The sidelines were packed on a tranquil summer evening as the Jets made final preparations for their preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons. There was a smorgasbord of football jerseys worn by players from a number of New York City Schools.
It was annual "Captains Night" for the Public School Athletic League (PSAL) at Weeb Ewbank Hall.
"We think it's good of the Jets to invite our captains from our public schools," said PSAL commissioner Donald Douglas. "They've done a lot for our program. It's good for them to be able to come out here and see what type of discipline it takes to be on this level and to see the leadership that takes place on the field."
Through the Heads Up! Program, a partnership between the Jets and the New York City Department of Education, the Green & White continue to support the development of teams throughout the city. With a matching grant from the NFL's Youth Football Fund, the Jets will again donate $100,000 to the PSAL's football programs in 2007. New York's AFC representative has funded eight football programs for New York City high schools and will help recondition every helmet in the PSAL.
"The Jets funded several teams in the recent past. I think we've been able to add six or seven teams, so that was a great plus for us," said Douglas. "Some schools would not have had football if not for the Jets, like Franklin K. Lane High School and South Bronx High School. Those are just two of the high schools the Jets help fund."
Alan Arbuse, the PSAL football commissioner, said a visit to practice is a big boost to the players. Including staff, the league had a group of 108 attend the early evening workout.
"We want our kids to know that there are a lot of people on their side, including the people in the NFL and the New York Jets," Arbuse said. "They are not kids that everybody has forgotten about. Everybody takes an interest in them. It is great that the Jets have given back to the community. Without them we would be in tough shape."
They were in good shape just the other night, sitting with their friends and watching their heroes.
"This is fun. This is one of my favorite teams and I'm so close to the players I watch on television," said Jermaine Endeley, a G/DT who is entering his senior year at Curtis High School. "It reminds me why I love football."
Last year, Curtis had an outstanding run before falling to Fort Hamilton in the PSAL finals. Fort Hamilton is now the two-time defending champion but Endeley plans on having Curtis end that streak in the months to come.
"Our goal is 13-0 and a city championship," he said. "Anything else would be a disappointment."
Bayside signalcaller John Zorbas wants his squad to rebound from a subpar year and restore itself as one of the best teams in Queens.
"I'm watching the quarterbacks pretty closely," he said. "I see how quick their releases are. I have to try to prove myself and get better from this. You see how much faster it is at this level."
The Jets have helped speed up the development of football in the city, helping to make sure the same opportunities are afforded to kids in the Big Apple as to students throughout the nation.
"Having grown up in New York City and playing in the PSAL 110 years ago, it's something that has never happened before," said the light-hearted Arbuse. "The NFL is like putting a man on the moon and here the kids are sitting on the same field as these guys."