Village Beacon Record

Heritage Trust and community members say if a cell tower were to come to Mount Sinai, they’d prefer to see it behind the Heritage Center at the park. Photo by Tom Carbone

A beloved local park is gauging the reception of a potential development.

Members of Heritage Trust in Mount Sinai are currently evaluating a proposal made by a Verizon representative last month to build a cellphone tower on the property.

“Aesthetically, we would want it to look nice, and we don’t want it to change the whole character at Heritage.”

— Lori Baldassare

According to Lori Baldassare, the nonprofit’s president, the group was contacted by Verizon Wireless consultant, Robert Monteleone, a few weeks before the trust’s annual meeting in early February.

Without a design or any specific plan yet in place, Baldassare said Verizon’s bare-bones pitch is to install a tower somewhere on a 0.7-acre stretch of property at 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road to help eliminate a cellular “dead zone” in the area, where weak signals and dropped calls can create safety issues. More and more cell towers have popped up across the state in recent years as less residents hold onto their landlines, instead relying almost completely on their cellphones. Phone carriers, like Verizon and AT&T, are required to make sure dangerous coverage gaps are filled.

Baldassare said she and other Heritage members requested more information from Monteleone as to how obtrusive the proposed tower would be and exactly where the structure might be located on the scenic site, which features a playground, baseball field, walking path, gardens, a plant maze and mini-golf course.

“Do we want a cell tower in the park? Every tower I’ve seen has been very big, tall and noticeable with a big concrete base.”

— Ann Becker

“Aesthetically, we would want it to look nice, and we don’t want it to change the whole character at Heritage,” Baldassare said, hoping that the tower be built behind the Heritage Center building, where there are already tall poles and transformers installed. “We certainly don’t want it in front of our building.”

But a cell tower at Heritage would come with an added benefit, Baldassare said.

“Part of the reason we’re considering it is that the income generated from the cell tower — roughly between $2,500 and $3,500 a month — would go directly to Heritage Trust to help support our programs, activities and efforts at the park,” she said. “It would certainly be a help to us as we don’t get taxpayer money, and rely on donations.”

She said she was “cautiously pursuing” the idea.

“We’re trying to weigh out the pros and cons based on what comes back to us from Verizon,” Baldassare said. “We’re doing our due diligence.”

The topic came up during a March 5 Mount Sinai Civic Association meeting. Civic Association President Ann Becker led the discussion, raising questions and making clear to the public that no application for the cellphone tower has been submitted.

“Nothing has happened yet, but it’s now on our radar,” Becker said. “I guess the downside is, do we want a cell tower in the park? Every tower I’ve seen has been very big, tall and noticeable with a big concrete base.”

“This would be an example of the money going to a true community organization with low overhead and all the benefits directly applied to the community.”

— John Leonard

Vice President Brad Arrington said there are alternative models and size options available when it comes to towers.“Would there be room on a cellphone tower to share and cooperate with other providers?” asked park volunteer Fred Drewes, referring to the service of not just Verizon customers.

Becker said there is.

“If Verizon builds it and, say, Sprint rents from Verizon by paying an additional fee, there would be that additional benefit,” she said. “One tower, more money, less construction.”

Mount Sinai resident John Leonard said via Facebook that he would support the cell tower as long as the revenue went to the Heritage Trust, which he commended for being a 100 percent volunteer board.

“They have done amazing things,” Leonard said. “This would be an example of the money going to a true community organization with low overhead and all the benefits directly applied to the community. It’ll help this group continue doing great things for our region.”

But not all residents seem to be on board.

“It’s a horrible idea,” Robyn Blumstein said. “What an eyesore for a beautiful park.”

Rocky Point students were give one day of in-school suspension for walking out. The students attended the March 19 board of education meeting to debate the decision. File photo by Kevin Reding

They were articulate. They were passionate. And they wanted answers. A week after they walked out and were punished by the district for it, a group of Rocky Point students stood before their administrators and spoke up.

About a dozen of the high schoolers who lined up to address the board of education March 19 were among the more than 30 district students who participated in the national school walkout five days earlier. The students, many of them AP scholars, student council members and star athletes, had each been issued one day of in-school suspension, and were banned from extracurricular activities for three days following their choice to stand behind the front gates of the high school for 17 minutes March 14. Those middle school and high school students joined young people across the country in holding up signs and demanding stricter gun legislation to help put an end to school violence, one month after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that left 17 dead.

