Not a hair out of place. Not a button undone. Not a shoelace untied. A hat securely in place. Pristine white gloves. Pressed slacks. The Knickerbocker Greys.
This may not describe most boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 16, but when it comes to the Knickerbocker Greys Cadet Corps, that’s how it is. And they’ll be marching Thursday, 6 to 8 p.m., at the Armory.
Photo at top: Knickerbocker Greys at Fraunces Tavern, 2017 .
Oldest after-school activity in the United States
The Greys was established in 1881, making it the oldest after-school activity in the United States. Its name comes from its original uniform, particularly the knickerbocker pants and their color, “cadet grey”. Over the past 137 years, more than 4,500 New Yorkers have been members, including former New York Mayor John Lindsey, Vice President Nelson, Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr. and actors Mel Ferrer and Douglas Fairbanks. The boys and girls come from various magnet, parochial, private, and public schools in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, and Westchester County.
Their main activity is conducting drills at the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue at 66th Street.
more than 4,500 New Yorkers have been members, including former New York City Mayor John Lindsey, business magnates and philanthropists Nelson and David Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr.
Two formal Reviews are held each year, one in the winter and the other in the spring. This year’s Winter Review will take place from 6 to 8:00 p.m., on February 1st at the Armory. That night, about 30 boys will be doing drills in front of family, friends, and former Cadets. All are welcome to watch.
Eyes locked, lips pursed, brows furrowed
The Review is an opportunity for the cadets to showcase their pageantry, and of equal importance, their patience, discipline, leadership, confidence, self-esteem and ability to listen. They’ll demonstrate their determination, which can be tempered with a sense of wonder, eyes locked straight ahead, lips pursed together in a straight line, brows furrowed and muscle memory exercised. All in unison. Not a break in the line. Not a step out of place. Not a second’s fear of bullying.
The older cadets are nearly twice the size of the younger boys and girls, so their legs naturally reach different heights while they walk in step, yet their feet hit the floor at the same time, every time. The cadets march to the steady beat of drums, which drowns out the sound of medals clinking on their chests.
Risk of flags hitting chandeliers
It takes a great deal of concentration for these cadets to walk in unison, especially the younger ones. And there’s plenty to consider as a variety of challenges come with their age and size. There’s always the risk a flag can hit a chandelier thus noisily knocking it askew, or a young cadet can confuse the right glove with the left.
In addition to the Reviews, the cadets participate in New York City’s Veterans’ Day Parade and perform the Color Guard at other civic events.
There are several rankings among the Cadet Corps –such as Sergeant, Second Lieutenant and Colonel — , which are reflected by their stripes and items of clothing. A Second Lieutenant wears a cape, while the Colonel’s cape is distinguished by its red lining.
Moving up the ranks of the Knickerbocker Greys
To move up the ranks, cadets are graded according to their attendance, the daily condition of their uniform, their ability to carry out and follow orders and their overall behavior. As cadets reach higher ranks, they’re required to master new skill sets. They include knowing how to march, leading a company, knowing every command and setting the stage for the cadets to teach, work as a team, and take care of other people.
his biggest lesson was ‘how to deal with people that sometimes have a little trouble listening.’
They’ve been led for nearly 20 years by Colonel David Menegon, a drill-master to some, a father figure to others, and a leader to all. When asked what he wants the cadets to learn from the Greys, he said “that there are other people out there who are concerned about their happiness. I want them to develop self-respect, empathy and confidence. I want them to communicate their thoughts in a concise and compelling manner, to be empathetic and effective.” His proudest moments over the past 20 years of leading the Greys stem from his having had “a very big impact on the lives of several individuals, helping them go through a difficult time and making better decisions for themselves.”
Lessons from Colonel Menegon
Colonel Menegon’s impact continues to this day. As First Lieutenant Solomon Rogatnick told me, his biggest lesson was “how to deal with people that sometimes have a little trouble listening. I try to lead with encouragement and look for things to praise. This has helped me in school, sports, and pretty much every other walk of life.”
Solomon’s appreciation for his development through the Greys validates his mom’s continued interest in the Cadet Corps. Adrienne C. Rogatnick, a member of the Greys’ Board of Directors, says of the organization: “It’s gem. It’s interesting, different and has a venerable history. It’s also just a great group of people. We want the cadets to be able to function smoothly in any environment and the Greys helps make that possible”.
When they’re not at the Armory with the Knickerbocker Greys, these boys and girls are like most kids their age. They do their homework, hope to score a soccer goal, and high-five their friends and teammates. There is one difference, though. They know they stand with the Greys, and the Greys stand with them.
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