Sports

Locals Look Back on RP Teacher, Coach, Administrator and Icon

Michael Bowler, middle, was renowned as a RP lacrosse coach. Photos from Rich Acritelli

By Rich Acritelli

Just recently, Rocky Point Union Free School District lost the wonderful presence of longtime teacher, coach, advisor and administrator Michael Bowler, who passed away Dec. 1.  This legendary coach of 47 years had accumulated 447 wins as the only lacrosse coach Rocky Point had ever known. While Bowler was always a notable figure who taught, coached and mentored the students of the school, his unique background of honor, service, kindness and loyalty was established some 72 years ago.

Michael Bowler in his early days. Photo from Rich Acritelli.

Bowler was born Feb. 14, 1947, to Paul and Marie Bowler. He was raised in Hicksville with his brother Kevin and his two sisters Meg and Stephanie. During World War II, his dad was a Marine Corps fighter pilot who fought in the Pacific, where he was able to fly near one of the greatest baseball hitters of all time, Boston Red Sox icon Ted Williams. After the war, the senior Bowler was involved in business and his mother was an elementary school teacher. As a kid, Bowler attended Catholic school, where he loved playing football and basketball. Since religion has been a cornerstone of this family, Bowler served as an alter boy at St. Ignatius Elementary School. Later, Bowler attended St. Dominic’s High School in Oyster Bay. He was a four-year honor student, a featured running back on the football team and a major leader on the golf squad. His most crowning achievement was meeting his high school sweetheart and later wife, Helene, at the age of 16. Just recently, they renewed their wedding vows for their 50th wedding anniversary.

In 1965, Bowler graduated from high school and moved on to King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He studied history and education and was later a vice president of the student council and the president of the senior class. Shortly after graduating, he married Helene on Aug. 23, 1969, and was quickly hired as a social studies teacher at St. John the Baptist High School in West Islip where he taught history and theology. It was there Bowler began his lifelong passion of coaching, starting with the  junior varsity football team. In this rather busy time, Bowler enlisted in the New York Army National Guard for six years. Since his youth he was always in leadership positions, so it was no surprise that Bowler became a heavy truck operator and a platoon sergeant within a motor company. It was at this time Bowler and his wife welcomed their oldest son Brendan into the family Aug. 19, 1972.

In 1973, Bowler was hired at Rocky Point High School,where he continued teaching social studies and was offered a coaching position in lacrosse, a position that would shape the rest of his life. While Bowler was a well-rounded athlete, lacrosse was a new game for him. For the rest of his life, Bowler was always a student of a sport that saw him evolve into one of the finest high school coaches in New York. Bowler grew into a major faculty member that was in charge of the social studies department and was a senior class adviser who organized major trips to Montreal, Canada, and to Walt Disney World in Florida. He ran school dances, the battle of the classes, the senior picnic, prom and dinner from 1976 to 1995 and 2002 to 2003. For a decade, he also coached the varsity girls cross-country team. Bowler ran with his team and demonstrated a strong flair for pushing his students to do well at long-distance running. Like that of lacrosse, he was a devoted leader that had won several league titles and a coach of the year award from 1978 to 1988.

Michael Bowler, middle, was renowned as a RP lacrosse coach. Photos from Rich Acritelli

By 1985, the Bowler family grew to three more boys through the addition of Sean, Kevan and Michael All of them attended school at Infant Jesus in Port Jefferson before moving onto St. Anthony’s in Huntington. On top of his busy teaching and coaching schedule, to earn extra money for his family Bowler delivered beer, moved people’s homes and even transported libraries within the city and Long Island to different locations. At night, Bowler went back to school at C.W. Post to earn his administrative degree. He was quickly promoted as an assistant principal at Rocky Point middle and high schools. Armed with a big smile and a can-do attitude, Bowler was responsible for discipline, hiring teachers, scheduling staff and students and being a constant presence at all school functions.  He mentored teachers like Brooke Bonomi to constantly support the students around him within every imaginable task and activity.  Often, when one observed Bowler’s desk, it was often messy and full of papers dealing with every possible concern that can occur within a school. Even as he held an administration position, Bowler continued to coach the lacrosse team, where he had a positive impact inside and outside of this school.  

