MINEOLA, N.Y.–The field looked like a jewel in the sun; the red and gold flags fluttering with Chaminade’s colors. It was only a JV game, just the freshmen boys, but the guys were on fire. Hot from a punishing defeat by their archrival, St. Anthony’s, they didn’t let the Kellenberg kids get close to the goal.
“Be. The. Best,” they yelled in their huddle, then ran like hell. The bleachers were nearly full, mostly parents and siblings. Some sat on red cushions that said “Chaminade Flyers.”
Some wore FDNY hats that weren’t bought as souvenirs; some wore New York Jets shirts, the patron team of lost causes. They sipped iced Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. They could have been anywhere.
But it wasn’t anywhere. It was a lacrosse game at Chaminade High School, the alma mater of Collin Finnerty, one of three members of the Duke lacrosse team charged with raping and kidnapping a dancer at a house party in Durham. It’s a story that has gripped the nation with what appear to be clearly drawn lines of race, class, sports, privilege and culture.
Parents of the freshmen playing on the manicured grass earlier this month didn’t want to give their names. But they were angered over the way Chaminade has been portrayed, linked always with the word “privilege.”
That’s not fair, they said. Many of the boys here are from middle-class homes, with parents who work two jobs to keep their kids in what is considered academically the best parochial school on Long Island.
“Hello, that’s us,” said one mom wearing a black shirt with a lacrosse stick embroidered on it. “We struggle to keep him here.”
Their family lives in a modest four-bedroom home on the South Shore of Long Island, where the income levels and often the mindset are decidedly different from the tony North Shore.
It’s true, of course, that Collin Finnerty’s home is in one of the wealthiest areas of Long Island, Garden City. And even for Garden City, the Finnerty house, with the lacrosse net in the yard, is a cut above the rest of the neighborhood. But as the father of one freshman said, “My house could fit inside that house.”
While news reports have focused on the high tuition at Chaminade, the parents point out that it’s actually lower than any other Catholic school on Long Island, in part because of an endowment fund set up by Chaminade alums, who have done well in their chosen professions.
“You also have some who pay their own tuition by working on the cleaning crew,” said Father James Williams, the school’s president.
Inside the school, a portrait of the Pope hangs near the door. “Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament” is the first thing listed on the weekly schedule outside the main office.
Class pictures from the 1950s and ’60s hang above the doorways in the hall, with earnest-looking young men looking down. A bulletin board labeled “Chaminade in the news” has a few clips about the track team; there’s no mention of any other news.
The school is named for the founder of the Society of Mary, and it is run by the Marianist brothers. “It’s Catholic first,” said one father, leaning against the back wall of the bleachers under the red and gold flags.
“It’s not anything other than a Catholic school. It’s just the hardest one to get into,” said another parent. “Some kids are crushed when they don’t get into Chaminade.”
It was also one of two schools on Long Island that cancelled their proms in an effort to end the excesses of money and alcohol that accompanied an annual rite that often included not just limousines but rentals in the Hamptons.
“When they had the open house,” one father said, “They told us, ‘We’re going to teach them to be husbands and fathers.”
“The boys are polite,” his wife said. “They open doors.”
And the classroom atmosphere in an all-boys school is another drawing point, some parents said. More get-down-to-business because they’re not distracted by girls?
“You said it, I didn’t,” one father said.
Chaminade is nestled in the midst of the decidedly working-class enclave of Mineola, home to a small Portuguese community and the county seat of Nassau. The houses are mostly small Cape Cod-style, only one step up from the ones in Levittown. What could be called the main drag, Jericho Turnpike, is lined with diners run by Greek immigrants; one has turned into a Colombian restaurant as new immigrants begin to prosper. Just down the road from Mineola, little girls dressed like brides complete with veils are on the front lawn of St. Brigid’s in Westbury as they prepare to make their first communion.
Long Island isn’t just one place. The Wall Street types read The New York Times on the train, but everyone else is reading The New York Post, which had a classic tabloid headline when Sen. Patrick Kennedy put himself back in rehab: “Extra Mayo.”
Long Island is not one place, and neither is Durham, or the South. The parents on the Mineola field don’t know what happened in the house in Durham on March 13, but most said they believed it was blown out of proportion because the kids were on a high-profile sports team. “Whatever happened, it could have happened on any college campus,” one mom said.
As they talk, the JV team is scoring. First it’s 10-2 Chaminade. Then Kellenberg comes back and scores. By the beginning of the fourth period Chaminade is back up 12-5. The sticks are flying everywhere.
“They play hard,” another mom said. “Every sport here is competitive. It’s not just lacrosse. The orchestra is competitive. They push these kids.”
On the field, they huddle again, just before the clock runs out. “Be. The. Best,” and start running.
Just beyond the goal, a marble replica of Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” depicting Mary holding the body of the dead Jesus, is encased in Plexiglas to keep out the lacrosse balls. Little boys, maybe 8 or 9, practice lobbing with junior-sized lacrosse sticks on the sidelines.