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Centereach

Brandon Lesser’s mugshot. Photo from SCPD

After receiving a call from a victim who became suspicious about the authenticity of his purchased tickets on the app Letgo, 1st Precinct crime section officers conducted an undercover operation.

The officers arranged to meet the seller, Brandon Lesser, in the parking lot of Ragazzi Italian Kitchen and Bar, located at 2950 Middle Country Road in Nesconset, to purchase two Billy Joel concert tickets for $350. Lesser allegedly sold the undercover officer the same tickets — floor section D, Row 2, seats 5 and 6 — for the July 28 show at Madison Square Garden that he sold to the victim who initially contacted the police. Police arrested Lesser and transported him to the 1st Precinct.

Lesser, 24, of Centereach, was charged with two counts of second-degree petit larceny and scheme to defraud.

He is scheduled to be arraigned at 1st District Court in Central Islip July 31.

Police are asking anyone who might have been a victim of this scam to contact 1st Precinct crime section officers at 631-854-8126.

David Michels mugshot. Photo from SCPD

By Desirée Keegan

Suffolk County police arrested a man for an alleged DWI after a traffic stop in Centereach in which there were three 14-year-old female passengers in the vehicle.

David Michels was driving a 2010 Toyota Corolla northbound on Stanley Drive when he was stopped for a traffic violation at approximately 6:30 p.m. May 24.

Michels, 46, of Centereach, was arrested and charged with allegedly driving while intoxicated, aggravated driving while intoxicated with a child passenger 15 years old or younger (Leandra’s Law) and three counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

The three 14-year-old passengers were released to family members at the scene.

Michels was held overnight at the 6th Precinct.

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Wolverines win crosstown rival battle in close finish

Newfield's Joe Rubenstrunk tags a Centereach runner out at second. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Back-to-back one-run innings put Newfield ahead to earn a 2-1 win over crosstown rival Centereach April 17.

Newfield pitcher Bobby Vath hurls a pitch. Photo by Bill Landon

Chandler Giovinco and Dylan Johnson both hit doubles to put Newfield on the board and tie the score in the bottom of the fourth, and Joey Rubenstrunk scored from second base off the bat of Michael Prisco on a fielder’s choice to put Newfield (8-1) ahead and earn the win in the bottom of the fifth.

“We did a good job at staying poised and focused and making the plays — whenever Newfield plays Centereach things get ratcheted up a little bit,” Newfield head coach Eric Joyner said. “That’s a good team. They came in hot, they put the ball in play and that put pressure on our defense, but [fortunately] they were able to step up and make the plays.”

Before the game even started things got off to a rocky start for Centereach, with the starting pitcher being scratched half an hour before the game as a result of an injury sustained during warmups. The ball was put in the hands of Mark Schnitzer, who went the distance. 

“I told him to focus. Stay composed and be confident — he’s a real pitcher and his mindset is, ‘I don’t care where I’m pitching, what time I’m pitching, I just want the ball,’” Centereach head coach Pete Cammarata said. “He was the best kid to go with after what happened today.”

Centereach’s Liam Webber slides into Newfield shortstop Kyle Johnson while he makes a play. Photo by Bill Landon

Centereach right fielder Devin Demetres started the first inning with a single to right field, then stole second before third baseman Ryan Mahnke smacked the ball through the gap on a full count to send him home.

Liam Webber drew a walk for the Cougars in the top of the third, moving Demetres over to second, and shortstop Ryan DeCoursey hit a sacrifice fly to put both runners in scoring position. With two outs, Newfield’s Giovinco tracked down a deep shot to right field, diving for the ball to come up with a catch that stranded both runners.

“The wind caught that ball, but I knew I had to make that play to help my team out,” Giovinco said.

The junior right fielder’s bat spoke next when he drilled the ball deep to left for a stand-up double in the bottom of the fourth. Johnson, a freshman, protected the plate before he jumped on a pitch he blasted to right field, plating Giovinco to make it a new game, 1-all. Centereach’s Demetres continued to keep himself busy, reeling in another hit to end the inning.

Newfield shortstop Kyle Johnson, Dylan’s brother, was hit by a pitch and took first to load the bases in the bottom of the fifth. Prisco hit an infield ground ball for what was a double-play situation, but the throw to second base was bobbled, getting the ball to first just seconds after the runner as Rubenstrunk dashed for home plate.

Centereach pitcher Mark Schnitzer goes the distance despite being called on to start 20 minutes before the game. Photo by Bill Landon

“Yesterday in practice we were working on getting good leads off the bag and [then sprinting],” Rubenstrunk said. “I saw the ball in play at second, so I took off for home.”

The Cougars bats went back to work in the top of the seventh, but Newfield’s starting pitcher Bobby Vath still had some spark left in him, and the senior retired the side in order by working the corners.

