Kingston football players get outside the ‘Man Box’

Coach Jeramie Collins and KHS football player Chapman Parker at last week’s event. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

Eight Kingston High footballers and their coach have crafted their most intimate moments into monologues fit for the stage. On Friday, Feb. 9, they presented the results to an audience of 160 people at the Kingston High School auditorium. The process, including the workshop sessions, last week’s performance, and the boys’ work on the field, has been documented and will be screened later this year in a video documentary called “Locker Room Talk.”

The initiative was put on in conjunction with three collaborators. The TMI project, an organization headed by Eva Tenuto, hosts memoir-writing workshops that culminate in performances. Stockade Works, co-founded by actress Mary Stuart Masterson and executive director Beth Davenport, provided a film crew. The initiative A Call to Men, which teaches “a healthy, respectful manhood,” aims to squelch domestic violence in boys at a young age by encouraging them to deconstruct and examine what organizer Tony Porter calls “the Man Box.”

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The aim of the process, according to KHS varsity football coach Jeramie Collins, was to teach young football players that, though they are expected to be aggressive on the field, “when [they] get home it ends.”

“This whole TMI thing has made us closer as a team and more comfortable on the field,” said participating student Hayden Barley.

“Growing up as boy[s], we were taught that men had to be tough, had to be strong, had to be courageous, dominating — no pain, no emotions, with the exception of anger, and definitely no fear,” said Porter in a TED Talk. “That men are in charge, which means women are not. That men lead, and you should just follow and do what we say. That men are superior and women are inferior; that men are strong and women are weak; that women are of less value, [the] property of men and objects, particularly sexual objects. I’ve later come to know that to be the collective socialization of men. The ‘Man Box’ identifies the limitations on what a man is supposed to be and what he believes.”

Coach Collins began the presentation with an emotional memory from his own childhood. His mother stole a football for two of her sons because after her husband was killed by a drunk driver, she never had enough money to support her ten children. “No matter how hard she worked, there was never enough money, and that wasn’t her fault,” explained the coach.

That reminiscence began a two-hour period in which Collins and his son Kevin, Gabriel Baldizzi, Matthew Amato, Tanner Meijas, Hayden Barley, Edward Hillje and Chapman Parker shared the monologues that they’d perfected over months of workshops. They fielded audience questions about the process and their perception.

Sophomore Kevin Collins recalled quitting the Scout football team against the wishes of his father, who “trie[d] to make decisions about how I lived on and off the field.” After trying to convince him not to quit, Kevin’s father told him that he needed to “go hand in [his] stuff and shake the coach’s hand.” According to Kevin, the Locker Room Talk experience has put him more in touch with his emotions and brought him closer to his father during a transformative period in his life.

Other monologues were particularly memorable.

Baldizzi, a slight young man with a curtain of floppy hair, was called “Gibby” in seventh grade after the chubby iCarly character of the same name. Though he never considered himself fat, Gabriel began working out intensely in layered sweat clothes and eating tiny meals.

After losing the weight, the offensive lineman was demoted to the modified team. “I [felt] insecure about going from an oversized kid to an undersized player,” said Baldizzi. “I still struggle to put on weight [for football] without getting too big.”

 

Linebacker Tanner Mejias recalled bagging his first deer with his father after watching his father hunt since he was five. After ten hunting seasons, Tanner finally shot an animal, which made him a man in his father’s estimation. After the deer was shot, father and son tracked the animal’s spattered blood and found the body. The younger Mejias donned a strap and had to drag the deer, which weighed as much as he did, 300 feet back to the truck.

Chapman Parker, the team’s quarterback, spoke of the lesson his six brothers, including a disabled Iraqi Veteran, a DWI recipient-turned personal trainer, and a BMX biker who broke his back in a biking accident, had taught him.

Sophomore Hayden Barley detailed the time his first dog passed away when he was five years old. It was the last time he cried, he said.

Edward Hillje recounted his grandfather’s suicide. “Processing my grandfather’s death is still hard for me today,” Hillje told the audience. “Pop, I forgive you for doing what you did because you were hurt. For now, I’ll just keep telling my story — our story.”

The presentation was dedicated to Damien Kovacs, a team member who passed away in an auto accident on Route 28 in 2016. According to the team, being open with their teammates had strengthened them on and off the field. It had helped put them more in touch with themselves eased their ability to communicate with women.

Last week, the team shared their stories with Kingston eighth graders, spreading a message of sensitivity, support and self-examination. Hayden Barley said the message was an important one. It would be a worthwhile achievement, he said, “if we could instill this program in our leaders and have this trickle down.”

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