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Centereach

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Devin Demetres rushes with the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Centereach threatened to retie the game late in the fourth quarter, but a costly interception halted the Cougars march down the field, and with that, went the football team’s chance to compete in the Division II finals. Centereach fell to North Babylon 14-7 in the county semifinals Nov. 10.

Chris Witherspoon leaps up in an attempt to intercept a North Babylon pass. Photo by Bill Landon

The Cougars had a historic run, opening the season on a five-game winning streak and completing the season with an 8-2 record.

Centereach head coach Adam Barrett said the transformation of his team  to finally become a playoff contender was due to several factors.

“The players have really committed to the offseason program and took the necessary steps to improve each year, which was key,” he said. “Having leaders that want to be the best they can be, and never settling has really helped the younger kids contribute. Having a great core of young coaches that bought into the program and the system that I brought here and having them relate to the kids is a big factor as well.”

On their opening possession, the North Babylon Bulldogs began a march down the field from deep inside their own territory, leaning on running back David Estrella. They ground out yardage and sustained the drive until ultimately finding the end zone on short yardage with four minutes left in the opening quarter.

North Babylon threatened again with six minutes left in the half, but the Cougars defense made a stand, forcing the Bulldogs to punt on fourth-and-15.

The spark for the Cougars offense came three plays later, when senior quarterback Jay Morwood handed a pass to junior Devin Demetres, who despite seeming to be stopped at the line of scrimmage, broke outside and defended against four would-be tacklers while covering 65 yards during his touchdown run. Sophomore kicker Matt Robbert completed the point-after attempt to make it a new game.

Marcus Garcia-Miller drags a tackler as he moves the ball up the field. Photo by Bill Landon

On the opening drive of the second half, a Centereach fumble proved costly. After North Babylon recovered, the team completed three plays before Estrella sauntered into the end zone once more for a 14-7 lead.

With less than two minutes remaining in regulation, Centereach mounted a drive downfield connecting on a pair of long pass-plays, one of which was a 32-yard toss to Marcus Garcia-Miller, but both were called back because of offensive pass interference. On a third and long, Morwood threw a Hail Mary pass near the end zone where a North Babylon corner leaped in front for the interception, and with it, victory.

Barrett said that seniors Alec Kiernan, Vinny Liotta and Mike Grieco have led the team to places he hasn’t seen, and were a big part of the team’s success.

“Buying in to everything we do and making other players better around them is why I consider them leaders,” Barrett said. “They lead by example on the field, in the classroom and in the community. Even though the season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, the seniors have really shaped the program into what it is today.”

Classic car owners cruised into the parking lot at Brookhaven Town Hall last weekend to not only show off their collection of vintage hot rods, trucks and wacky automobiles, but their hearts, too.

At the town’s annual Charity Car and Motorcycle Show Nov. 12 — a partnership between the Brookhaven Youth Bureau and different classic car, truck and motorcycle clubs throughout Long Island — more than 300 vehicles of all shapes, makes and models were on display for residents in an effort to gather nonperishable food and unwrapped toy donations for families in need.

This year’s event raised 1,500 pounds of food, including canned soups, tuna and boxes of rice, which were transported by the town’s charity-based INTERFACE program to its Thanksgiving Food Drive, and will go directly to residents that need it most. By the end of the day, residents filled 25 big garbage bags with toys for children to open next month.

“This really helps allow people to have a very merry Christmas and a happy holiday,” said Sound Beach resident Dan Ryan, a member of the Long Island Chapter of the American Truck Historical Society, one of the event’s main groups that has helped collect donations since it first began about 12 years ago. “It’s just one day out of the year but it makes a big difference in people’s lives, especially kids. The crowds here are really caring people. They come out and give what they can.”

Maxine Kleedorfer, the event’s chairperson and a member of East End Olds Club, said of the day: “This is still so amazing to me. It’s Long Islanders giving to Long Islanders.”

Other organizations represented at the all-day free event were Long Island Moose Classic Car Club, the Long Island and New York City Oldsmobile Club and Long Island Street Rod Association, as well as independent car owners, who showcased everything from old Chevy Coupes to Lincoln Continentals to a 1981 Checker Taxi Cab.

