When they were growing up, downtown Manchester was an exciting place to be. Along the river, giant red brick mills, "skyscrapers on their sides," were packed with workers making Pandora sweaters and tennis shoes.
Even as textile manufacturing disappeared and the mills emptied, the Yorks never considered moving too far. Bedford, a wealthy and growing suburb, was the perfect place to raise kids. The community was familiar and close to mountains, beaches, big cities and the little athletics store they ran together.
For more than 30 years, they've owned Indian Head Athletics and the embroidery and screenprinting business in the basement below. The store's wood-paneled walls are crammed with baseball gloves, Little League bats and sweatshirts for the Manchester West High School Blue Knights, Goffstown Grizzlies or Memorial Crusaders. Every order is handwritten by the store's employees, and each of Gail and Don's five boys worked there for a summer or two.
All the York boys were athletes, tall guys with dark hair, younger versions of their father. The rules of the field -- sportsmanship, competition, teamwork -- still course through their lives. Tyler learned early on that natural talent doesn't matter without work. Once, when he was a kid running on the football field, his mom told him he didn't look like he was putting in much effort. A petite woman with long hair, she dared him to a race in the backyard -- and won. He decided after that to at least try, always.
He played baseball, soccer, basketball and his favorite, football. He picked up lacrosse just for fun, and worked as a lifeguard at a neighboring community pool. He was captain of the football team at Manchester West, like two of his brothers before him, just like his dad was at Manchester Memorial High.
On the field, he motivated the guys and called the defensive plays. He liked setting the tone for the team, an outlook he thinks could apply to politics, business or his weekend flag football league: Talk trash, but don't dismiss your opponent.
"You still want to bury 'em, but you respect that they're giving you a challenge," Tyler says. "I'd much rather play someone who's beating me every time than someone I continually beat all the time. When you do win, it's that much more a feeling."
A major blow came his sophomore year of high school when he tore his hamstring in three places during a scrimmage. He sat out most of the season, his first on the varsity squad. To stay close to his team, he went to every practice and game and spent hours in the weight room with athletic trainers, trying to maintain strength and avoid more injuries. Under their care, he realized he might have found his next step.
As he began to think about college, he zeroed in on athletic training as a major, but there was something else to consider: His parents wouldn't allow him to go more than a few hours' drive from home. The rule was the same from the first York boy to the last. With a 17-year span between their sons, Gail and Don didn't want them to grow up strangers. They expected them to be at each other's big games and birthday parties, to return home for weekend get-togethers. If they instilled the habit of staying close while they were young, the parents thought, maybe they'd stick around when they were older, too.
Tyler decided on Plymouth State University, his dad's alma mater and home to a competitive athletic training program.
"The day he left, I'm not gonna lie, we all cried," says Dylan, the youngest York brother, who was 11 when Tyler headed to college and the last one still living at home. "It was definitely different to get used to. I was always by him. We'd literally spend all day together. We'd go play catch, go watch TV. When his friends would come over, I would try to hang out with them, and he always let me. I don't think he ever really kicked me out."
Like his parents hoped, Tyler came home often during college: Friends, a girlfriend, his grandfather's last years all drew him back to Bedford. But he had been one of a few accepted into the athletic training major, and the coursework was rigorous. He had summer jobs fitting casts for broken limbs and school-year training gigs with soccer, lacrosse and football teams. His friends and college roommate describe him as focused but friendly, a guy who could talk to anybody. "A professional wingman," one friend said.
He graduated in four years, in May 2009, just as the dust was settling from the imploded job market.
Tyler shows up a bit late to his little nieces' pirate-themed birthday party.
They've already moved on from eye patches and stick-on beards to heart-star-glitter-covered bathing suits. Still, they fall into giggly, shrieking fits when Tyler arrives with his girlfriend, Emily Getto. She's tall and slim with long, soft waves in her hair and a knack for vintage style. She works for Panera Bread in Boston -- she was on a poster promoting the store this year -- but her degree, and dreams, are in fashion design. Her voice is high and sing-songy, like a Disney princess, and she crouches to make eye contact when talking to the little girls. It's the kind of thing that makes the whole family love her.
All the family is here -- the aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents wearing skull-and-crossbones hats, sipping beer from koozied bottles and keeping a watchful eye as the girls leap into the wading pool behind Tyler's brother Evan's house. If not for the tricorn hats, this could be any weekend; the kids and grandkids often spend sunny afternoons together by Don and Gail's pool, or at each other's houses. The York brothers and their ever-expanding passel of children all live nearby, in a radius even tighter than their parents set for college. The oldest is 35 and lives in the house his mother grew up in.
Tyler bends down to play the "high-five game" with his niece. He holds up a hand, then yanks it away as she tries to smack it. If she's quick enough, she wins.
She misses. "Be better." Again. "Be better." Again. "Be better."
She reaches to take his hand and stop the game. "No," he says, "Be better." She laughs.
Later, with the two nieces blissed out on gifts of unicorn slippers and princess skates (the sisters were born around the same time, two years apart) the York brothers' attention shifts to the high school football schedule. Dylan's team lost in last year's state championship, a painful end his older brothers can commiserate with from their own time on the field. They'll be at Dylan's games this year, and maybe next year, too. He's a senior at Bedford High School, the team captain and the most gifted athlete among the brothers; it's no surprise that colleges are calling.
"There was a time when you older boys were in as good a shape as your little brother," Don York jokes, a quick swipe at the egos of his older sons.
Tyler, once voted "best looking" by his high school classmates, tries correcting his dad: "Brothers! Brothers!" he insists, emphasizing the plural. When it comes to fitness, he'd rather be compared to his athletic younger brother than his older siblings.
Kyle, the middle brother at 29, jabs back: "There was a time we had jobs, too."
"I have a job," Dylan reminds them, lest they forget he's staying in shape and holding down a few hours at Indian Head after football practice most days.
Tyler lets it drop. They all know he has a job too. Three, actually. His older brothers may tease, but they're the ones who helped him pull the work together.