“Always a Royal.”

That is how school district and village officials alike are calling present and past residents to attend this year’s homecoming celebration, shifting away from school-centered pride to exulting the whole of Port Jefferson.

The village and district are working hand in hand to create a celebration at Joe Erland Field near Caroline Avenue just west of Barnum Avenue. The celebration will include food, games and music from a DJ, and will take place in between the annual parade that flows down Main Street and the homecoming game set to take place Saturday, Oct. 5.

Port Jefferson homecoming floats make their way through the parade Oct. 21, 2017. File photo by Bill Landon

The change has come in response to district officials last year canceling the annual bonfire. As classic as it was, school district officials said the bonfire was unsafe and a redundant way of gathering school pride. They said it meant children wandering into nearby woods without supervision, adding their own internal pep rally did enough to promote school spirit.

Port Jeff Superintendent Paul Casciano said the bonfire could not continue as it had before, especially considering security and safety.

“We cannot guarantee that when children are dropped off at the high school for this particular night event, that they are in an environment that is safe and secure,” he said. “We are grateful for the conversations that have developed among community members, our board of education members and staff to come up with a carefully considered plan as we move forward.”

Not letting themselves get discouraged, community members looked to celebrate Port Jeff pride, and more than that, bridge the gap between school district, village, shops and community.

Jae Hartzell, a Port Jefferson resident and a local photographer, said many residents were upset the bonfire was canceled, calling it an old tradition. She started looking toward creating something new, perhaps even establishing a new tradition in itself. She and fellow resident Paul Braille have worked alongside school and village officials in crafting the new event.

“[This event] is a really enriching tradition and there’s a huge collaboration to increase school pride and school spirit that will continue for generations,” Hartzell said. “It’s all about creating traditions in the community — a way to stay rooted with your community.”

Along with several food trucks, the field will also be littered with games of Can Jam, Cornhole and giant Jenga, all provided through the Port Jefferson Free Library. There will also be face painting on behalf of the school art department.

Beyond the celebration at surrounding Caroline Avenue, the school district has connected with multiple businesses to emphasize school spirit and the community as a whole, including alumni. PJ Brewery is promoting live music by the band Damaged Goods, while throughout the weekend businesses will be promoting happy hour and brunch specials specifically for alumni. Prohibition Kitchen will also include Mayor Margot Garant as guest bartender Oct. 5. Participating restaurants include Nantuckets, Joey-Z, Prohibition Kitchen, Junior’s Spycoast, Billie’s 1890 Saloon and Old Fields Restaurant, just to name a few.

The Joe Erland Field will play host to an upcomming homecoming celebration. Photo by Kyle Barr

In the first meetings looking to create the new homecoming event, village trustee Kathianne Snaden was brought on board to give the village’s point of view. She said she immediately took to the idea. The village has put up the funds to pay for the food trucks, the DJ, physical and online promotions and has allowed the use of the field. Meanwhile, Port Jeff students will be creating a banner to go up along the football field at the high school, each letter being done by a different grade from Kindergarten through fifth grade, spelling “Royals.” The event, she said, has the possibility of doing much to bridge a gap between village and school district, one that has existed from each entity “doing their own thing.”

“When this came up, I said I wanted to take this up and make this work, because for the village this bridge has been broken for so long for whatever reason,” the trustee said.

“This is the best way to bring that back.”

School board Vice President Tracy Zamek said once the district established there would no longer be a bonfire at homecoming, the idea of bringing the community together in celebration, off school property and hosted by the village, immediately appealed to them. 

“We’re really excited about waking up the village and bringing the school and village together as one entity — as a tight-knit community,” Zamek said.

Those involved said they hope the new event will bring in more people for the annual homecoming game, which all said has had relatively little attendance for the past few years.

In regard to the food trucks, Snaden said the businesses were contacted first to see if they would be available to set up stalls, but according to the trustee none had the correct permits. Having them host specials throughout the weekend was a way in which they could contribute, she said, with Hartzell adding she hoped they may be able to get the permits to participate in the future. 

Festivities start Oct. 4 at the PJ Brewery with Damaged Goods playing at 7 p.m. The following day will include an 11 a.m. parade that rolls down Main Street and crosses over West Broadway onto Barnum Avenue, letting people move onto Joe Erland Field for the days’ activities. The football game is set to kickoff at 2 p.m. Alumni will receive complimentary mimosas at village restaurants for brunch that Sunday, Oct. 6.

Quest to remember the Royals fight song

In preparation for the upcoming homecoming, Port Jeff music staff wanted to bring back the classic “fight song” played at homecoming in the decades past.

However, there was a problem, said Christine Creighton, the middle and high school band teacher. The music sheets were nowhere to be found. 

Mike Caravello, the director of music and fine arts at PJSD, gathered together music teachers from across the district, including Creighton, middle and high school chorus teacher Jeffrey Trelewicz and middle school band teacher Edward Pisano, to find a way to bring back the fight music. 

It came from an unexpected place. One of the security staff at the district, Amy Goldstein, is an alumnus and told the staff she was part of the marching band when she was in school in the ’80s and knew the fight song by heart. It is a jaunty tune, a classic marching theme that’s short and to the point. 

“We’re really excited about waking up the village and bringing the school and village together as one entity — as a tight-knit community.”

— Tracy Zamek

Creighton said Goldstein recorded the song for her. Taking that, she transcribed  it on piano while the music staff helped her with the harmony. They then put it into music writing software. 

They played it back for Goldstein, and she reacted with glee. 

“She said, ‘It’s just like the real thing,’” Creighton said.

Alumni, the music staff said, are “coming out of the woodwork,” to help bring the song back for the upcoming homecoming game. 

“They can all sing the fight song, they know it by heart,” said Caravello.

The middle school marching band will be leading this year’s parade, while the pep band will play the fight song at the end of the midday celebration at Joe Erland Field and during the homecoming game itself. Residents can expect to hear the song Oct. 5.

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