Residents perusing the variety of wheels in the parking lot were treated to live music from local bands, free hot dogs and beverages, 50/50 raffle prizes and even a special visit from Santa Claus, who rolled up in an antique LaFrance Brockway Torpedo fire truck to meet with the kids and ask what they wanted for Christmas.

Adam Navarro, a vintage car collector from Centereach, said while he was happy to see so much generosity in the air that day, it didn’t surprise him all that much.

“One of the biggest things about car culture is that those involved are always giving back to the community,” Navarro said. “So you come out here, look at some great cars, sip hot chocolate, meet some friends and at the same time help out the community. You can’t get better than that.”

Joe Morgani from Mastic, who brought along his classic Corvette and several cans of soups and vegetables, called the event a win-win.

“The cars are amazing, we have the band and everything, and it all brings people together to help other people,” he said. “We need more charities like this. I love it.”

Sitting in front of a blue 1958 Chevy Bel Air was the car’s original owner, Lake Ronkonkoma’s Karl Krumsick. His wife Carol said he bought it when he got home from serving in the Korean War. The two went on their first date in the car and drove off in it after they got married.

“We come to this show every year because we love to donate to the needy,” Carol Krumsick said. “We brought a bunch of toys and canned goods. It’s wonderful here.”

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle is being challenged by Democrat Alfred Ianucci to represent the 3rd District. Photos by Desirée Keegan and from Facebook

By Desirée Keegan

An architectural woodworker is challenging incumbent Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), focusing on the issues of road repair, zombie homes and government transparency as they relate to the 3rd Council District.

Alfred Ianacci, 61, of Lake Ronkonkoma, is running on the Democratic and Working Families lines. He grew up in Long Island City, Queens and has lived in Lake Ronkonkoma for 31 years.

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle was on site for the tearing down of several zombie houses this year. File photo from Town of Brookhaven

“The feedback I get is people are not happy with Brookhaven,” he said. He attributed that to a lack of trust in town officials, and called for more government transparency.

LaValle, who was grew up in Centereach, said he jumped into office four years ago wanting to bring government back to the people.

Representing what he calls the “blue collar, middle class area” of Brookhaven, the councilman said his residents have a different mindset than most.

“If we had a pothole in front of our house, we’d throw some dirt in it, throw a cone over it and we wouldn’t call anybody, because we take care of the problem ourselves,” he said during a debate at TBR News Media’s Setauket office in October. “That’s one thing I’ve been trying to broach being in office for four years — trying to bring government to the people and show them that we’re here. I’m here hosting events just to get out there so people know me and know I’m not running away from issues.”

Ianacci, said road repair is “a disaster” in the town. He also said the town needs to improve its drainage systems.

“There are places that flood with three or four inches of rain,” he said. “We have to really do a complete re-evaluation of our storm drain system throughout Brookhaven.”

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle is running for his third term. Photo by Desirée Keegan

LaValle said he knows the real issues, and said growing up in Centereach helped him to understand them.

“The big thing I know growing up in the area is that we were always traveling because we didn’t have fields, and the fields we did have weren’t very good,” said LaValle, who played on the Centereach basketball team in high school. “But now to have Selden Park in our own backyard, people can grow up and be proud of what we have.”

The councilman helped secure 24 acres behind Hawkins Path Elementary School, where four baseball fields, two multi-purpose fields, walking trails and a playground are currently being constructed. Modeling it off of Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park, he said he’d also like to incorporate a piece from Port Jefferson’s Harborfront Park — an ice rink. With Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) helping to purchase the property and state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) securing a $1 million grant, the construction is well on its way. He said he’s hoping to see it become a generational park.

“You start off as a baby, your mom is walking you in the stroller, and the kids gets a little older and they go to the playground, then they get a little bit older and they’re playing on the fields, then they get a little older they go off to college and they come back and they’re running, and then they have a family, come back and start the whole thing over again,” he said. “Any day you drive by Heritage Park there’s tons of people — something’s always going on — so where as the Centereach Pool is a condensed area, this was our last opportunity for some open space.”

Lavalle was also involved in work done at Centereach Pool, adding a $100,000 spray park, reconstructing the basketball courts, adding a sun shelter, pickleball courts and beach volleyball. The restrooms are slated for improvements next.