Rocky Point students who both did and didn’t walk out March 14 attended the March 19 board of education meeting supporting those who did. Photo by Kevin Redding

While the students said during the meeting they anticipated and accepted consequences, based on a letter the district sent to parents a week prior to the protest declaring that all participants would be “subject to administrative action,” they told board members they found the ruling of suspension to be “unnecessarily harsh” and a violation of the district’s own code of conduct as well as New York state law.

Many cited Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) March 15 letter defending all students’ rights to peacefully express their views on controversial issues, stating that “any attempts to stifle this speech violates the constitutional rights of students and faculty to free speech.”

“By suspending any student who participated in this peaceful nationwide movement, the administration is effectively discouraging students to have their voices heard in society,” said senior Jade Pinkenburg, who helped organized the March 14 gathering. “This is an overreaction, and we need to find a more suitable compromise … Although I believe that students should not be punished for speaking their minds in a peaceful, nondisruptive protest, we would all have happily accepted three days of detention as a consequence for cutting class [as dictated in the code of conduct] … we didn’t walk out to just flout the school’s policies or denounce the administration, but we did this because it’s our lives on the line.”

Sophomore Emily Farrell reminded board members that many schools across the country and on Long Island, including Ward Melville and Mount Sinai, ultimately did not punish students for walking out, even after forbidding students from exiting school buildings.

“So why couldn’t you support us?” Farrell asked. “All that needed to be done was to send out an adult to escort the students and provide them appropriate permission to temporarily walk outside the school building — not leave school grounds, but just go outside. The students that walked out are good kids. … It’s disappointing that our administration suppressed our First Amendment rights by not supporting the walkout.”

“The students that walked out are good kids. … It’s disappointing that our administration suppressed our First Amendment rights.”

— Emily Farrell

One student called the district’s handling of the walkout “unpatriotic” and another asked, “At what point does our educational curriculum tell us that peaceful protest is wrong?”

Senior Nicki Tavares, a national honor society member, stepped up to the microphone to address the punishment.

“This is a blatant overextension of power that disregards rules and regulations set forth by the administration themselves,” he said.

Another senior, Jo Herman, urged administrators to remove the suspensions from their school records permanently.

“Our punishment contradicted the code of conduct,” Herman said. “When we got suspended we were informed that as long as there were no further disciplinary actions against us, they wouldn’t go on our records.”

According to the students, nowhere in the district’s code of conduct, which was officially adopted in 2011, does it state any specific way to handle a situation like this, suggesting that administrators “took matters into their own hands” and enforced a rule that didn’t exist. Students called into question why a “peaceful” protest warranted a suspension, which is considered “a severe penalty” in the code — imposed on those who are “insubordinate, disorderly, violent or disruptive, or whose conduct otherwise endangers the safety, morals, health or welfare of others.”

In the code of conduct it is stated under “prohibited student conduct” that “Students may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including suspension from school, when they … engage in any willful act that disrupts the normal operation of the school community” and “The superintendent retains his/her authority to suspend students, but places primary responsibility for the suspension of students with the building principal.”

Pinkenburg said the students had done none of the prohibited actions in the code.

Students like sophomore Emily Farrell addressed the administrator’s mishandling of the event. Photo by Kevin Redding

“While the school claims that the walkout endangered the safety of those involved, we have not compromised the safety of other students, not ourselves, and we understood the risk involved,” he said. “We [also] did not disrupt the day at all, as all the students were watching tribute videos in the auditorium and gymnasium.”

According to the code of conduct, a student is to be given “due process” before a suspension is authorized. And, for any short-term suspension, as mandated by New York State Education Department policy section 3214 (3)(b), the school must notify parents in writing within 24 hours of their child’s suspension via “personal delivery, express mail delivery or some other means that is reasonably calculated to assure receipt of the notice within 24 hours of the decision to propose suspension at the last known address for the parents.” An opportunity for an informal conference is also encouraged.

But none of these procedures took place, according to the students and their parents.

