Posters, balloons, flowers and gifts on the field or the court? It must be Senior Night.
The traditional Senior Night is an event high school athletes look forward to, a way to say goodbye before they depart for college. But at Hewlett High School, head football coach John Palladino is expanding on that tradition for his senior players.
Two years ago, Palladino came up with a unique way for the seniors to thank the high school teachers who helped guide them on their educational journey, by inviting them to attend the Senior Night game and to wear the jerseys of the players who invited them.
Palladino was inspired by Phil Onesto, the football coach at South Side High School in Rockville Centre, who had a similar idea.
“It shows that we do more than just coach football,” said Palladino, who has coached at Hewlett High for over 10 years. “We try to instill some values in our kids.”
Michelle Smith, a member of the Hewlett-Woodmere PTA, and Board of Education President Debra Sheinin were inspired to expand Palladino’s idea to the other district schools, so that other teachers could be invited to take part in honoring the seniors, making for a much larger showing at other home games and creating a small-town, Friday-night-lights vibe, Smith said.
“We go to all these other districts, and the entire community comes out for support,” Smith said, whose son, Spencer, is among the senior Bulldogs. “We’ve gone to games like Wantagh, and they breathe football.”
This year, seniors were asked to choose up to three teachers and/or administrators across the district that had a positive impact on them. The 43 teachers and administrators chosen by the 14 seniors will wear their jerseys during the week of a home game of their choosing, and be honored at the game.
Smith created certificates for the honorees, and Sheinin, whose son, Danny, is also among the senior Bulldogs, delivered them.
“I’m truly honored and grateful we have the opportunity to expand Coach Palladino’s wonderful tradition,” Sheinin wrote in a text.
“Recognizing and honoring the educators who’ve played a pivotal role in our students’ lives is a testament to the values of gratitude and community. This tradition reinforces the importance of education and the enduring impact of our teachers and administrators.
“I hope it continues to inspire both current and future students to appreciate the dedicated educators who shape their paths toward success.”
Smith said she was told that some of the chosen educators were brought to tears.
“They thought it was so touching that these were kids they had in elementary school that remembered them,” she said.
By creating a new tradition, Smith also hopes to make students at schools beyond the high school more aware of the football team’s games and boost attendance.
“Whether it’s in their classroom, or the principal of that school makes an announcement saying, ‘Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so is going to be honored at this weekend’s football game — you should attend,’” Smith said. “We’re just trying to drum up the hype a little bit, and it’s a really nice nod for the kids to look back at their teachers.”
Palladino said he hoped this year’s seniors would make the most of the opportunity to honor those who had the greatest impact on their education.
“I’m certain they understand how teachers try to help them,” he said. “Not just by getting good grades on tests, but to help them in life. Respect is a two-way street, and I think it’s really rewarding when a student says thank you by asking them to wear a jersey, coming to a football game or asking to be their guest. It’s a great thing for everyone involved.”