Carol Bonuso both on hand, and dressed in Wantagh’s colors.
Principal Carolyn Breivogel, who started as a guidance counselor at Wantagh High in 1989, said it was nice to see many of her former students.
The event was organized by Jean Goldstein Quinn, a 1972 graduate and past Gold captain. Because of very accurate records, she had the names of every past captain, and social media helped her reach many of them. Unfortunately, she said, the snow last Friday night did keep some people away who had planned to drive in from as far away as Boston.
Still, Quinn was pleased with the success of the event, and was glad so many past and present Wantagh students could share in this year’s milestone event. “We’re one of the few districts on Long Island that still does this,” she said, “and our alumni are very important. When you’re commemorating something like this, it’s very important for them to come back.”