“I have seen these students’ reputations be dragged through the mud for no other reason than they felt strongly about doing something about the ongoing violence and bullying here, and in schools across the nation,” said Brian Botticelli, whose daughter in the middle school was issued her unexpected suspension, as well as some hate texts from her peers because of her involvement. “It is my opinion that [Superintendent Michael Ring] overstepped his authority by issuing arbitrary and extreme punishments based on his ideological opinion instead of what is best for the student body … I ask that the board conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations that this was negligently mishandled.”

Botticelli explained that the students who walked out scheduled a meeting with Ring to better understand the penalties of their involvement March 13, which turned out to be a snow day. The parent said the meeting was canceled by Ring and never rescheduled.

In response to this, Ring said, “The students did send an email that evening [Tuesday, March 13], but we didn’t get it until the following morning … I was not available then. But it was my intention for that meeting to take place.”

Nicolette Green, a senior, said while she didn’t participate in the walkout, she still stands for those who did, and encouraged administrators to do the same.

“I have seen these students’ reputations be dragged through the mud for no other reason than they felt strongly about doing something about the ongoing violence and bullying here.”

— Brian Botticelli

“It is our right as students to speak about problems we have — not only within our schools but within our country,” she said. “Fighting against gun violence shouldn’t just be a student cause and, as members of the school, you should stand with us. We are calling for change.”

Green also addressed the district’s “heightened interest of safety and security,” as stated in the letter sent to parents as the main reason the walkout was prohibited and “not a viable option for our schools.” But, she said, that was proven to not be the case last week, referring to a PTA meeting in the school district March 14 in which a man pulled out a closed pocketknife while face-to-face with Pinkenburg, making a point that security is needed in rapidly escalating situations. Green said, although a security guard was present during that meeting, nothing was done to stop the man in an urgent manner. (See story on page A6.)

“This behavior should not be tolerated, and the event should not have happened,” Green said. “This man was told to leave by other parents, but he was not escorted out of the building. How was I or anyone else in that room supposed to blindly trust this guy? I don’t know this man or his background. Something should have been done.”

Ring interjected, assuring Green and the rest of the room that the district has since banned that individual from school property.

But not all speakers were against the district’s handling of the walkout.

“I would like to say that what the school district did with the walkout was appropriate,” eighth-grader Quentin Palifka said. “There was an email that was sent, and it did say that we were allowed to write letters to Congress, Senate and the Parkland victims … if you wanted to be heard, I think that you should’ve written a letter.”

Board Trustee Ed Casswell, who remembered being a history teacher the day the Columbine shootings occurred and how “numb” it left him, thanked all the students for weighing in.

“Someone said you’re all good students … you’re not good students, you’re great students,” Casswell said, turning his attention to parents in the room. “There have been 24 shootings in a K-12 institute since 1999, 10 since Sandy Hook. When is it going to be enough? We’re all united under the umbrella of health and safety for our kids. What I ask is rather than turn on each other, that we move forward locking arms.”

Students walked out of Rocky Point High School, and were given in-school suspension for not obeying district orders when it came to participation in the National School Walkout. File photo by Giselle Barkley

By Kevin Redding

Michelle Salz, the mother of Rocky Point Middle School student Isadora Luce — an eighth-grader who participated in the walkout March 14 — said she and a group of parents are in the process of contacting the American Civil Liberties Union in hopes of fighting their children’s suspensions legally.

According to Salz, in suspending her daughter, who is the president of the student council and National Junior Honor Society, and was one of eight middle schoolers involved, the administration violated its code of conduct by denying her the right to due process, foregoing an informal conference and not issuing a written notification within 24 hours of the authorized suspension.

Michelle Salz is disappointed the district chose to give her daughter in-school suspension for participating in the National School Walkout, and is contemplating taking legal action. Photo from Michelle Salz

Salz said when she requested information regarding consequences in the code of conduct for cutting class, Principal Scott O’Brien said there was nothing listed. It was O’Brien, she said, who ultimately made the decision to issue Isadora a suspension over a detention — a penalty Salz felt should be reserved for “violent or bad kids … not for cutting class.”

“She was surprised and dismayed,” Salz said. “She’s lost respect for her principal, and she also realizes how mishandled the whole situation is. … As educators, I think the district could’ve made this an empowering event that the kids would’ve never forgotten. They could’ve helped make signs, talked to them about laws, the tradition of protests and civil liberties. Instead, they chose to do this.”

