In the middle of the New York City borough of Queens stands Benjamin Cardozo High School, a place where soccer has been the main attraction for local sports fans. But Monday was the dawn of a new day for the school.
The Jets and executive vice president Matt Higgins, along with players Jerricho Cotchery and Rob Turner, presented a $12,500 check to Cardozo to start a football team and announced the creation of a $5,000 college scholarship for a Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) athlete.
"Benjamin Cardozo High School is recognized for its academic achievements, its ability to serve all students, and with this donation we also hope to be known for our prowess on the gridiron," said Cardozo principal Gerald Martori. "Our school is overjoyed to receive such a generous donation from the Jets to start our own football team."
The team also announced its annual donation of $100,000 to the PSAL's the Heads Up! helmet grant, and C.H.A.M.P.S. middle school flag football program.
The grant was matched by the NFL's Youth Football Fund and has helped to create nine new and developmental football teams and expand the C.H.A.M.P.S. Middle School Flag Football League to over 75 programs throughout the NYC public school system.
"This is really big," said PSAL executive director Donald Douglas. "It's only fitting that Cardozo has a great facility open to all the kids on the street."
After the presentation, Cotchery and Turner worked with the excited and energetic kids on some football fundamentals — catching the ball and throwing a proper block — grabbing the attention of some locals passing by the school fences on the sidewalk.
"I remember my first year playing football, I was just happy to be out on the field," said J-Co. "Look at me now. I'm playing wide receiver. My first year playing football, I played right guard and defensive end. I had a blast out there playing football and I'm quite sure these guys are going to have a great time this year."
Having the Jets on hand was a big honor for the students of Cardozo.
"I think just by them being here it proves to the kids that they think this is important," said Santiago Taveras, the NYC Schools deputy chancellor for teaching and learning. "I think that they can also see that they are human beings, that they're actually able to talk to them, touch them, and play some football with them, so they know that they're regular guys. That is awesome. Those kids are going to remember that for the rest of their lives."
A few days before being presented with the check, the kids were invited by the Jets to watch the home-opening victory against the Patriots. The group is composed of all freshman, some who have never even seen a football game other than Madden. But when they heard there was an opportunity to play, the kids were overjoyed.
"We have tremendous interest, almost 50 freshmen," said head coach Joe Kaso, a former five-year quarterback at St. Johns. "As far as the experience level, they'll gain it now. There are some kids with experience but nobody even knew we had a team this year. These kids just showed up not even knowing, and this is the result."
Also having a big hand in the creation of the Cardozo football program is PENCIL, which inspires innovative solutions to the challenges facing New York City public schools by building and supporting customized relationships between business leaders and principals. Higgins, a former Cardozo student, is a PENCIL board member and partner.
"We are excited to partner with Cardozo on a number of levels," said Higgins. "Not only are we helping to grow the athletic program with the creation of this football team, but the scholarship is awarded on both academic and athletic excellence, a balance that we stress in all of our youth efforts throughout the tristate area."
"It's a great opportunity," said Turner, the Jets offensive lineman. "It's a chance for kids to do something they enjoy. Coming from where I came from in Texas, we had those opportunities. It was something that went without question. We had the land, we had fields, and we had the availability of it. Getting the chance to have the opportunity and contribute to it, I think that's great."
Cardozo's all-freshman team will play scrimmages this year and a full junior varsity schedule next season. Then they will have the opportunity to play in a cup championship as a varsity team their senior year.
"It's going to be a great start for them," said J-Co. "They'll be able to look back in history and be the first team ever and set the standard here at this high school."