Owners watch their dogs play at Selden Dog Park. which Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle helped secure a grant to upgrade. File photo by Kyle Barr

“We hooked up with the Middle Country school district and the athletic director to host basketball tournaments in the middle of the summer to keep kids off the streets,” he said. “We didn’t realize the turnout. The families are happy the kids have something to do and they get to come and see how nice it is now.”

More than fixing up parkland, Ianacci said he is concerned with zombie houses. The challenger said the town is “plagued” by abandoned, dilapidated homes. He said vacant houses could be salvaged instead of torn down, saying it would help the town develop affordable housing to keep residents from leaving. Brookhaven Town announced last month a similar plan is already being put into motion, fixing the blighted properties and selling them to veterans and first-time homebuyers at lower rates.

Other efforts touted by LaValle relating specifically to his council district include securing $2 million in grants over the last four years, part of which was a $25,000 grant for upgrading the Selden Dog Park; starting the Run the Farm race to raise money for the nonprofit Hobbes Farm once it began losing government funding; and revitalizing Middle Country Road by connecting parking lots, adding more green space as businesses like McDonald’s and White Castle receive upgrades and others like Five Guys and Guitar Center move in.

Democratic challenger Alfred Ianacci is running to represent Brookhaven Town’s 3rd Council District. Photo from Facebook

“It goes from the street, to the sidewalk to a parking lot — you feel like you’re in the city,” he said. “New businesses are coming in and rezoning and we’re trying to bring that green space back while also keeping people off Middle Country Road.”

Ianacci’s focus continues to be on more townwide issues, like the expected closure of the town landfill in the next decade, and fighting against the “brain drain.”

“We have so many skilled people who work in Brookhaven,” he said. “But they can’t live in Brookhaven. Our taxes are going to go up.”

He said on many issues he had no specific recommendations for improvements, but would study each problem and seek solutions.

LaValle said he hopes to continue to keep doing what he’s doing. The councilman said he or a staff member attends every civic meeting. He said he speaks regularly to the Middle Country Chamber of Commerce, churches and townspeople to find out what the real problems are.

“I try to make myself available to help me do this job,” LaValle said. “And I’m proud to have the opportunity to do this in the area I grew up. Right away you notice issues while you’re out there talking to people about their problems, what it is that’s bothering them. Whether it’s a pothole in front of their house or business development on Middle Country Road, that’s what I need to know. And there’s nothing more rewarding than to go out into your community that you’re so entrenched in and create the change that the residents have been talking about, and it’s for my friends, my family and my neighbors.”

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Jesse DiStasio stretches his arms over the goal line for the game-winning touchdown. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

Centereach’s football team scored four touchdowns in 18 minutes to erase a 28-0 West Islip lead and send the game into overtime Oct. 28. After West Islip was held to a field goal, Centereach senior Jesse DiStasio scored the game-winning touchdown in a 34-31 come-from-behind thriller.

Jay Morwood tosses a pass. Photo by Jim Ferchland

After a 32-yard field goal by West Islip’s Bobby Dicapua, Centereach had an opportunity to win the game with a touchdown. Senior quarterback Jay Moorwood rushed out of the pocket avoiding pressure and connected with DiStasio, who was running on a deep slant and caught the pass at the 2-yard line before lunging with outstretched arms over the goal line for the 20-yard touchdown.

“The defender stopped me short,” DiStasio said. “I stretched over and I just started crying. I couldn’t believe it; I just saw everybody running to me. It was the best feeling of my life.”

West Islip led 28-7 heading into the fourth quarter. Morwood’s athleticism, vision and elusiveness outside the pocket made him a threat West Islip couldn’t contain. After throwing three interceptions, Morwood’s performance emerged in the fourth quarter with three crucial touchdowns. He finished with 276 passing yards on 19 completions with four touchdowns.

“I had all the confidence in the world in my team,” Morwood said on that final overtime possession. “I knew we were scoring. No one was stopping us. It didn’t matter who was getting the ball. I knew we were going to score no matter what.”

Jesse DiStasio celebrates the win with his teammates. Photo by Jim Ferchland

West Islip quarterback Mike LaDonna supplied all the offense for the Lions with his legs. He had 22 carries for 191 yards on the ground with four touchdowns.

“I’ve never been a part of playing or coaching a better comeback in the second half of a game,” Centereach head coach Adam Barrett said. “We kind of wanted to forget that first half. It was one of the best games I’ve ever been apart of.”

