Sports

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

So, what was it like to be in Charlotte, North Carolina, Sunday during the?

For starters, employers warned their staff about heavy traffic around the Spectrum Center and about parking challenges. They suggested working from home on Friday and over the weekend, if possible, to avoid delays.

As a result, for the entire weekend, the car traffic around this manageable city seemed even lighter than usual. People couldn’t drive too close to the Spectrum Center, but it was nothing like Yankee Stadium or Citi Field before or after a game against a heated rival, or even against a middling team on a warm Saturday in July.

The city rolled out much tighter security than usual, putting up fences around a nearby bus station and restricting walking traffic into the outskirts of the stadium to ticket holders only. 

Once inside, I felt as if I had become a Lilliputian in “Gulliver’s Travels.” Men and women of all ages made 6 feet seem like a minimum height for admission. I felt like a kid who sneaks onto a ride at Disney World despite falling well below the clown’s hand that indicates “you must be this tall to enter.”

The clothing choices reflected a wide variety of fashion statements. Some had come to be seen, decked out in fine suits, flowing dresses and high-heeled shoes. Others strutted around in sweatpants and sweatsuits, donning the jerseys of their favorite players.

Celebrities walked among the commoners, much the same way they do at the U.S. Open. Several people approached a slow-moving and frail-looking Rev. Jesse Jackson to shake his hand. Jackson later received warm applause from the crowd when he appeared on the jumbotron large-screen display.

As taller teenagers, who were well over 6 1/2 feet tall, brushed past us, we wondered whether we might see any of them at this type of event in the next decade. They were probably thinking, and hoping, the same thing.

The game itself, which was supposed to start at 8 p.m., didn’t commence until close to 8:30, amid considerable pomp and circumstance.

The crowd saluted each of the players as they were introduced. The roar became considerably louder for local hero Kemba Walker, the shooting star for the Charlotte Hornets who scored 60 points in a game earlier this season.

The crowd also showered old-timers Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki with affection, saluting the end of magnificent careers that included hard-fought playoff battles and championship runs. The two elder statesmen didn’t disappoint, connecting on 3-point shots that also energized the crowd.

While the All-Star game sometimes disappoints for the token defense that enables teams to score baskets at a breakneck pace, it does give serious players a chance to lower their defenses, enjoying the opportunity to smile and play a game with the other top performers in their sport.

Wade and Nowitzki, who each have infectious smiles, grinned on the court at their teammates, competitors and fans after they sank baskets.

A first-half highlight included a bounce pass alley-oop from North Carolina native Steph Curry to team captain Giannis Antetokounmpo. In the end, Team LeBron beat Team Giannis, 178-164.

The halftime show proved an enormous success, as rapper and North Carolina product — via Germany — J. Cole performed “ATM,” “No Role Modelz,” and “Love Yourz.” The young woman sitting near us knew every word of the songs, swaying, rocking and bouncing in her seat.

I asked her if she knew Cole would be performing and she said, “Of course.” I asked her whether she liked the basketball or the halftime show better. She said she enjoyed both.

By Bill Landon

Hauppauge’s girls basketball team led by seven after the first eight minutes of play but the visiting Mustangs of Mount Sinai, the No. 5 seed, slammed the door, outscoring the Eagles 14-5 before exploding in the 3rd quarter. Mount Sinai senior guard Gabby Sartori caught fire, swishing 3-pointers from seemingly anywhere to lead her team to a 56-43 win, upsetting top-seeded Hauppauge in a class A semifinal game Feb. 16.

Sartori’s hot hand led the way for the Mustangs, hitting four triples, four field goals and a free throw for 21 points. Sartori tallied three assists and eight rebounds to boot. Senior Brooke Cergol hit four field goals, a trey and a pair of free throws for 13 while senior teammate Holly McNair banked 12.

Hauppauge sophomore guard Kayla Bullard topped the scoring chart for the Eagles, tallying 13 followed by junior forward Lauren Romito who chipped in 10.

The win pit the Mustangs against Westhampton Feb. 20 at Centereach High School which they won, and now they will face Pierson High School for small school champion title Feb. 27 at 4:30 in Walt Whitman High School.

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By Rich Acritelli

The sounds of the Rocky Point student’s cheers rippled throughout the school’s gymnasium Feb. 9. They packed every inch of the stands, and some screamed their encouragement while standing toward the sides of the gym, all to watch their high school faculty and teachers duke it out for the first Swoopin’-N-Hoopin’ basketball game. 

Beyond the roars and excitement of watching educators layup and hurl attempted 3-pointers, the event and its participants helped raise over $3,500 for a local veterans group. It all came thanks to the idea of one longtime Rocky Point teacher who was wishing to give back to the community.