After several years of working with younger athletes, establishing intramural programs, and coaching the junior varsity team, by 1978 his squad had its first full varsity season. With an energetic demeanor, Bowler instructed a green group of athletes toward attaining an 11-8 record. This was the start of many outstanding decades that saw the Rocky Point Eagles be one of the finest programs within their league, county and on Long Island. In 1985, after several years of hard work, the Eagles captured their first county title. Bowler reached the pinnacle of success within the sport, as he eventually guided his players to a 2008 New York State Championship. For all of his devotion, Bowler was awarded numerous coaches of the year awards through his league and county and he was honored with being the Man of the Year in sports through Times Beacon Record and the local Rotary Club. 

In 2014, Rocky Point lost a hard fought game to Lynbrook, where the team came extremely close to making it to the state tournament. Ever the master communicator, Bowler made a detailed speech about the strengths of this group and the importance of giving their all to a contest and still being proud of themselves, even when some goals are not achieved. John Fernandez was a 1996 graduate of Rocky Point, a member of the West Point lacrosse team and close confidant of Bowler. He was severely wounded during the Second Gulf War in Iraq. This talented player openly recalled Bowler “never screamed or belittled a player, lost his cool or uttered profanity on the field. His success in coaching has come from his ability to encourage and get players to ask the most from themselves, not from others.”

Over the years the incredibly personable man established solid relationships with college coaches all over this nation. His “boys” played on every athletic college level at schools like Albany, Adelphi, Brown, Colgate, Dartmouth, Delaware, Hofstra, Manhattan, Stony Brook, Towson, Trinity, Wagner and Wesleyan. In larger numbers, his players served in the armed forces as they played within every service academy team. It is said Rocky Point has more captains that lead the West Point team than any other high school in America. Rocky Point guidance counselors Matt Poole and Jimmy Jordan always marveled at Bowler’s ability to fully understand the college recruiting and admissions process. For decades, Bowler drove his students on numerous trips in New England and the East Coast. Often the case, he quietly took money out of his own pocket for the sake of his players. Just this past year alone, former Rocky Point standout Peter LaSalla was a freshman and faceoff man on the University of Virginia lacrosse team. This local kid that just played for Bowler was a key member of a team that recently won the 2019 National Championship.

It is with a heavy heart that Rocky Point school district mourns the difficult loss of an individual that always made time for his family, friends, students and players. Even as he retired from his administrative position in 2004, Bowler continued to coach lacrosse until his declining health conditions forced him to retire from this position. Bowler leaves behind the love of his best friend Helene who spent countless hours at the school rooting for his teams, along with his three boys Brendan, Kevan and Michael. There is undoubtedly a special place in heaven for Bowler who is surely united with his second oldest son Sean, who passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease, otherwise known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in 2005. The family loved Sean’s girlfriend Adena Herskovitz, who as she was attending Yale Law School had taken care of him after he was diagnosed with ALS. While the Bowler’s are dominated by all boys, Adena truly represented the lone daughter of this family. As with Sean, Adena was recently at the bedside of Bowler to ensure that he was properly receiving the correct medical attention at Sloan Kettering in Manhattan.

Like that of Brooklyn native and Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, who was a devout Catholic, teacher, coach, mentor and loyal member of his church, Bowler truly resembled the traits of this historic figure, of living his life for the love of his family, God and the Rocky Point Eagles. For decades, Bowler was a major member of the Infant Jesus Parish in Port Jefferson where he could be seen assisting with the weekly and Sunday Masses. At times, it is my custom to speak with Father Francis Pizzarelli of Hope House and Infant Jesus. With a big smile, Father Frank always described the devotion of Bowler who always enhanced others within his church and team. The priest recalled how Bowler even coached his family members. Always with a hectic schedule, Bowler and his wife took care of a special needs young man and his home over the last several years. Never did the Bowlers ever seek any type of attention for always putting others first — it was not their way. From his youngest moments, Bowler and his family “selflessly” aided others with a tremendous smile, kindness and heart.