O’Brien and Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring did not return requests for comment.

Isadora herself said, although this was predominantly a high school movement, she was inspired to participate from seeing the Parkland survivors take initiative, and because she said she’s passionate when it comes to gun control.

“I knew there would be punishment, but I’m very disappointed the school didn’t reward us at all for taking leadership,” Isadora said. “I wish they would respect that we’re doing this as a nationwide thing, rather than saying ‘Oh, it’s a risk to safety.’ They knew about this way ahead of time.”

A fellow eighth-grader who participated in the walkout with Isadora agreed that the punishment didn’t fit the crime.

“I feel like the superintendent used his own opinions to make a quick decision rather than take his time to see what would be best for everyone,” 14-year-old Ella Botticelli said. “I feel that this was wrong on his part and he should admit to that.”

“She realizes how mishandled the whole situation is. … As educators, I think the district could’ve made this an empowering event.”

— Michelle Salz

Salz said she and a group of parents who met through Facebook are waiting for a response to an email sent to New York Civil Liberties Union-Suffolk Chapter Director Irma Solis last week. Salz has also been in contact with attorneys from the area.

According to the ACLU website, while the law allows school districts to discipline students for missing class, “even if they’re doing so to participate in a protest” or to express themselves, a school can’t “discipline students more harshly because they are walking out to express a political view or because school administrators don’t support the views behind the protest.”

“We hope those schools recognize that even when they are within their right to discipline students for protests, that doesn’t always mean they should,” wrote ACLU member Vera Eidelman in a Feb. 22 article. “[The students’] activism inspires confidence in the future of our democracy and their schools should be proud of them.”

Salz said while she knows lawsuits will be a costly endeavor, she and the fellow parents are currently drumming up ideas on how to go about it.

“I don’t know how we’re going to afford it right now,” the mother said. “But this is the only way this school district is going to be made to change.”

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Miller Place sophomore Lauren Mancini carries the ball downfield with a Mount Sinai defender on her back during a scrimmage. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Miller Place boasts a mix of youth and experience in its girls lacrosse team this season, including nine eighth-graders, many   of which were on the Panthers playoff team last year.

Miller Place sophomore Madison Murphy gains possession off the draw. Photo by Bill Landon

The team finished its 2017 campaign with a 7-6 record, making the playoffs but falling to rival Shoreham-Wading River in the opening round. The girls scrimmaged Syosset before going toe-to-toe March 17 with New York State champion Mount Sinai, scoring several goals against their formidable neighbors.

Being a young team, boasting just four seniors with sophomores, freshmen and the nine eighth-graders making up the rest of the roster, Miller Place head coach Thomas Carro is under no illusion as to what’s in store for his squad this season.

“We’re going to have some growing pains in the beginning,” he said. “They’re going to make mistakes. We turned the ball over like 11 times in that last scrimmage [against Syosset], so we’ve got to limit those — and we will.”

Carro said five-year senior goalkeeper Hailey Duchnowski, along with returning defenders, should keep the Panthers in games.

“I think we have one of the best goalies we’ve ever had,” Carro said of Duchnowski, also pointing to junior defender Ava Burns and sophomore midfielder Madison Murphy, who he said is “going to have a good year.” “If those girls play hard, that stuff becomes contagious and the younger group will follow them.”

Miller Place freshman Alexa Corbin moves the ball through midfield in a scrimmage against Mount Sinai. Photo by Bill Landon

Duchnowski pointed to areas of promise and areas of concern she has with her unit up to this point in practice.

“We are doing really well at moving the ball fast on offense, coming together on defense, working hard,” she said. “But we’ll have to get better in transition.”

Murphy’s assessment of her team’s progress so far she said belies its age, but also noticed moments of weakness.

“We have a bunch of athletes,” she said. “We need to play together as a team, and if we do that it’ll all come together. We’ll need a lot of communication on the defensive end as well as on offense, and if we can do that fluently we can win.”

Senior Nicole Beck will also provide the Panthers with the leadership they need, and said, like her coach always does, Miller Place doesn’t rebuild, it reloads.