Cammarata said he now knows his team can compete with anyone, saying if one or two plays went the other way, Centereach would’ve come out on top.

“You’ve got to take your hats off to the other team,” he said. “[You put it in the past] and you move on to the next day.”

Centereach hosted Newfield in the second game of the series April 18, but results were not available by press time. Newfield returns to Cougars country April 19 for the final game of the series. The first pitch is scheduled to be tossed at 4 p.m.

Bob Burkley and Harry Schneider will be inducted into Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame in May

Middle Country track and field coaches Bob Burkley and Harry Schneider are being inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame this May. Photo from Facebook

It was once said kids would run through a brick wall for Bob Burkley, and Harry Schneider would show them how.

Middle Country school district’s dynamic duo co-coached the track and field programs for more than 30 years, leaving behind a legacy of winning streaks, championships and motivated athletes, nearly 100 of whom have gone on to become coaches. As a result of their accolades and achievements, the pair are being inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame this May.

“They have very different personalities — the way they interacted with athletes — and somehow they blended,” said 1972 Centereach High School graduate Harold Schwab, owner of Schwab’s 2nd Wind shoe store in East Setauket. “Coach Schneider was very much a one-on-one coach, while coach Burkley was very high energy, and you got caught up in that. As an athlete you sensed there was no limit to how hard they were ready to work, how much they were willing to sacrifice for the team, how important the team’s success was — and the athletes reciprocated that.”

Harry Schneider. Photo from Facebook

Schwab raced for his coaches, who began at Newfield in the late 1960s, and moved with them to Centereach once the new school opened. As a sprinter and jumper, he said he saw firsthand his coaches’ qualifications to lead the team to success in any event.

“Some coaches may not know anything about the high jump or the triple jump, so they don’t compete in those events,” he said. “Every event was coached thoroughly at Centereach High School. There was never an event where we weren’t taught the right technique and supervised so we knew what we were doing.”

According to Bay Shore head coach Steve Borbet, who began a push for more track and field hall of fame inductees, the pair continued to learn.

“They also went to clinics and read up wherever they could get more knowledge of the sport,” said Borbet, who began coaching against the Cougars in 1975. “I watched how they won and I wanted to emulate that. Their winning attitude that they instilled in the
players was huge.”

Strategic thinking was a driver behind the pair’s successes. When Burkley, for instance, saw another team didn’t have a triple jumper, he’d pull his top triple jumpers out, let younger kids compete for the points and then use his standouts in other events. Schwab said every athlete received a performance write-up after meets, pointing to areas that were strong as well as areas in need of improvement.

“Nobody wanted to be pointed out for not living up to expectations,” Schwab said, laughing. “We were always trying to maximize our points, and we’d do whatever we could to help the team. Coach Schneider and Coach Burkley really did run a very hard practice, and there’s something about when you share that kind of sacrifice on a daily basis, when you share pain in practice, it brings the group together. It created a bond, not far from what soldiers feel.”

Harry Schneider, on right, with the 1995 Suffolk County championship-winning cross country team. Photo from Harry Schneider

A team-first mentality is not always preached in track and field, but for Burkley and Schneider, it was first and foremost.

“We were a team in the truest sense,” 1994 graduate Charles Crowley said. “We were an unusually tightly knit group. They had a vision of what we were capable of and they were committed to everything we did. They created a culture where we didn’t want to let them down.”

The year after Schwab graduated was the start of Centereach’s 26-year, 158-match dual meet winning streak. Crowley was on the team when its streaked was snapped, coincidentally, by Borbet’s Bay Shore team. Despite the loss, Borbet said the team was gracious about it, and Crowley said the unit remained resilient.

“That was a hard day, but [our coaches] were so positive and helped us rebound,” Crowley said. “They both have such passion for seeing athletes push themselves further than they thought possible.”

The pair combined for 95 league titles, 25 division titles and 42 county titles. Because they assisted each other in the spring and winter seasons, and Burkley headed the cross-country team, Borbet said that to the hall of fame board, they diluted their success. Previous hall of fame inductees Borbet (2014) and Schwab (1993) felt the pair of coaches should have been inducted long before they were.

“They were who everyone was going after, and you pick up from the best,” Borbet said. “Those guys were successful from the beginning. They were able to really reach their kids — a lot of coaches can’t say that. It’s been a goal of mine and a movement of mine to nominate track coaches every year. These two guys certainly deserve to be in there. They’re the best track coaches around, and two of the best coaches out of any sport in Suffolk history.”

Bob Burkley. Photo from Facebook

Every individual on the team was coached to be the very best that person could be, according to Schwab.

“When you know that the coach cares deeply about your individual success as well as the team success, to know we were all seen as equals, it created this hunger to succeed,” Schwab said. “Everybody on the team saw how being part of the team made them a better person. Whether they were going to be a star or not, they wanted each person to achieve his potential.”