Centereach junior wide receiver and kick returner Devin Demetres ignited a spark after West Islip went up four scores. He broke free of multiple tackles on a 98-yard kick return and took the ball back for a touchdown, and the Cougars continued to plant their foot on the gas peddle.

Morwood took the offense under his wing with his scrambling ability and accuracy. He connected with his 6-foot, 2-inch senior wide receiver Chris Witherspoon on a 23-yard touchdown in the far right corner of the end zone to cut the deficit to 15, and launched the ball to Demetres into double coverage, which was was tipped by a West Islip defender before landing in Demetres’ hands for a 65-yard touchdown to make it 28-20.

“Jay made a great throw and the defense undercut it,” said Demetres, who had four receptions for 110 yards. “They cut it it too much and I knew they were going to tip it up, so I just kept my focus on the ball.”

Devin Demetres races into the end zone for a touchdown. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Senior running back Alec Kiernan, who carried Centereach’s offense all season long, was shut down by West Islip’s defense, which even forced a fumble on him. Although he was not a contributor on offense, he made a big defensive play on West Islip’s next drive.

Kiernan intercepted a pass with 4:20 left to play, and took the ball into Lions territory.

“We had the momentum before that play,” Kiernan said. “That play definitely set up a beautiful drive by Jay [Morwood]. We knew we had a chance.”

The interception resulted in Morwood’s touchdown to Demetres from 11 yards out with 2:38 left. Centereach converted on a two-point conversion to tie the game 28-28.

“It’s not a one person game,” Kiernan said of the comeback. “It’s a team game. We love each other and that’s how our team plays.”

Centereach finishes the regular season at 7-1 in Division I. Ranked No. 3 in the postseason, the Cougars will host No. 6 Bay Shore at 2 p.m. in the No. 4 qualifying round game.

“Every coach wants to go 8-0 every year and win the championship,” Barrett said. “Since I got to Centereach four years ago, we were always building. For the way the program was, we’re just getting better every year and continue to be successful.”

Daniel Justino’s mugshot. Photo from SCPD

Suffolk County Police have arrested a man in connection with a stabbing of two men that occurred on Oct. 4 in Port Jefferson Station.

A man was walking on Jayne Boulevard at approximately 9 p.m. when the driver of a passing Jeep slowed down and yelled at him. The man ran to a nearby friend’s house as the Jeep followed. The driver of the Jeep and a passenger exited the vehicle and attacked him. Two male occupants of the house heard the commotion and came to the man’s aid. During the altercation, the two men who came to his aid suffered stab wounds. The man being chased was not injured. The suspects fled in the Jeep.

The victims were transported to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries. One man was treated and released, and the other victim remains in the Intensive Care Unit following surgery.

After an investigation, 6th Squad detectives charged Daniel Jusino, 20, of Centereach, with first-degree and second-degree assault. He was held overnight at the 6th Precinct for arraignment this morning, Oct. 6, at First District Court in Central Islip. The investigation is ongoing.

Senior running back scores four touchdown in emotional homecoming win

By Desirée Keegan

Centereach senior Alec Kiernan, who scored four touchdowns and recorded three sacks Saturday, wasn’t just motived by the fact he was playing in his last homecoming game.

The team rallied around Kiernan after his brother, Danny, died Sept. 10. He said he had no idea how the circumstance would impact his performance in the 43-8 win over Riverhead Sept. 16, especially after missing practices on Thursday and Friday to attend the wake and funeral.

“Everyone was there for me today,” said the senior, who decided to play in the game to honor his brother. “Everyone played for Danny, my family, and we played the best game we’ve played in a while — especially in the second half. I felt confident on both sides of the ball.”

“Everyone was there for me today. Everyone played for Danny, my family, and we played the best game we’ve played in a while.”

—Alec Kiernan

Junior wide receiver and linebacker Devin Demetres set the tone early for the Cougars, returning the opening kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown and early 7-0 lead after sophomore Matt Robbert’s extra-point kick.

“That was our plan,” Demetres said of the play. “We knew on that play to hit hard and bring it all the way. We had great blocks. That score gave us momentum.”

He said Kiernan was also a momentum-booster.

“We made our blocks and played for him — when he played well we were playing well,” the junior said. “Kiernan is a team leader, he’s the captain and everyone looks up to him. He makes something out of nothing, and it helped us so much along the way.”