Miller Place junior Ava Burns battles for a ground ball against Mount Sinai. Photo by Bill Landon

“We lost a great amount of talent last year, but so far we’re still able to put up the numbers offensively,” Beck said. “It’s been impressive — we didn’t think we’d be able to do that — we have a lot of young girls who are playing really well.”

Murphy said her team’s preparation for the league opener at home against last year’s nemesis won’t have anything to do with the athleticism of the team, but with the mental preparedness. Miller Place will host Shoreham-Wading River March 28 at 4 p.m.

“If we go into that game with a positive mindset, work as hard as we can, I think there could be a positive outcome,” she said.

Carro said his team competes with some of the sport’s top Long Island talents, and said finding a way to neutralize high-caliber opponent’s threats will be key to competing with the cream of the crop.

“Shoreham lost a lot [of talent] last year, but it’ll be a test for us to play a team that’s next door to us; the girls all know each other,” the coach said. “We have Rocky Point and Mount Sinai [as neighbors and opponents this year], and those are tough teams. These girls come out and play hard against those teams, and if we take care of the ball and make good decisions, we can be in the game with anybody.”

By Desirée Keegan

One Rocky Point parent trying to make a point about school safety caused a stir.

A video has gone viral following a PTA meeting in the Rocky Point school district March 14. In the video, a man is seen pulling out what looks to be a closed pocket knife while face to face with Rocky Point senior Jade Pinkenberg. The man was seemingly making a point about the fact that security is needed in rapidly escalating situations.

“If something happened, if I decided to attack you, it would take the cops three to five minutes to come here, probably 10 if the traffic is bad,” he said to Pinkenburg as he pulls what appears to be a pocket knife from his pocket. “What are you going to do now?”

Someone in the back of the room can be heard yelling “stop it” as onlookers watched what was unfolding.

“This is inappropriate,” “he should be escorted out” parents at the meeting can be heard shouting. “You can’t pull a switchblade out on a kid in a school, that’s insane.”

The meeting was held in the evening the same day students walked out of school to join in the national walkout movement honoring the 17 lives lost in the Parkland, Florida, shooting Feb. 14 and to call attention to the need for stronger gun laws.

“During a discussion on the topic of armed security guards, a parent in attendance attempted to conduct a demonstration to reinforce his belief that all school districts should have such resources at their disposal,” Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring wrote in a statement on the district’s website following the incident. “While the district firmly acknowledges that the demonstration was ill-conceived and inappropriate for the venue, we believe that the act was not intended to compromise the safety of those in attendance. District personnel stopped the demonstration and members of our school security team removed the individual from the meeting. The district has contacted our dedicated Suffolk County Police Department School Resource Officer to report the incident.”

Students like, Jo Herman, who said she was suspended for walking out, expressed anger with how the situation was handled.

“I protested peacefully this morning and got suspended,” she said on Twitter. “A man threatened a kid with a knife at a PTA meeting and got gently escorted from the school. Show me the logic.”

Herman’s Twitter post of the video received nearly 21,000 likes and 10,000 retweets in less than 24 hours. Since then, the video has gone viral, being shared by thousands and watched by millions. Hundreds of people, from Rocky Point school district and beyond, have reacted to what they saw.

“Real quick to show their power against students, trying to show this is unacceptable, yet I don’t see a single administrator or security detail moving an inch when the knife was pulled on one of their students,” Rocky Point wrestler Ryan Callahan wrote.

Others were alarmed at how the trend of comments were made about the man’s actions being deplorable, but there was no mention of the attendee’s reactions.

“Every adult in that room should have jumped out of their seat and gotten between the student and that guy,” wrote Carmen Campos. “I would have, but what do I know — I’m a 61-year-old fourth-grade teacher.”

Some commenters asked others to try to see beyond the knife to the point the speaker was trying to make.

“The guy is presenting a scenario (albeit not in the brightest way),” wrote Cory Spence. “It’s clear to me that the kid didn’t feel threatened and the adult wasn’t being threatening. He’s holding the closed knife in a way to be clear to the kid.”

Matt Ryan, a Miller Place graduate, is a former Olympian and captain for Team USA in 1996. Photo from Matt Ryan

Miller Place native Matt Ryan keeps a phrase in his back pocket: “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

“I knew I could control the hard work, and where it led I didn’t know,” he said. “But I knew the hard work would get me there.”