Crowley was one of the athletes coached by Burkley and Schneider to go on to lead his own team. An Ironman triathlete who has raced in 28 marathons, he’s the head coach of the JackRabbit Sports marathon team in New York City. He said Burkley and Schneider taught him how to be a captain and a motivator.

“They taught me that success takes commitment and discipline — that there were no limits to what you can achieve if you are mentally tough and work hard to achieve goals,” he said. “They molded so many athletes both on and off the track. I try very hard to impart these lessons onto the athletes that I coach.”

Schwab remembered Schneider teaching him about being a student of the sport, and said it’s a skill he has applied in every aspect of his life.

“You didn’t just show up to practice and go through the motions,” he said. “If you were in a hurdle event, he encouraged you to read about the hurdles, to dig into it for yourself. We treated the sport just like we did any of the other academic classes we were in. That attitude has followed through in just about anything that I do now. Any time I’m involved in something, rather than just learn enough to get by, I try to be an expert at it. It’s not just about winning competitions. It’s about learning how to succeed in every endeavor.”

Cougars earn nod for first time in school history, Hauppauge also places second

The Centereach High School varsity cheerleading team placed second in nation at the Universal Cheerleaders Association’s National High School Cheerleading Championship. The Cougars placed in Division II Large Varsity finals for the first time in school history.

Hauppauge also placed second, in Division II Small Varsity. Mount Sinai finished fourth in Division II Large Varsity and Rocky Point tied for seventh place in Division II Medium Varsity.

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Newfield's Ally Hu battles against Centereach's Kayley Otero. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Seniors Angela LoMastro and Ally Hu swept all three of their bouts to lead Newfield’s girls fencing team to a 17-10 nonleague win over crosstown rival Centereach Jan. 11.

LoMastro, a sabreist, blanked her first opponent in a 5-0 bout.

Newfield captain Angela LoMastro faces Centeach’s Gail Laurino. Photo by Bill Landon

“I had a lot of energy,” she said. “The last time we played Centereach I let them get a lot of touches on me, but I was able to shut that down today, so I was proud of that. It’s an important match — no one wants to get beat by Centereach.”

Centereach first-year head coach Kerin Boghosian said despite the loss she’s pleased with her team’s progress.

“I think some of the girls are a little disappointed with today’s loss because we performed better the first time we faced them, but it’s a great measuring stick because they have some great fencers on that squad,” Boghosian said. “I’m leaning on the girls to show me what they’re capable of.”

She said she’s been leaning primarily on foilists Jessica DeSena and Kayley Otero, who finished 2-1.

“Our foils have performed well for us — it’s a weapon we kind of depend on,”  Boghosian  said. “Some of our epeé fencers did a nice job today, too. Ayanna Hodge went 3-0, so she’s a bright spot. She learns from Abby Cornelia.”

Newfield epéeist and captain Grace Scura gets a touch on Centereach’s Ayanna Hodge. Photo by Bill Landon

Hodge won her bouts 5-4, 5-3 and 5-0.

LoMastro and Hu, also a foilist, swept their opponents 5-0, 5-2 and 5-3. Hu said she was happy with her shutout because she isn’t at full strength.

“To win against Centereach is so important — it brings up the school morale for more than just one sport,” she said. “I have fenced better than I did. I lacked in energy today.”

Centereach traveled to Lindenhurst Jan. 13 and outscored its nonleague opponent 18-9. The Cougars (3-4 overall, 1-4 in League I) travel to Half Hollow Hills East Jan. 16 for a 5:15 p.m. matchup. Newfield (7-2 overall, 4-1 in League II) hosts Brentwood Jan. 18 at 5 p.m.

“We are a tenacious athletic group — our kids don’t stop fighting,” Newfield  head coach Jessica Palmaccio said, before speaking specifically about captains LoMastro and Hu. “They really carried us today. I’m really proud of both of them.”

This version corrects the results of Centereach’s win over Lindenhurst.

Smithtown East's Joe Neto scored five 3-pointers in a win over Centereach. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Smithtown East senior Joe Neto has a sweet outside shot.

The guard finished with five 3-pointers and a commanding 19 points to lead the Bulls over the visiting Centereach Cougars in a 54-36 League III opener Dec. 19.

Alex Zampieron goes up under the basket. Photo by Bill Landon

The Cougars were able to pull as close as within five points late in the fourth quarter, but a 14-9 fourth quarter sealed the deal.

“They were putting a little more pressure on me, forcing the ball out of my hands, but in the second half our spacing was great, our pace was great and everyone was moving the ball really well,” Neto said. “We found the open guy — we made a bunch of open shots and we made our layups.”

