Stepping back in time at the school on the hill
I’ve seen most high schools on Long Island. I coached my two sons’ travel soccer teams, followed them during their varsity careers, and traversed Long Island as a sales rep. The school architecture varies, and the physical grounds of others are outstanding, but Herricks High School — the alma mater of my sons and me — is unique.
It sits somewhat majestically on a hill in New Hyde Park and, unlike many other schools, far from a main road. From Shelter Rock Road, one can see the school only when the fall foliage withers and the school materializes between the bare branches. Behind the brick walls is a superior, nationally ranked education.
The “hill” is the school’s soul, its identity. The athletic teams, the Highlanders, had a mascot that once was a friendly Scottish Terrier. It has transformed into a muscular Scot warrior dressed in a kilt. When Herricks had a marching band, their uniforms were tartan, and the flag girls and lassies wore plaid skirts and colorful bonnets. The school paper and yearbook share the same Highlander theme.
Everyone seems to have a different memory of the hill. For some it was a weekend social destination, while others found solace in the cloak of the forest that blanketed the back of the school. On a wintry day, what seemed like half the school district showed up to sled down the hill until the snow was worn away to dirt patches. The leafless trees made it a comfortable site in fall and spring to watch varsity sports on the athletic fields at the bottom of the hill.
A two-lane road gradually climbs to the front of the school, where the buses drop off the students. Yet every student, at one time or another, remembers walking up and down the 75 or so cement steps that cut into the hill, either for gym class or a varsity contest. They were easy to descend but were a brutal climb if Herricks had lost a game.
I have returned to Herricks once again as my Class of 1972 plans its 50th reunion for Oct. 22. The new football field, track, weight room and upgrade to the cafeterias will surprise most alumni.
I remember when we were giddy seniors at graduation. Dressed in our caps and gowns, we were a sprawling ribbon of blue. We carefully walked in pairs down those cement steps hoping we wouldn’t trip on our gowns as we marched toward the football field for the ceremonies.
From my vantage point as a student, I could never imagine what that overall vision looked like 50 years ago. However, returning some 30 years later, I watched my sons make the same trek for their graduations. Probably for safety, their paths no longer led them down those dozens of steps and instead took the road most of us navigated to get to school. Only then, while sitting on the football bleachers and searching for my sons, ensconced in the wave of blue caps and gowns, did I feel the enormity of the moment.
As the Class of ’72 returns to Herricks this fall, we will acknowledge that our education there has become nationally recognized, and maybe on our tour we will hear voices of teachers past. We will marvel at the physical changes to the building and fields and embrace what will never change — the road and those cement steps up the hill that led back to our school.
Reader Ed Cohen lives in Melville.