Up until his death, Bowler dearly loved his family, team, community and church. He leaves behind a “tribe” of six grandsons, who he was immensely proud of seeing during his visits to Massachusetts and Colorado. Like that of his players, he followed their every lacrosse movements and was happy that they were all well-rounded student-athletes. In the summers, the family vacationed on Block Island where they looked forward to being together. While lacrosse was always a passion for Bowler, the athletic tradition has been passed onto all of his sons, who were all tough college players that later became high school coaches. His two older grandsons are devoted students who are currently playing for Duke University and Marist College. At a gathering that was held at the Bowler home after the cemetery services, the younger grandsons were running around the house with their football helmets on. They were catching passes from Bowler’s brother Kevin in the backyard of his home.  Like their grandfather, they flashed a brilliant smile as they were running around and tackling each other.  

At this sad time, as the Bowler family came together and at several points during this trying week, they could be heard laughing at colorful memories of this unique man.  At the church service at Infant Jesus Church in Port Jeffeson, his younger son, Michael, soundly recalled the dynamic ways and “quirks” of his father that had given so much to all those around him. It was hard to find a seat or place to stand as family members, neighbors, friends, current and former teachers, players and coaches all gave a final goodbye to a person that garnered so much affection. And these accounts that were creatively stated by Michael produced a large roar of laughter from the crowd. Each in turn  easily recalled the genuine ways of this former husband, parent, family member, educator, coach, church member, neighbor and veteran.

At the final wake services, where there were close to a thousand people that stood on line to share the numerous positive qualities of Bowler, 2010 high school graduate Michael Muller addressed the true meaning of this man. In front of a packed house, Muller, a graduate and a lacrosse player from Dartmouth College, said his life would have been vastly differently if it was not for the constant presence and guidance of “Coach Bowler.” Muller echoed the sentiments of this North Shore community that truly appreciated the dedication of Michael P. Bowler, who always looked to enhance the school district. 

The life of this “Renaissance man” could be summed up through the words of Lombardi who told his own players, “Once a man has made a commitment to a way of life, he puts the greatest strength in the world behind him.  It’s something we call heart power.  Once a man has made this commitment, nothing will stop short of success.”  

Through all of his amazing deeds to his family and school, Bowler has surely lived up to a high benchmark of excellence on and off the field.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

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Miller Place wins it in the annual Battle of the Paddle against Mount Sinai. Photos by Diana M. Fehling
Miller Place wins it in the annual Battle of the Paddle against Mount Sinai. Photos by Diana M. Fehling

The Miller Place Panthers put on a dominating wrestling performance against Mount Sinai Mustangs, winning 47-24 in the annual Battle for the Paddle match at Mount Sinai High School Dec. 4. The Panthers took a commanding 30-point lead with strong performances by Michael Giugliano, Alexander Constantis, Mark Rado, Justin Klein, Ryan Hucke, Kyle Klein Jr., Travis Grebe and Anthony Bartolotto, also Chris Bold.  

Miller Place wins it in the annual Battle of the Paddle against Mount Sinai. Photos by Diana M. Fehling

 

 

The Mount Sinai Mustangs tried to narrow the lead with wins by Matt Campo, Phil Johnson, Brayden Fahrbach, Joe Goodrich and Gian Luca Ferrara, but the Panther lead was insurmountable.   

The paddle remains with the Miller Place Panthers for the next year.   

Photos by Diana M. Fehling

Ward Melville came out firing on all cylinders in a nonleague matchup downing the Comsewogue Warriors 50-37 Dec. 10. Senior guard Giancarlo Serratore topped the scoring chart for the Patriots with five field goals and a trey for 13 points. Seniors Ted Bliznakov and Jack Holland had eight points apiece.