With a 10-yard run, Kiernan extended the lead to 14-0 with nearly seven minutes still remaining in the opening quarter. He broke up a Riverhead pass minutes later, but the Blue Waves were able to score on the drive. A 50-yard pass reception for a touchdown and a two-point conversion made the score 14-8.

In that moment, Centereach head coach Adam Barrett said he didn’t doubt what his now 2-0 team is capable of doing, and the Cougars proved it. Kiernan, who rushed for 213 yards on 23 carries, was slid the ball on a pass fake and ran 11 yards into the end zone. Robbert, who was perfect on the day, brought the score to 21-8 at the end of the first quarter.

“Special teams is huge,” Barrett said. “Last year it was a weakness of ours. We put in a lot of time in the offseason working on that, and we were able to get one early. A lot of these kids have been playing together since they were little, and these were the guys that were freshmen when I took over the program four years ago, so we came up together, and it’s nice to see them be so successful so early in the season.”

“[Alec Kiernan] plays like no other person I’ve ever met. He’s something else. He’s not human.”

—Devin Demetres

Senior running back Vinny Liotta later scored on a 21-yard carry, and Demetres completed a two-point conversion for a 29-8 advantage at halftime.

“It was a great team effort,” Demetres said. “Coaches put us in place to get some opportunities, we took advantage of them, made adjustments at halftime.”

Kiernan excelled on both sides of the ball, as he continued to do most of the rushing for Centereach, and halted a handful of would-be Riverhead gains with tackles. He had two sacks and ran in the final of his four touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

“It’s a good feeling,” he said of his contributions in the win. “I did it for my brother. There’s no spot on the field where we were perfect. We can get better everywhere, and we’re going to.”

Kiernan refrained from providing additional details about the circumstances of his brother’s death, but his teammates and coaches alike think he’s already on the path to greatness.

“He elevates the game, even today,” Barrett said. “He’s just a great player and I’m proud of him. I’m glad he had the game that he did.”

Demetres joked he wasn’t sure of the species of the team’s running back.

“He plays like no other person I’ve ever met,” he said of Kiernan. “He’s something else. He’s not human. Today we proved we’re more than a team, we’re more than a family — we’re a brotherhood. We have each other’s backs no matter the circumstance.”

File photo

Suffolk County Police 5th Squad detectives are investigating a crash that killed a motorcyclist in Ronkonkoma Sept. 15.

Richard Schmansky was traveling southbound on Smithtown Avenue near 2nd Street when his 2014 Harley Davidson motorcycle collided with a 2001 Nissan Altima that was also traveling southbound at approximately 7:50 p.m.

Schmansky, 58, of Centereach, was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital where he was pronounced dead. The driver of the Nissan, Jamese Chetuck, 22, of Coram, remained at the scene and was uninjured.

Both vehicles were impounded for a safety check. The investigation is ongoing.

Anyone with information on this crash is asked to contact the 5th Squad at 631-854-8552.

Smithtown East's Stella Mazzitelli celebrates her game-winning overtime goal. Photo by Desirée Keegan

A scoring drought dating back to the last game of last season — 400 minutes of game time — hung over Smithtown East’s girls soccer team, so when sophomore striker Stella Mazzitelli got the ball on a breakaway with the score tied 0-0 in overtime, she admitted she was worried.

“I was nervous,” she said. “But we were hyped up. We really wanted this win and it felt really good to finally score our first goal of the season.”

Following Mazzitelli’s goal with 8:09 left in the first 10-minute overtime session, sophomore forward Ava Bongiorno headed in a corner kick at the 1:58 mark for a 2-0 lead, and ultimately, a Bulls win over Centereach Sept. 11.

Smithtown East’s Alexis Desmond races ahead of Centereach’s Sophia Catapano for the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We haven’t really connected as a team, but today I feel like we all worked together — it felt like we were whole,” senior center defender and striker Danielle Bartsch said. “And I feel it’s only uphill from here.”

The beginning of the game produced a familiar result for Smithtown East. Centereach dominated the time of possession in the opening half, but was unable to put away its chances. In the second half, Centereach freshman Nicole Fabris continued to fire away, but her shots went wide. Her last shot, with 25 seconds left in regulation, rebounded off the crossbar and out of play.