His athletic determination led him to a nine-year professional handball career, becoming Team USA’s 1996 Olympic captain and three-time U.S. Handball Player of the Year. His 225 official international matches are an American record and he’s noted as one of the greatest handball players in American history. Now, he’s part of the 2018 Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame class.

Matt Ryan, now the Executive Director
of Regional Development at Georgia Tech, shows off his Olympic jacket. Photo from Matt Ryan

“It certainly paid off,” the current executive director of regional development for Georgia Institute of Technology, said laughingly.

A three-sport athlete for Miller Place, his Panthers success started in basketball. He also played for the baseball team and ran cross country.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child, and that was my case in Miller Place,” said Ryan, who has two older brothers and a younger sister. “Everyone was wonderful from teachers to coaches to parents, and the bond with fellow classmates, it’s a bond like none other. It’s reinforced daily, even now through Facebook. We always supported each other.”

Being in a large family on a block with many kids pushed him to his athletic limits.

“Older friends in the neighborhood pushed me to come up to their level,” he said. “I learned a lot in that — how to overcome obstacles and battle through any circumstance. A lot of my work ethic came from that as well.”

In 1984 as a high school senior, Ryan was the New York Basketball Player of the Year. As a junior, he was second team All-Long Island and won a gold medal at the Empire State Games with the Long Island squad.

Physical education teacher and baseball coach Don Pranzo met his soon-to-be outfielder in seventh grade, and said he knew he was destined to be a great athlete.

Matt Ryan competes in the Olympics for team handball. Photo from Matt Ryan

“He was amenable to teaching,” Pranzo said. “He was a good, nice kid who listened to you and tried out what you suggested.”

Pranzo introduced handball to his students during class after former Miller Place physical education teacher and field hockey coach Judy Kopelman presented it to the other teachers. Kopelman, a 2008 Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame inductee, was selected to the U.S. national handball team from 1974-76.

Pranzo said he had one problem asking Ryan if he’d play the game — the footwork was completely opposite of basketball. In handball, an athlete runs three steps before dribbling, and after dribbling once, can take three more running steps before dribbling again, passing or leaping into the air to shoot. Ryan was willing to give it a shot, and Pranzo said the teachers concluded that if it affected his basketball game, he’d be excused from class.

“As it turns out, he played with some intensity, especially during the tournament, and he continued to play basketball and had no problem with the footwork,” Pranzo said. “He had the visual skills, the physical ability at 6-4 to go over the defense and fire the handball at the goal cage. He was very good.”

Ryan went on to play basketball in college and said he thought it would be the last time he’d play handball.

The U.S. Olympic committee doesn’t have a pipeline for nontraditional sports, where team handball would fall, and instead sends recruiters out to college campuses trying to identify elite athletes across the country. Ryan took part in NFL combine-style testing after graduating, and emerged as one of the top 30 entering training camp.

“I was fortunate enough to know a lot about handball thanks to Miller Place,” Ryan said. “I took a shine to it there, looking forward to those end-of-the-year tournaments.”

“I was blessed, given a tremendous opportunity, and I wasn’t going to squander it. I was
going to make every drop of sweat matter.”

— Matt Ryan

He immersed himself into training three or four times a day, six days a week and competed internationally.

He said representing Team USA was the experience of a lifetime.

“I was blessed, given a tremendous opportunity and I wasn’t going to squander it,” Ryan said. “I was going to make every drop of sweat matter, whether it was in the weight room, on the track, through mental preparation and visualization, or being out on the playing field. I didn’t want to have any regrets. I wanted to walk away knowing I gave it my all.”

He said while many look forward to the opening ceremony of the Olympics, he was in it for more than that.

“I couldn’t wait for competition to arise,” he said. “That was an absolute charge, not only representing my team in the opening ceremony in 1996 but leading my team into competition for the six games we played.”

Miller Place pitched into his Olympic appearance. Having to fund his own training and trip to the 1996 Atlanta games, his mother hosted a variety show fundraiser that thousands attended.

“I was just overwhelmed with the response,” he said. “I shook everyone’s hand or gave them a hug. They sent me off with their well wishes and I was completely moved by that. It’s one of those experiences I’ve taken with me through the journey — to realize my life of sport wasn’t just on the court, but I was able to make an impact in the community and on other people in a positive way.”