Senior Tyler Shannon banked 12 points while senior Jaden Martinez netted 11 for
the Warriors.

The Patriots have another nonleague matchup Dec. 13 before they take on Central Islip at home in their league season opener Dec. 17. Game time is 4:15 p.m.

Comsewogue is back in action in its league season opener at home against Deer Park also on Dec. 17 with a 5:45 p.m. tipoff.

The Comsewogue girls basketball team continued their pre-season winning ways in a non-league matchup against Centereach Dec. 9. The Warriors downed the Cougars 39-27 to make it five in a row. Comsewogue senior Veronica Riddick topped the scoring charts for the Warriors with nine points and 10 rebounds. Teammate Lindsay Hanson banked eight and Annalise Russo and Danielle McGuire netted seven points each.

Both teams have one more non-league contest before hitting the road to begin league play Dec 17. The Cougars travel to Smithtown West searching for a win and the Warriors take on Deer Park both, games tipoff at 4 p.m.

 

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After winning their preseason games handily over Southold/Greenport and Deer Park, Shoreham-Wading River girls basketball team dropped their league opener against John Glenn and the Wildcats looked to get back to their winning ways. Win they did against Mount Sinai, edging the Mustangs 43-36 on the road Dec. 6.

SWR senior Abby Korzewinski led the way for the Wildcats with 13 points. Sophomore guard Carlie Cutinella did her damage from down range hitting three triples, netting a total of nine points.
Mount Sinai sophomore standouts Casey Campo nailed four treys, four field goals and a free throw to lead the Mustangs 21 points, while Kylie Budke banked nine.

Shoreham-Wading River retakes the court Dec. 10 when they host Miller Place with a 4:15 p.m. start. Mount Sinai is back in action when they take on Amityville on the road Dec. 11. Tipoff is 4 p.m.

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From left, Jessica Chen, Isabel Xu, Riley Gavin, Kaitlyn Ehlers and Hannah Lin from Ward Melville’s girls swimming team competed in state championships in November. Photo from Riley Gavin

The Ward Melville girls swimming team has a storied history in Long Island high school sports, at one point winning 23 straight years county championships. The 2019-20 team capped off another successful season by securing another league and county crown for the school.

Chris Gordon, head coach of the swimming team for 26 years, couldn’t have been prouder of how the team did this season.

“The team has done a great job this season, the mix of the team was really good … we had some young swimmers and some with a lot of experience,” he said.

The head coach said he was unsure how the season would play out as they lost some important swimmers to graduation. He pointed to their league victory against Northport as a turning point in their season. 

“They are always stepping up at the biggest meets, all the credit goes to them,” Gordon said.

He also credited the Three Village Swim Club for helping in the development of the swimmers as many of them go there for additional practice outside of school.

After winning the county championship Nov. 9, Ward Melville went on to compete in states. Riley Gavin, Hannah Lin, Jessica Chen and Kaitlyn Ehlers competed in the 200 medley as well as the 400 free relay along with Isabel Xu. Gavin also qualified and competed in the 200 individual medley and the 100 back. She went on to finish in the top 10 in all her events.

Gavin, senior captain, who will continue her swimming career at the U.S. Naval Academy said the nine-member team finished the season on a strong note.

“There were a lot of unknowns going into this season,” she said. “I think this was arguably one of the best seasons we’ve had in the four years I’ve been on the team.”

Gavin said they kept improving throughout the season and in turn grew closer with each other. She thinks the team has potential to be even better next season.

“It is bittersweet,” Gavin said. “I remember when I was a freshman it was always tough to say goodbye to the seniors back then. Two freshmen [Lin and Xu] came to states with us, I thought it was a good experience for them … I think they have the potential to win counties again and compete for states.”