“Centereach is always a good team,” Smithtown East head coach Bill Hamilton said. “They play hard. I call them a hard-luck team, because they’re better than their record usually shows. This was an important game for us to get back on track, so it’s I’m excited.”

The game served as a boost for the Bulls’ confidence, which had wavered due to losses to top League III teams Newfield and crosstown rival Smithtown West.

“I needed this to be our breakout day so they know they can play,” Hamilton said. “Losing to them wasn’t catastrophic, but we need to do a better job the next time we play them. The girls were questioning themselves, wondering why they can’t score, but they can, they just need to keep trying.”

The Bulls came out pressuring in the second half. With the game still scoreless, they knew there was still a chance.

“We passed a lot, which we were struggling to do well in the first half, and we communicated,” Mazzitelli said. “We put a lot of hard work into it and deserved to win.”

Centereach’s Lindsay Scally battles Smithtown East’s Lauren Roback for possession of the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Between the 27- and 16-minute marks, Smithtown East made six breaks through the box in an effort to score. Hamilton attributed the chances to a change in formation following a 3-0 loss to Smithtown West Sept. 8.

“We were running a totally different field position,” he said. “They’re learning it, and I feel it gives us more offensive opportunities. We started to connect the passes we were just missing.”

His two sophomores were just what the team needed to ignite the spark, and Hamilton said he believes more goals are on the way Sept. 13 against Copiague. While Bongiorno was on the team as a freshman, Mazzitelli was a transfer student last year, and found herself on the junior varsity team.

“Before today we were playing with one person up top and five people at midfield, and we just never got the numbers forward that we needed to make a better offensive push, but when we practice they can kick a house down,” Hamilton said. “They’re up there for a reason, and we did a nice job on the pass that went to Stella to spring her for her first goal. She did a nice job of not kicking it to the goalie — finding a corner to put it in. She’s tough. It’s a case of them having to do it enough times to realize they can do this.”

Bartsch said the energy remained high and the team’s mindset remained positive heading into overtime, something she enjoyed seeing from her fellow Bulls.

“From the beginning of the game we all had good spirits, we had good vibes going, we were all positively cheering everyone on, working together and we got good results from it,” she said. “We have to work on sequences up the field and finishing, but we got two goals today, and I see more coming in the future.”

Dog owners like Kevin Harrigan and Taylor Gittin who are watching their dogs Cassie and Ruby play can look forward to using fresh water stations at Selden Dog Park thanks to a grant secured by Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Dog owners in Brookhaven have something new to bark about, as the Town of Brookhaven received a grant to make improvements to the Selden Dog Park.

Last week, Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) announced the town was one of just 25 local municipalities out of 215 from across the country to receive pet supply manufacturer PetSafe’s annual Bark for Your Park grant — a $10,000 prize. Most of the funds will be used to install new water stations and water fountains inside the dog park, and the rest will go toward minor improvements.

Taylor Gittin and his dog Cassie play at Selden Dog Park. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We have a lot of dog owners that want a place where they can bring their dog who can run around with other dogs who live in the area,” LaValle said. “That’s where this all started — a lot of dog lovers out there who needed a place to go.”

Selden resident Taylor Gittin has already visited the park several times with his 1.5-year-old dog Cassie since recently moving to the area from Chicago.

“There were some parks in the neighborhood, but they were concrete, so its nice that there are trees and she can run on [the sand],” Gittin said of his old park compared to the one in Selden. “A few times coming here I forgot water bottles from home because I’m used to other dog parks having [fountains], so that’s the biggest thing for me [the town could improve on].”

Not including villages and private property, the town currently supports two off-leash dog parks — in Selden and Middle Island. The Selden Dog Park will receive sprinklers, and new plants will help beautify the entrance. Slats will be added to the entrance gate so excited dogs don’t crowd the entrance as new owners enter.

“We’re always looking to save taxpayers money, and going out and getting these grants, whether it’s for infrastructure or parks, is something we really focus in the town because it offsets our costs,” LaValle said. “It’s these little extras that the residents want and the residents need that helps keep the tax bills down. We beat out municipalities from all over the country, so this was a great thing.”

“A few times coming here I forgot water bottles from home because I’m used to other dog parks having [fountains], so that’s the biggest thing for me [the town could improve on].”

