And now in Glen Ridge High, there was no question about it: Jocks ruled. It had been that way for a long time; in 1941, a study by Yale University's Education Department found that the school placed "too great emphasis on producing winning teams at the expense of important social values."
The game of choice for most of the jocks coming out of middle school was football. So there they were, pounding away at each other in jayvee football practice: Paul Archer, Bryant Grober, Richie Corcoran, Kyle and Kevin Scherzer, and Peter Quigley. They would all play on the jayvee team for a year or so and then, barring setbacks such as failing grades, move on to the varsity.
A couple of weeks into the school year, the walls of Glen Ridge vibrated with a rumble that built day by day into a roar. The approach of homecoming day. Time to stomp Glen Ridge's hated rival, Mountain Lakes.
On the Friday before the game Kyle and Kevin and Paul and Richie and the other freshman jocks would pass the houses of the varsity players, checking out the decorations on the fences and doorways, prepared with loving care by the cheerleaders.
In school you couldn't get much algebra done this Friday. The varsity players wore their jerseys. Everybody seemed to know who ran the place, and it sure wasn't the grown-up in front of the classroom. Between classes the students got other reminders who the day belonged to. Each locker assigned to a varsity football player was decorated by a cheerleader. There would be signs exhorting the player to heroics on the field and drawings of hearts pierced by arrows. Some favored players would find in their lockers more personal messages—"I love your body"—and even intimate garments, including bras and panties.
That night before the game, the homecoming dance was held in the school cafeteria. Standing at the edge of the dance floor, Peter and Paul and the Scherzer twins and Bryant watched as the king and queen of homecoming, usually the football captain and the most popular cheerleader, were crowned. The five of them didn't have varsity jackets yet, but already they were attracting a following—the girls who had been their friends since grade school and the guys who wanted to invest in a friendship that would assure them of popularity by proximity over the next four years.
Before game time hundreds of people were already in the stands, waving their Ridger pennants, roaring, "Down the Lake." The preening, cartwheeling cheerleaders chanted the fight song, while the junior varsity cheerleaders hawked programs and the booster mothers dispensed hot Jogs at the refreshment stand. Soaking up the scene, the freshmen knew they were about to enter the celebrity phase of Glen Ridge athletics—the hearty camaraderie of their fathers and brothers and friends, the frankly appraising looks from the hottest girls in school, the pampering from their mothers and sisters. This was what they had been priming themselves for since they had stepped up to the plate in Bandbox softball when they were six years old. Now it was all paying off.
In Mary Romeo's high school health class, the subject is "fun things kids can do during their weekends." Romeo mentions movies, music, theaters, trips to New York. One jock holds up a hand to interrupt her. "Miss Romeo," he says, "we might as well end this discussion, because over the weekend we get drunk, we have as much sex as we can have, and on Monday we come back to school."
By the time they were sophomores, the jocks had been giving and attending parties since the first years of middle school. For them, the essential components of a successful Glen Ridge party were alcohol, a house where adults were not present and girls. Music, decorations and food were nice but not required.
For the jocks, finding girls to party with was easier than finding an empty house. When Chris Archer and his friends from middle school entered the high school in September 1986, they expanded the number of up-and-coming jocks and jockettes to about 50 kids; roughly half of them were young women. An outsider could wangle an invitation—especially if she was pretty—or give a party, but the core group was drawn from the kids who took turns sitting at the long cafeteria table reserved for jocks and their fans.