“S-U-C-C-E-S-S! That’s how we spell SUCCESS!” This cheer chanted by Far Rockaway High School’s alum majorettes and cheerleaders did not just drive the Far Rockaway Seahorses to give the Bronx Mott Haven Mavericks a Far Rock beatdown 28-6 this past Saturday, October 15, but etched a historic win in the hearts of the hundreds who attended FRHS 125th Anniversary weekend celebrations. As one alum stated, “The greatest game you can win is the one won within.”
And judging from the hundreds who came from all over the country, and all over Rockaway—last weekend was a win not just for attendees, but the anniversary committee, co-spearheaded by Alan Silverstein, class of ’70, Skip Weinstock, class of ’63, and the scores of volunteers who worked tirelessly to make this event a success for all— past and present—who call FRHS’ hallowed halls, home.
In another historic win for the weekend, NYS Senator James Sanders Jr., also a FRHS alum, presented the school $1M to boost the athletic program.
At halftime of the homecoming football game, Silverstein said, “We want to get the school back to where it was. And with Senator Sanders’ generous support, the football field will get a brand-new scoreboard. If it wasn’t for all of you here—the children, alums, principals, teachers and coaches—this event would never have happened.”
In addition, during halftime, Silverstein announced that two physical bronze plaques will be set on the side of the building in memoriam for two beloved FRHS educators and coaches, the late Jack Kerschman and Jake Miller.
Miller’s daughter, Laurie Miller, who was there to accept the plaque on behalf of her dad, said, “My dad loved what he did here at FRHS. He was a great coach, a great guy and loved this high school.”
FRHS’ 100th anniversary reunion was held in 1997, ten years before the 821 Bay 25th Street school was closed due to a decline in scholastic performance and graduation rates. Today, it’s called the Far Rockaway Educational Complex, now home to four high schools.
However, the name change did not deter hundreds from coming to the two-day anniversary event, which featured on Saturday, a mile-long motorcade driving off from Beach 116th to the educational campus on Cornaga Avenue in Far Rockaway, the Seahorses homecoming game, a tour of the high school, several presentations and awards, a black-tie gala at The Sands in Atlantic Beach, and a Sunday brunch at the Marriott Hotel in Uniondale, Long Island.
“Going to FRHS was the most beautiful journey of my life. We’re all so thrilled to be here today. It’s a chance of a lifetime to relive our memories together. Most of us have been friends for 50 years.
“In these halls, we made so many important friendships and bonds. I grew up on Beach 54th Street, 54-41 Almeda Avenue and then 439 Beach 22nd Street,” Michele Troupp Polansky, (class of ’74), said. Though she’s since lived for years on Staten Island, Polansky said, “I’m in Rockaway once a week going to restaurants like The Wharf and Harbor Light, because I’m in a beach club. I really grew up in these halls of FRHS.”
Before inhabiting the building on Beach 25th, high school classes were first held in at what became P.S. 39, located at the corner of what is now Nameoke and Dinsmore Avenues. In 1897, the school was officially designated Far Rockaway High School. That same year, William McKinley was inaugurated as president of the U.S., and the NYS Legislature approved the consolidation of New York’s boroughs into one city—New York City.
Two generations of the Schwach family, Robby (class of ’84) and Howie (class of ’57), both attended FRHS. The elder Schwach, born in the old Rockaway Beach Hospital in 1939 and just celebrated his 83rd birthday, said his family has lived in Far Rockaway since 1900.
He shared, “My parents were born in the Bronx, but I’ve had relatives here since 1900. My uncle was the first Republican leader here in Rockaway in the 1940s during the war, during the same time I attended P.S. 106 on Beach 35th Street.
“Everybody in Rockaway knew everybody because we all attended the local schools. Far Rockaway High was a small-town school because most of everyone who lived here attended the school. This was the only high school, so people came from all over the peninsula and also came from Laurelton by railroad. Laurelton didn’t have their own school, so that’s why we could claim Bernie Madoff because he came from Laurelton, and his wife came from Belle Harbor. I actually asked her out on a date once, and she turned me down. She said that she didn’t go out with Wavecrest boys.
“I think I’m one of the oldest ones here. It’s exciting to be here at this 125th anniversary. I covered the 100th for The Wave. Unfortunately, as the years go by, there are less and less of us around.”
For the junior Schwach, a retired NYPD lieutenant now presently the constituent liaison at NYC Councilwoman Joann Ariola’s office, the 125th anniversary event symbolizes how one building still bonds thousands together, regardless of the year they graduated.
“It’s a real legacy. It’s something that brings people together. Hundreds of people coming from out of town, and the thing they have in common that brings them back is this building, and the four or five years they spent here. This was the only high school on the peninsula until the early 1970s when Beach Channel High School was built,” he said.
Aydon Gabourel, (class of ’89), former football coach, now surfing nonprofit, Laru Beya’s co-founder, shared an anecdote about one of FRHS famed alumnus, billionaire American financier, Carl Icahn.
“I was actually here for the 100th anniversary, when I was still coaching football at the school. This limo pulls up and the driver gets out with a bottle. He put dirt from the football field into the bottle, then called his boss to let him know that he got the dirt. I later found out it was for Carl Icahn,” Gabriel said.
So, here’s to 125 years of FRHS memories, still being created by the youth today. As tenth-grade student, Tamilore, said, “I think it’s cool that all these people came to celebrate the 125th anniversary. The older generation coming to celebrate and participate in the homecoming game by cheering the younger generation on.”