Matt Ryan met then-president Bill Clinton during his Olympic journey. Photo from Matt Ryan

In 2004, Ryan was honored with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America National Service to Youth Award. In 2013 he was inducted to the Miller Place Athletic Hall of Fame.

“The success Matt achieved both as a Miller Place student and as an alumnus is a testament to his hard work and drive,” Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said. “His commitment to positive sportsmanship is emblematic of Miller Place athletics.”

Ryan said he struggled through his Miller Place hall of fame acceptance speech because his father had just had a heart attack and wasn’t able to attend. He said he’d hoped his dad would be around if he were to be inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame. He will be attending the induction ceremony May 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Watermill Caterers in Smithtown.

“My father drove me everywhere — completely gave of himself, and now being the parent of a 12-year-old who plays sports, I know how difficult it is when he did that with me, and had three other kids involved in sports,” Ryan said. “The opportunity for him to be there and embrace this recognition with me, which is an extension of him and my mom, it’s completely overpowering.”

Almost as moving as the induction honor itself.

“This whole thing is humbling, quite frankly,” Ryan said. “I never set out for successes. I just put the work and effort in, the focus and drive, and let the chips fall where they may. To be part of this 2018 class, mentioned in the breadth of so many Long Island greats, it’s pretty remarkable.”

In just its first year, debate team members qualify for state competition

Shoreham-Wading River High School’s new debate team sees three members qualify to compete in the state championship at Hofstra University this April. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

There’s no arguing that Shoreham-Wading River High School’s new, student-formed debate team is already a huge success. Just ask juniors Andrew Honold and Mahdi Rashidzada.

The two students, along with freshman Jalal Sawas, won the majority of their debates during a qualifying competition at Jericho High School Feb. 10 to advance to the New York State Forensic League championship tournament at Hofstra University in April.

“It was just kind of like throwing myself into cold water. It was really tense, but I could feel myself adapting better, and overall, it was really fun.”

— Andrew Honold

Among the roughly 20 teams represented within the league, Shoreham-Wading River will be one of only three school districts from Suffolk County.

“Going in, I was terrified — I didn’t know what to expect,” said Honold, who ended up in first place in the junior varsity division by winning all four of his debate sat Jericho, each on the topic of plea bargaining. “That was actually my first debate, too. It was just kind of like throwing myself into cold water. It was really tense, but I could feel myself adapting better, and overall, it was really fun.”

Rashidzada, who won three of four debates, said the club has been a great asset to him and his eight teammates.

“It gives us kids an outlet to really understand the world around us,” said Rashidzada, whose prior experience in debate outside of the district has helped steer the team. “It allows us to express ourselves and our views, to research and to improve our speaking skills. It’s just been a great experience and I’m really excited to be going to states this year with my friends.”

It was about a year ago, in March 2017, that two then-sophomores — club co-captains Declan Beran and Emma Kirkpatrick — proposed the idea of a debate team to the board of education. It was quickly and unanimously approved for the 2017-18 school year based on their presentation, where they outlined a plan for their first “pilot” year: They would assemble the team, hold weekly meetings with adviser and English teacher Brenna Gilroy, compete in practice debates and prepare for competition with other schools “by their senior year.” All but the last portion of their plan has been consistent, having gotten a head start on the competing part.

“I’m very happy and grateful that we were given the opportunity to work hard and achieve the goal of creating this team.”

— Declan Beran

“I’m very happy and grateful that we were given the opportunity to work hard and achieve the goal of creating this team,” said Beran, a lacrosse player and vice president of his class, who added he’s wanted to form a debate club since his freshman year. “Just seeing members of our team compete is really
special. It’s our first year and we’re going to states — it’s exciting. We encourage every grade level of our high school to get involved.”

Beran said the club typically meets two days a week and members review different points for each side of a topic, practice counterarguments, and in the week leading up to a debate, face off against each other. Based on that practice run, other students will evaluate their presentation and suggest ways to improve it. The students said they learn analytical and public-speaking skills, hone their speech-writing abilities and have a chance to regularly practice teamwork and collaboration.