Since the moment he entered Rocky Point High School as a social studies teacher in 1986, Brooke R. Bonomi has always lived up to the words of service to helping this North Shore school district.  Armed with a contagious smile, a can-do attitude and a drive to excel at every task, this longtime educator organized one of the biggest events that Rocky Point High School has seen in some time. Bonomi mobilized almost every part of this school to lead a Wounded Warriors basketball game Feb. 8 to raise money for Rocky Point VFW Post 6249’s efforts to help veterans who have been physically devastated from the war on terror.

As the fans entered the hallway toward the gym, they were greeted by countless baskets of assorted prizes collected by a multitude of school clubs, items that were later won by the fans through a massive raffle that raised $3,500 to assist the needs of the local VFW’s wounded warriors initiatives. 

“This night of fun should be a tradition that is permanently carried on at our school.”

— Julia Salino

Even as Bonomi ran this entire function, he also played basketball with his fellow staff members that were comprised of four teams. Each squad of teachers, administrators, aides, security and even grounds keepers were coached by the students who drafted and traded these players in the days leading up to the game. Bonomi even enlisted the help of Athletic Director Charles Delargy who served as the basketball commissioner for this game.  During the draft that was held in the school’s auditorium, Delargy read the top selections as main rules interpreter for this athletic event, and guidance counselor Michael Conlon helped pick and play music that was tailored toward each participant.

Bonomi planned this fundraiser for months with his Be a Nicer Neighbor Club. Support was also provided by school athletes, the technology club, the school band as well as staff and community members to help ensure that this basketball game was a smooth success.  

As he approaches the end of his career, Bonomi has always been motivated to get the students, teachers and administrators involved in causes to benefit the community and beyond. For weeks, the students saw Bonomi’s presence in the main hallway selling tickets, dribbling a basketball and playing music to promote this game. A constant presence next to him were the brilliant smiles of fellow teachers Dan Capell, Jenessa Eilers, Gina Grillo and Carly Tribby who were helping bring attention to this event.

VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore served as the grand marshal for the game. The veteran served in South Vietnam and Cambodia during the Vietnam War where he was awarded the Bronze Star. He is constantly reminded of this conflict through injuries that he had sustained overseas. Cognitore marveled at the ability of Bonomi to perform “a magnificent job in utilizing all ages of teachers to participate in front of a packed house of fans.” 

Standing next to the military color guard that posted the flag within the center of the gymnasium was senior Joshua Vogel who performed the national anthem.

From the beginning of this project, Bonomi wanted the kids to accept ownership in putting the game together. Rocky Point senior Trey Miller, a skilled basketball and baseball player, was thrilled to support this function.

“I love helping Bonomi and putting our minds together to make unique ideas happen for our school,” Miller said. “This was most importantly a patriotic program that showed respect to our local veterans that deserve to be recognized for their services to this nation.”  

All week and during the course of the game, the well-known creativity of Bonomi was always present through player nick names.  These included library media specialist Jessica Schnall’s “Barkley,” Assistant Principal John “The Total Eclipse” Hart, social studies teacher John “The Bullet Train” Mauceri, English teacher Kevin the “Ginga Ninja” Parker, and the Most Valuable Player for this evening, math teacher Jay “Rubber Band Man” Rand.

Bonomi also enlisted the aid of the technology club, which played music and performed colorful commentary over the offensive and defensive prowess of these teams. While the players took a break during halftime, members of the band played music for the packed house of fans. Resembling a New York Knicks or Islanders game, the younger teachers ran along the stands throwing balled up Swoopen’-N-Hoopin’ T-shirts to the roaring fans. Through all of these activities, Bonomi had a radiant smile on his face as he watched a charitable and patriotic night come together. 

“Spirit and pride was abound with a packed house and I certainly appreciate the passion and energy Mr. Bonomi puts forth to create a positive climate and culture for our student body.”

— Susann Crossan

High school senior Julia Salino works closely with Bonomi’s club and she said she hopes the event continues into the future.

“This night of fun should be a tradition that is permanently carried on at our school,” she said.

Since the moment that he started teaching, coaching and being a club adviser decades ago, Bonomi has long preached the importance of helping others. High School Principal Susan Crossan, who has known this educator for many years, said she was extremely pleased about the game

“Spirit and pride was abound with a packed house and I certainly appreciate the passion and energy Mr. Bonomi puts forth to create a positive climate and culture for our student body,” the principal said. 

One of the most important goals Bonomi showed to the school’s younger teachers was the significance of donating time and energy into the kids and community even well after the final period of the day rings. Over the last 33 years, Bonomi’s presence has represented the following words of President Theodore Roosevelt who wrote: “…(the figure) who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

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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By Bill Landon

Ward Melville was the class of the field in fencing Feb. 9 where both the boys and girls teams won the Suffolk County fencing championship at Newfield High School.

