National anthem shelved but school spirit shines through at Homecoming pep rally

PETER R. BARBER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER Niskayuna Varsity cheerleaders perform in the gymnasium for a Pep Rally Friday, October 6, 2017.PETER R. BARBER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER Niskayuna Varsity cheerleaders perform in the gymnasium for a Pep Rally Friday, October 6, 2017.

By Kristin Schultz

Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA

Despite a week of ongoing and sometimes nasty debate over some Niskayuna football players and a cheerleader kneeling during the national anthem, the Homecoming pep rally on Oct. 6 was a show of spirit and unity.

Prior to the rally, Niskayuna Central School District Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. released a statement announcing that, unlike in previous years, the national anthem would not be played during the assembly.

The anthem had been scheduled to be performed by the high school’s chorale group just after the varsity athletes made their entrance. Instead, that part of the rally was skipped and the cheerleaders took the floor, tumbling, flying and cheering to an audience of amped-up students.

“This rally is about school unity,” said Michael Wagner, president of The Warrior Project, which hosted the event. “It’s an opportunity to let go and have fun. There’s good energy here.”

The Warrior Project is an N-CAP-supported club of athletes committed to a substance-free lifestyle. Members are nominated and vetted.

“I’m not drug- and alcohol-free because I’m in the club,” Wagner said and went on to explain that he chose to make healthy decisions first. “If you have good habits now, you don’t have to break bad habits later.”

The pep rally featured the requisite bleacher stomping, goofy games like human “Hungry Hungry Hippo,” where participants were pushed around on gym scooters, trying to capture balls under a laundry basket, and plenty of spirited, ear-splitting screaming.

Administrators seemed to be keeping a careful watch on the bleachers.

Prior to the game, Niskayuna High School junior Lindsey Weitz hosted a “classic (but dry of course) tailgate” by the Balltown Road parking lot. Weitz planned to have a tent, balloons, hamburgers and hot dogs. She said the volleyball team planned on bringing wings and pizza.

Weitz knew Guilderland put on such tailgate events and wanted to do the same.

“We need that kind of school spirit,” she told her mother.

The national anthem would be played prior to the game that night. Tangorra’s statement read, in part:

“While we know that many may disagree with this decision, we ask you to understand that our focus remains on making sure that our school is a safe and comfortable place for all of our students. The national anthem and patriotism clearly have and always will have a place in our schools. That will not change. The national anthem will be played before tonight’s football game, as always.  Our many patriotic traditions will continue, including the annual Memorial Day observance and the continuous display of names of alumni who have served in the Armed Forces.”

As has been the case since Sept. 28, when four members of the football team took a knee during the anthem, social media comments have been plentiful and varied. In response to the district’s decision to pull the anthem from the pep rally, Glenville town supervisor Chris Koetzle commented online:

“I can not tell you how deeply and passionately I disagree with this wrong-headed statement. There is never a time that the playing of OUR National Anthem is wrong, threatening, or in any way controversial. It honors our GREAT country and all of those who have served and have given their lives for it. IT IS NOT A POLITICAL STATEMENT! Whatever your grievance is with this country, our nation and our flag deserve our respect. I am embarrassed to be associated with the Niskayuna School District and I am disgusted by this by decision. Share if you agree. Shame on Mr. Tangorra.#standforamerica.”

Some portions of Glenville are located in the Niskayuna School District.

Tangorra’s full statement can be read on the district’s website.