When the bulldozers arrived at Torpy Field off Hudson Avenue a week ago they began moving the earth to prepare for the installation of a turf field that will see Peekskill school teams play football, lacrosse and soccer there.The field has a storied history and if the dirt could talk, it would tell of a professional football team practicing on the field some 50 years ago.
Luckily, some Peekskill people have good memories and recall the summers of 1963 through 1968 when the NY Jets came to Peekskill .
They lived in the dorms of the Peekskill Military Academy and practiced on Torpy Field. Former county legislator John Testa who grew up at 217 Walnut Street was five years old in 1963 and remembers the summers very well. “The rear of the building faced my backyard and the door to the locker room was a mere 50 feet away. There is a private sidewalk that leads from the locker room door directly to the practice field. My back yard ended just a few feet from this sidewalk. So, every day, to and from practice, the players walked right past my house. My friends and I would greet them every day, help carry their helmets, talk to them, get their autographs and they would always be so nice and accommodating. They never seemed to get tired of us.
One time on a very hot August day on the way back to the locker room after practice a few players ran into my backyard and jumped into our swimming pool – with all of their equipment on!”
Judy Veglia was in high school during those years, living with her family on Ferris Street which borders Depew Park. Her uncle Mike Nardone was a University of North Carolina classmate of Dick Christy who played for the Jets in 1963. He invited Christy and the other players and coaches to his aunt’s back yard for frequent barbecue’s that summer. “Everyone in my family would make some food and bring it over and my grandmother would bake,” said Veglia.
Team owner Sonny Werblin had a financial interest in Peekskill Military Academy and also had a son that attended the school that was established in 1833 by leading Peekskill citizens. But the military academy, which closed in 1968, wasn’t the top choice for the professional athletes since the dorms they stayed in were old and didn’t have air conditioning.
Testa’s father worked at PMA so he was able to see some of the players “after hours” around the academy. “I would mostly just hang out around them but also talk to them. I remember quite a number of players who over the years were memorable for their kindness and just basically putting up with us kids. Players like Jim Turner, Matt Snell, Emerson Boozer, Don Maynard, Larry Grantham, George Sauer, Winston Hill and Sherman Plunkett.”
“However, there was one player who took me under his wing, so-to-speak, and let me pal around with him. He was Sam DeLuca. I would change the key on the “Universal Weight Bench” that changed the amount of weight (this was a new technology at the time that replaced barbells), we would talk about my schooling or whatever and he would bring me over to “Chet’s” (deli) on the corner of Elm and Wells Streets to buy me a soda to thank me for helping him. What a wonderful experience for a kid. I still think about it often.”
The Peekskill City School District is expecting the field to be ready by November. The 3.9 million upgrade is part of a $10 million bond that was passed last October.