Huntington’s boys basketball team trailed by two after the first eight minutes of play but then the Bulls of Smithtown East dropped the hammer and outscored the Blue Devils by 28 points to put the game away 66-36 in a non-league matchup at home, Dec. 5. Zac Chandler had the hot hand for Smithtown East draining four triples, three field goals andthree3 points from the line to lead his team with 21 points. Jared Borner followed with 12 points and Nick Lardaro added 11.

Huntington seniors Omari Stephen and Daniel Danziger topped the scoring chart for the Blue Devils with 10 points apiece. Huntington has another non-league game at Cold Spring Harbor Dec. 10 before they open league Dec. 12 when they host Harbor Hills East. Game time is 5:45 p.m.

Smithtown East will host Roslyn Dec. 7 at 10 a.m. before their league opener Dec. 12 at home against East Islip. Tipoff is 4 p.m.

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Xavier Arline breaks free for one of his 4 touchdowns in a Shoreham Wading River rout of Seaford in the Long Island Championship game Nov. 30. Bill Landon photo

The Wildcats of Shoreham-Wading River’s football team have been sprinting towards success for the past six years, and now this year’s Long Island Championship adds another tally to their streak.

SWR senior quarterback Xavier Arline did what he’s done all season long leading his team to victory where the Wildcats pummeled Seaford 49-7 in the D-IV championship game at Hofstra University’s James M. Shuart Stadium Nov. 30.

Arline ran for four touchdowns in the game with carries of six yards, 54 yards, 64 yards and 67 yards, while throwing a pair of touchdown passes to tight-end Jake Wilson and senior running-back Mike Casazza. Seaford managed to find the end-zone with 29 seconds left as the Wildcats claimed their 4th Long Island Championship trophy in six years.

Rocky Point senior Gavin Davanzo drives by a defender in a non-league matchup Nov. 29. Photo by Bill Landon

Rocky Point struck first and often in their 2nd non-league game of the pre-season against visiting Centereach, besting the Cougars 56-41 at home Nov. 29. The Eagles hit the road for another non-League contest against Comsewogue Dec. 4 with a 5:45 p.m. start, before their home opening league debut against Hauppauge Dec. 6. Game time is 6 p.m.

Centereach will play Ward Melville at home Dec. 3 and travel to Commack two days later for a pair of non-league starts, with both game tip off at 5:45 p.m. They will conclude its pre-season when it travels to Sachem East Dec. 10 for a 6:15 p.m. start. League play for the Cougars begins on Dec. 17 with their home opener against Smithtown West. Game time is 6 p.m.

Individuals and groups dived into frigid waters Nov. 23 for the 10th annual Brookhaven Polar Plunge. Photo by Kyle Barr

The icebox temperature of the coastal waters of Long Island Sound keep most away from any bathing activities, but on Nov. 23 the Suffolk County police and other volunteers could barely contain the crowd who rushed in wave after wave to bathe themselves in the frigid Sound off Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai. 

Close to 750 participants joined in the 10th annual Town of Brookhaven Polar Plunge, raising a projected $150,000 for the Special Olympics. Diane Colonna, the regional vice president of development for Special Olympics New York, said it costs about $400 to provide training and to sponsor one athlete per season, though many train and compete over multiple seasons. 

“Most people are not really into jumping into freezing cold waters, but people are doing it — they’re doing it for our athletes,” Colonna said. “What’s really cool is our athletes are doing it as well, and it’s something they can do together.”

She added that the number of participants has been relatively steady over the past several years and is one of the biggest fundraising events for the Special Olympics in New York.

“Our athletes live to the extreme every day in showing they are part of things and want to be included,” she said.

Plungers participated alone or in teams, with some raising several thousand dollars. Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) along with the team Frozen Eagles have raised $2,555 so far. The Port Jefferson High School Varsity Club announced it had 70 students intending to participate in this year’s event, which is about 25 percent of the total population of grades 9 through 12. By the end, the group raised over $11,000, according to club co-adviser Deirdre Filippi, and that donation will help to sponsor approximately 27 athletes. 

“We are incredibly proud of our student athletes and their efforts,” Filippi said. “It truly was a rewarding experience for all.”