Brandeis University recruit and Patriot standout Ben Rogak, who is a four-time all-county fencer, clinched his third consecutive Suffolk title notching a 24-2 season and has amassed a 101-16 career record.

According to head coach Jeff Salmon, Rogak is the best épéeist in Ward Melville history.

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By Bill Landon

Shoreham-Wading River’s girls basketball team had their work cut out for them in an out-bracket playoff game against Sayville Feb. 11. The Wildcats had faced Sayville twice during the regular season and lost by 19 and 22 points, respectively. However, this was a different Wildcat team with a swarming defense that held Sayville at bay, leading by five at the half and then by three to open the 4th quarter. Sayville was able to tie the game with 4 minutes left as both teams struggled to find the rim. Tied at 41 all with six seconds left, the officials called a foul on the Wildcats, sending Sayville to the line shooting two. Sayville made the first but missed the second as the Wildcats rebounded the ball with less than four seconds remaining. SWR managed to get a shot off, but it missed its mark as time expired in a heartbreaking 42-41 loss.

Co-captain and senior Michele Corona led the way for the Wildcats with 22 points, fellow co-captain Abby Korzekwinski, a junior, netted 8 while eighth-grader GraceAnn Leonard banked six. The loss concludes the Wildcats season with a 9-10 record in League V with a 9-12 record overall. 

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By Desirée Keegan

Area wrestlers once again rose to the occasion and racked up some hardware as a result.

Thirteen North Shore wrestlers placed first or second, 15 third or fourth and another 13 fifth or sixth at the Division I Suffolk County championships at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood Feb. 9-10.

And it was Hauppauge’s junior class that stole the show. Luke Smith (113 pounds), Danny Mauriello (152) and Michael Tyrell (182) all placed first to help the Eagles to the team title and Bill Knapp award. Mauriello, who won his match against Kings Park senior Stefan Major with a 5-3 decision, was named the Jack Mahoney Champion of Champions. Sophomore Chris Boudreau (138) placed third for Hauppauge; freshman Mikey Manta (99) and sophomore Andrew Maiorini (113) placed fourth; and junior Anthony Dibartolo (132) placed fifth.

Rocky Point was next in line with five count placers, highlighted by junior 132-pound Logan Sciotto’s pin of Islip’s Sean Peterson at 2:41 for the county crown. Senior Corey Connolly also made it to the finals, and dropped a 3-0 decision to Copiague’s Paul Illicete at 170 pounds. Junior Evan Matias (120) and senior Kris Ketchum (145) finished third, and senior Justin Amendola (113) placed fifth.

Commack, Kings Park, Newfield, Smithtown West and Ward Melville each had four wrestlers place. Commack senior Joey Slackman, who pinned his 285 opponent London Castillo of Brentwood in 36 seconds, had the most pins in the least amount of time, taking down four wrestlers in 3:22. Miller Place got three grapplers to the podium, Centereach and Huntington had two placers, and Harborfields and Northport each had one.

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By Bill Landon

Centereach and Newfield high schools’ fencing teams competed in the Suffolk County championships Feb. 9.

It was Newfield foilist Jake Hempe who stole the show winning his third straight Suffolk County title at Newfield High School where his team finished second overall falling to Ward Melville in the final round.

The Cougars as a team finished sixth overall.

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By Bill Landon

Huntington and Northport girls track members put their best feet forward at the Suffolk County track & field large school championships Feb. 2. held at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood. 

Huntington sophomores Ella Siepel and Valerie Rogel finished 5th and 10th, respectively, in the finals at 3,000 meters clocking in at 11 minutes, 35.33 seconds and 11:51.66 respectively. Huntington junior Alicia Brooks tripped the clock at 7.55 seconds in the 55-meter dash for 6th place in the county. Huntington seniors Keily Rivas and Erica Varady finished the 1,500-meter race walk in 7th and 9th place crossing the line at 7:32.75 and 7:38.85, respectively. Rogel’s time of 5:30.69 in the 1500-meter race was good enough for 6th in Suffolk.

Northport senior Margaret Van Laer cleared 4 feet 8 inches in the high jump finals placing her in a four-way tie for 3rd place. Northport senior Sydnie Rohme traveled 17-4 1/2 in the long jump placing her in the top spot of the 2nd flight and her teammate Ashley Curcio leapt 15-5 1/2 to finish in 5th place in flight 1. Curcio finished 3rd in the triple jump with her best distance being 30-10 1/2. 

Huntington’s Grace Mckenna earned top honors in flight No. 1 in the shot put by throwing 30-4.

Both the girls and boys track & field are back at the college Feb. 11 for the state qualifiers where the first gun sounds at 5 p.m.

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Miller Place wrestling team after its win Feb. 2. Photo from Matt Kaszubski

The Miller Place Panthers wrestling team were at it again, cinching a League VI dual meet tournament Feb. 2 at Sayville High School for their third league win in four years.