—Taylor Gittin

The Bark for Your Park grant began in 2011 as a social media contest that would earn just over 40 applicants PetSafe Brand Marketing Specialist Justin Young said in an email. In 2016, the contest was transformed into a grant-giving campaign. There are 25 grants available in different funding levels — communities building a new park can apply for a $25,000 grant, communities performing maintenance on existing parks can receive $10,000 and communities that desire new equipment can get $5,000 worth of park accessories through park furnishing company Ultrasite, a partner of PetSafe.

“The program is all about finding enthusiastic, pet-loving communities that support green spaces, with civic leaders and community organizations who want to improve their communities and encourage responsible pet ownership,” Young said in the email.

Centereach resident Kevin Harrigan is a regular to the park and takes his three dogs Ruby, Max and Jasper for a walk around Selden almost every day.

“This dog park is a God send,” Harrigan said. “From my perspective, there’s a lot of people like me — I’m in my 60s, I’ve been living in this community for 20 years and I pay my taxes every year. I have three dogs. I can’t bring them in the parks, can’t bring them in school areas. I pay the taxes to pay for all these things and I can’t enjoy any of them. [A good amount] of the population are out here without kids, so for a lot of us, dogs are our kids.”

Bethel Hobbs Farm's Run the Farm 4-mile challenge kicks off. Photo from Councilman Kevin LaValle's office

By Kyle Barr

For Ann Pellegrino, the founder of Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach which donates 90 percent of its locally grown vegetables to area food pantries, the mission hits close to home.

“Years ago I was a single mother with three kids working two different jobs, and I’ve had to go to food pantries a couple times,” she said. “But when you go to the typical food pantry, you get boxed stuff, stuff that doesn’t have any nutrients, stuff that doesn’t have any vitamins in it, it’s just stuff to fill your belly.”

Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach holds an annual community race to raise money for the farm. Photo by Kyle Barr

Because the mission is so important to her, when government funds ran dry, she needed help.

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) stepped in with an idea to host a local race to bring the community together while helping to raise funds for the farm.

LaValle called for help from Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) and Hobbs Farms volunteers and the annual Run the Farm Four-Mile Challenge was born.

Now in its third year, more than 200 runners of all strengths and abilities came out on a warm, humid day Aug. 19 to support the farm. In total, more than $7,500 was raised.

“This is the last remaining farm in Centereach — It’s not only a part of our history but an active part of our history,” LaValle said. “You have kids 5, 6 years old, you have college kids, high school kids, seniors that are out there volunteering. It brings so many people together in this community for a great cause.”

The runners lined up at the start in front of the Oxhead Road Elementary School and waited for the horn. Their route took them in a loop that ended on the west side of the farm where they were greeted by cheering family members, friend and volunteers. Tall yellow sunflowers and green vegetables could be seen growing beyond the archway to the farm and a sign saying “Love Grows Here.”

“I was remarried and I was able to step back a little bit because people were there for me,” Pellegrino said. “I wanted to give back to people stuff that wasn’t just packaged.”

The Bethel Hobbs Community Farm’s founder, Ann Pellegrino, donates most of the produce to local food pantries. File photo

The volunteers at Bethel Hobbs farm are often community members, with a handful of student volunteers from Suffolk County Community College and Stony Brook University.

“I live three houses down from here, so I’m always here helping out when I’m not in college, and when I’m not busy during the semester I stop by and do some help inside the community,” said SCCC student Bershell Hall. “I think it’s really great what they do here, because they have health standards, people in the community can come here and pull for their own usage.”

Kraig Rau placed first in the race with a time of 22 minutes, 52 seconds. He strode across the finish line with a body and face streaming with sweat, and he gladly took the water bottle from a volunteer’s outstretched hand. Rau grew up in the community and graduated from Centereach High School.

“It’s my second time here; I was here last year,” he said. “I think it’s a great event, it’s the local community here. I live a mile away so I run here and then I just run home.”

The run was sponsored by several groups, including a few large-scale food chains like Whole Foods and ShopRite. A group of 21 employees from the Selden ShopRite showed up to support the event.

“The farm is vital to the infrastructure of the island and Middle Country, and we’re very fortunate to have it,” said Charles Gallagher, the owner of the Selden ShopRite. “We need to make sure we continue to support it, it’d be a real shame if it went away.”

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