In December, the team’s topic was on whether developing countries should provide developmental assistance to other developing countries. The teams get one to two months to fully research topics before debating. For the state competition, the students will research and discuss universal basic income, typically described as a new kind of welfare regime in which all citizens of a country receive a regular, livable and unconditional sum of money, from the government.

“That was something I knew absolutely nothing about,” Honold said. “And I’m still learning, but it’s a really interesting topic. It’s great to know about and debate, because it’s something that’s probably going to affect us in the future.”

Rocky Point High School students walk out March 14 to join in the national protest against gun violence in schools. Photo from Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

“Books not bullets!” “We want change!”

A group of nearly 30 students shouted these words from behind the front gates of Rocky Point High School between 10 a.m. and 10:17 a.m. March 14, demanding stricter gun legislation to help put an end to school violence one month after the Parkland, Florida, shooting left 17 students and faculty members dead.

Rocky Point High School students walk out March 14 to join in the national protest against gun violence in schools. Photo from Kevin Redding

The Rocky Point high schoolers were among thousands across the country who took part in the school walkout demonstration during the time frame.

The district issued a letter to parents last week that any student who chooses to participate in the movement via exiting the high school will be “subject to administrative action.” Requests for what the repercussions might be were not immediately returned.

Students waved signs that read “Our voices deserve to be heard,” “I will not be a statistic” and “School is for learning, not target practice” as passing cars honked in support.

“We want legislators to take action against all assault weapons,” said senior Jade Pinkenburg, one of the organizers of the event. “We don’t want guns in our schools and want to feel safe within our schools. That’s what we’re doing this for.”

Rocky Point High School students walk out March 14 to join in the national protest against gun violence in schools. Photo from Kevin Redding

Senior Bernard Sanchez said students should be allowed to have more of a voice.

“You can’t sacrifice the First Amendment to try to protect the Second,” Sanchez said. “Court cases have proven time and time again that we don’t give away every choice we have when we enter a school.”

Jade Pinkenburg’s father Chris said that the students involved in the protest attempted to meet with Superintendent Michael Ring at the start of the week but “nothing happened.”

“No Rocky Point student will be permitted to leave the premises as part of any of these upcoming events or otherwise, without appropriate permission, whether on March 14 or at any time during school hours throughout the school year,” Ring wrote in last week’s letter.

Chris Pinkenburg stood by and said he supports the students despite the district’s disapproval.

“I think it’s a very good thing,” his father said. “Obviously the adults don’t have any solutions, so I hope this will bring about great change. It’s time.”

The 2017 TBR News Media People of the Year were honored at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook March 11. The 2017 honorees are Margo Arceri, Christine Austen, Building Bridges, Champions for the Autistic (Priscilla Arena, Joe Camarda, Pete Costa, Stephanie Mendelson and Tristan Whitworth), Nicole Christian, Frank and Kelli Cutinella, Ed Darcey, Debbie Engelhardt, Joseph Higgins, Charles Lefkowitz, Joseph and Maddie Mastriano, Reboli Center, Frank Rivera, Joseph Rizzo, Jack Soldano, Suffolk County Police Department’s 6th Precinct officers, John Turner, Tuscany Gourmet Market and James Vosswinkel.

TBR News Media would like to thank Stony Brook University, the Three Village Inn, Dan Lafitte and the Lessing Family for sponsoring the reception, the Setauket Frame Shop for framing the award certificates, and Beverly Tyler for being our event photographer.


Paul Mauro’s mugshot. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County police arrested a man March 9 for allegedly robbing a Coram 7-Eleven in February.

A man entered 7-Eleven, located at 1671 Route 112, on Feb. 26 at approximately 1:20 a.m. and approached the counter as if he was going to purchase merchandise. When the clerk began to ring up the items, the suspect punched the victim in the face, knocking him down to the ground. The victim hit his head on shelving and then the floor, knocking him unconscious. The suspect then hopped over the counter and stole cash from the draw and other items before he fled on foot southbound on Route 112.

An investigation by 6th Squad detectives led to the arrest of Paul Mauro, 31, of Rocky Point,  at approximately 1:50 p.m. at the 6th Precinct.

Mauro was charged with second-degree robbery and  with an active parole warrant. Mauro was held overnight at the 6th Precinct.