Junior Alex Constantis. Photo from Matt Kaszubski

“We knew going into the league tournament the kids had a strong game,” head coach Matt Kaszubski said. “Even though our team was very young, we had been working for 12 months, and everyone put in effort.”

During the 2018-19 wrestling season Miller Place has gone 5-1 in league, only being beat by Rocky Point in a Dec. 12 matchup. The Eagles are currently at six wins and no losses in their league standings. Going into the tournament, the Miller Place wrestling coach knew Rocky Point would be a tough nut to crack. 

The Panthers got their revenge over the weekend as they scored a total of 253.5 points by the end of the tournament, barely edging out the Eagles at 241. Both teams scored 70 points or more than Islip, which placed third at a total of 171 points.

“It was amazing to watch, as Rocky Point is one of the best in the county,” Kaszubski said.

Miller Place suffered a few injuries on their road to the league tournament, including senior James Rado, who had knee surgery in December and was only cleared to wrestle a week before the tournament. 

The tournament brought forward eight Miller Place finalists and two champions. Juniors Alex Constantis and Kyle Klein Jr. both took home the league champion title. 

Junior Kyle Klein Jr. Photo from Matt Kaszubski

Klein, in particular, celebrated his 100th career victory in January. The junior also showed his skill during the league tournament when he scored a reversal in the final seconds in his match against Sayville which he won 6-5. 

With this victory, Miller Place is qualified to send 15 wrestlers to the Suffolk D1 Championships at Suffolk Community College Brentwood Feb. 9-10. Kaszubski said those young men on the team are already at peak performance, and all they have to do now is mentally prepare.

“There’s not much training left to do — their cardio is great, and they are just a strong, technical team,” the wrestling coach said. “If everybody wrestles to their best, we could have some top wrestlers in the county.” 

Wei during a long jump at a recent meet. Photo from Eric Giorlando

By Karina Gerry

For the second time this season, Mount Sinai senior Kenneth Wei knows what it’s like to be No. 1 in the country for the long jump.

The Mount Sinai senior jumped 25 feet, the current record in the nation for this year, Feb. 3, at the Section XI Small School County Championship at the Suffolk County Community College campus in Brentwood. Earlier in the season, Wei held the long jump record with 24 feet when he competed at the Molloy Stanner Games at the Armory Track & Field Center in New York City.

“It was really adrenaline pumping,” Wei said about the experience of competing at such a
level. “Your heart’s racing, it’s really exciting.”

Wei leaps the hurdles at a recent meet. Photo from Eric Giorlando

Eric Giorlando, the Mustangs head track & field coach, proudly pointed out Wei’s other accomplishments at the recent meet, including beating the No. 2 athlete in the country during the 55-meter hurdles head to head and was named Male Athlete of the Meet. 

“It’s an experience that you hope to obtain sometime in your career,” Giorlando said. “It was a pretty big day overall, not just achieving the No. 1 spot in the long jump but to have that meet, in general, it was a pretty powerful moment.”

Giorlando, who has been coaching at Mount Sinai since 2002, has been working side by side with Wei since the beginning.

“Kenny has always done everything that we’ve asked him to do,” Giorlando said. “He probably runs more than the traditional long jumper or triple jumper — he’s kind of been easy to coach and understanding of my philosophy of how to get him to that point.”

Wei has been competing at the varsity level since eighth grade when an assistant coach saw him jump for a basketball in gym class. The long jumper got serious about winning titles last year where he started hitting the weight room. Last season Wei began to see the effects of his hard work with his multiple titles, but despite all the success this year, Giorlando doesn’t think the soon-to-graduate senior has come close to reaching his potential.

“I think he has a lot of room to go,” Giorlando said. “It’s about being patient and understanding that it’s a long road ahead of us — we’re not looking for county titles or state titles at this point, we’re looking for a national title.”

Wei’s goal is to place at Nationals in March where he hopes to compete in two events: the 55-meter hurdles and long jump. Despite the pressure of being a nationally recognized athlete, the nerves don’t really get to him anymore.

“Your heart’s racing, it’s really exciting.”

— Kenneth Wei

“Especially since last year I feel like the nerves have kind of calmed down a little bit, and I just really try to enjoy the run, enjoy the meet and enjoy the atmosphere,” Wei said. 

His coach can’t think of a time that he has ever seen Wei frazzled, even under the most immense pressure.

“Always laser focused,” Giorlando said. “Always knows what needs to be done, and I’d say about 99 percent of the time he is able to achieve those things.”

Wei, who is headed to MIT in the fall, plans on competing for their track & field team because of his passion for the sport.

“My big thing is to encourage people to pursue their passions,” the star athlete said. “And this is one of mine. It’s a big part of my life now, and running with the team competing is a lot of fun, and I hope to keep doing it.”

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