Sunday, March 13, 2016

Somers, New York Alumni Seek Name Change at Athletic Field in Honor of First High School Football Coach

The modern sports complex at Somers High School in Somers, New York dwarves the memory of the simple football field that once prevailed. Regardless of the evolution, a movement has begun among decades old alumni to rename the field in honor of a giant who they credit with putting Somers Football on the map.
"Coach Joe Carr made that program," says 1974 graduate Robert Agostino.
In fact, saying he invented football in Somers has a degree of truth. "It was six man football when he took over in the mid 50s," says Agostino, and Somers did more than hold its own among larger, established 11 man programs.
Somers won six Northen Westchester/Putnam Titles, culminating in Carr receiving the New York State Coach of the year in 1969 with his 3rd undefeated season. As could be expected, some of his methods would not translate today. "The stop watch was always out, and if I didn't hit the line in seven tenths of a second, there were a lot of clipboards broken over helmets," says former running back Butch Fream.
He doesn't deny how shocking that sounds but truth requires Mr. Carr be scene from both sides of the ball. "Hell," says Fream, "We loved the guy."
Mr. Carr also had final say as Jr. High Principal in matters of discipline - and corporal punishment was in play. Mr. Agostino addresses that old school. "You do something wrong then you're going to feel it, and you're going to know it so you wouldn't do it again, he says. "That's the way I was raised."
Once again, character can only be assessed by taking the account full circle. "He did so much for me and my family as a coach and a father figure," says Agostino, and in the end, he really cared about each and every student, added the former lineman.
Context must also be brought to bear. Mr. Fream used another Somers principal to show that today's values cannot always be imposed on yesterday. One Webb Keefe of 1940s exercised an annual tradition that is incomprehensible today but well within the social norms of the time.
An outdoors man, seniors brought their shotguns to school on bird season opening day, and lunchtime had them all off hunting en masse. "Try that today," jokes the 1970 grad.
On the other hand, integrity has no shelf live. Joe Carr, who I knew as my principal from 1976 - 1978, spoke this no louder than in circumstances that arose in 1970 and proved irreconcilable to his coaching career. Society changing, hair grew longer and several players wanted to follow suit in defiance of Carr's rules. "No one was bigger than the team," says Agostino, and unity was the issue at hand, he adds.
Three players took the dispute all the way to the New York Supreme Court and won. "Once that came about Coach Carr and Assistant Coach Nussbaum resigned," says Agostino.
Mr. Carr continued as principal, and the field was named after the school physician, Dr. Donald Richie in the late 70s. But discussions between old teammates over recent years have now found a home on Facebook and the cause awaits greater attention.
Of course, offending the Richie family is something Agostino is sympathetic to but he believes the working relationship the two had speaks to what the late doctor would say today. "He would be the first to agree with the change," says Agostino.
Mr. Fream holds out hope at least for a middle ground. "If the field name needs to be retained so be it, but let's do something for Coach Carr while he's still with us," he says.
Either way, Fream believes anyone from the four decade period in which Mr. Carr served as coach, principal and teacher would approve. Still, is this just too far away from the Somers we know now?
Inside the lines, Agostino believes the history Joe Carr left behind brings important perspective to the success Somers Football enjoys today. But elevating his name at the high school is a question that easily falls beyond the confines of the game, according Agostino's brother Dominic.

Really teaching about life, Mr. Carr demanded excellence and hard work. And he gave exactly that to his players, his students and his community, concludes Dominic Agostino.

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