By Jake Raphael
“Set, Hike!” yells the quarterback, and the center snaps him the ball. The quarterback, Great Neck North Senior Joe Harooni, takes three steps back and scans the field for options. Seeing an open receiver, he makes a pass and finds Great Neck South Senior Josh Gal down field for a first down. The players then exchange a high five and join the huddle in preparation for the next play.
This year is unique for Great Neck football: the inaugural season of Great Neck United, a combined team comprised of players from both South and North. South’s Athletic Director Tom Umstatter explained that two schools decided to converge into one team because of the lack of student participation in both schools.
Coach Umstatter said he believed that the two most influential factors were the lack of a developed program and a sharp spike in concussions. “There’s no farm system (system to develop young players) for our football teams. Originally, many kids started in seventh grade and then eventually kept playing until they got to the varsity level. However, we lost our middle school team, not allowing the kids to have time to grow and love the sport. Also, many parents are afraid to allow their children to play football with all the new studies done on concussions.”
Despite this lack of participation and the reasons behind it, the administration agreed that they still wanted to give kids the opportunity to play instead of just dismissing both programs. “The process involved many levels of administration including the athletic directors from both schools, both Ms. Elliot and Mr. Kaplan, the former principals of both schools, and eventually the Superintendent, Dr. Prendergast,” said Coach Umstatter.
The new program has created many challenges for both athletic directors, Coach Umstatter and Coach Eamonn Flood. The first problem was logistical: how would they organize practices? The athletic directors decided to solve this problem by alternating weekly where the team practices: one week the team practices at North and then the next week the team practices at South. Additionally, the athletic directors had to determine where the four home games were going to be played. They decided that the best way was to give each school two home games apiece. Despite the differences and the logistical challenges, the players all like each other and the team developed great chemistry on their own. According to Coach Ben Kraus, the coaches took a laid back approach on team bonding. “We never forced it among the players, we just allowed them to get to know each other at the summer practices,” he said. The players said they were surprised with how close they got with their teammates from across town considering that their cross town teammates were their biggest rivals last year. Senior Matt Solomon said that playing with the North kids “felt the same as it did before when it was just South kids on the team.”
Although just a few games in, the team is already reaping rewards. Their first win over Jericho was on Sept.23. With more than half a season to go, Great Neck United appears to be successfully bringing together two rivals to promote a winning attitude.