With 5:25 left in the first half, Neto hit back-to-back triples to put his team out front 21-7. Centereach called timeout, and made a defensive adjustment out of the huddle that helped the Cougars hold Smithtown East scoreless until the final second before the break, when Neto launched his second nearly half-court shot of the game for his fourth 3-pointer to that point. Smithtown East held a 10-point advantage, 24-14, heading into the locker room.

Centereach head coach Ed Miller said the guarded effort wasn’t what he expected.

“We actually just kind of woke up and started playing the defense we should have been playing,” Miller said. “We made a couple of adjustments where we should have been, positionwise, and the kids followed through on it.”

Centereach’s Chris Witherspoon leaps for a layup. Photo by Bill Landon

Three minutes into the third quarter Centereach senior Chris Witherspoon hit a field goal and a pair of treys to close the gap to six points. Smithtown East retook to the court following an immediate timeout call, and with a different offensive look. Then 6-foot, 3-inch senior Alex Zampieron got the call, grabbing low passes and battling in the paint for each point. When he didn’t score, he drew a foul and made his time at the charity stripe count. He finished with a team-high seven points in the third to Witherspoon’s eight.

“When he got the ball he was making strong moves, and finishing,” said Smithtown East head coach Keith Reyling. “It wasn’t pretty, so even if we don’t play our best game we can still be successful. Sometimes
we don’t play the game like we practiced, and we go off script a little bit and that’s when things get away from us.”

Smithtown East opened the final quarter with a 13-point lead and again Neto swished his final 3-pointer of the game. Zampieron followed Neto with nine points in the win, and junior Chris Goria tacked on six.

Witherspoon topped Centereach’s scoring chart with 16 points. Next in line was sophomore Matt Robbert with five.

Centereach hosts North Babylon today, Dec. 21, at 4 p.m.

Centeraeach ougars come close to defeating a powerhouse

By Bill Landon

Centereach epéeist Abir Das worried Ward Melville’s boys fencing squad. The junior had taken to the strip twice Dec. 12, outscoring his previous opponents 5-2 and 5-3. With Ward Melville ahead 13-11, and a must-win match on the line,  the fencer stepped up to face eighth-grader Will Lehr, who was 1-1 on the day. As he retied the match 4-4 and his visiting team’s crowd kept chanting, Das just kept counting.

“I tried to stay calm out on the strip,” he said. “I have a habit of counting numbers in my head to stay calm, get in the zone and set up my game. When [it’s loud] and everyone’s watching you, you need to learn to move out and up on your opponent. It’s like a chess game, so I tried to out-strategize him.”

Das rose to the challenge, edging his adversary 5-4 with his parry hit, but the Patriots dropped the hammer and swept the last two bouts to secure a 15-12 win to stay perfect on the season.

Ward Melville senior Jared Dorf fell in his first two bouts in epée, but came through when it mattered most — winning his final match 5-2 for the all-important 14th victory.

“Jared is our captain — he’s been on the team for a while — and I wasn’t sure if he could execute our plan to disengage [his opponent’s] parry and to be aggressive enough to hit the target,” Ward Melville head coach Jeff Salmon said. “We were screaming to find that moment and attack, [but at the same time] avoiding that parry, but the kids were having trouble just landing their points.”

Perfect on the night for the Patriots was sophomore sabreist Leo Takemaru, who swept his three matches 5-0, 5-2, 5-0. Junior epéeist Ben Rogak won both of his bouts, 5-1 and 5-2. His second win was the final bout of the evening, against Centereach senior James Moore.

“I was very nervous — we’ve had a very strong team in the past, but a lot of the other teams have up-and-coming fencers that we have to be careful of,” Rogak said. “I have confidence that we will be the strongest team throughout the season, but we have to grind it out, buckle down, and we need more
support from the bench.”

Moore finished 2-for-3, winning his first two matches 5-2 before falling to Rogak.

“I was energized, motivated,” Moore said. “I was recovering quickly and recovering forward, and I felt good. I came in here and I knew we were going to have a respectable meet.”

Foilist Frank DiCanio III swept all three of his bouts for Centereach, besting his opponents 5-0, 5-4 and 5-0.

First-year head coach Christina Piraino said she couldn’t be happier with her team’s performance against the powerhouse Patriots.

“The highlight was in foil — DiCanio won all three and Jarod Chang, he’s been working really hard in practice, and their hard work paid off today,” said Piraino, a Centereach alumna who graduated 10 years ago. “We were never able to do this well against Ward Melville, so I’m just so proud of them. This should give them more drive to work harder, and I told them that the next time we face them, we’re going to beat Ward Melville.”

Even still, Salmon said he’s most worried about Middle Country’s other fencing team: Newfield.

“I think they’re the second best team in the county, and it’s no secret they trained in the off-season,” the coach said of Newfield.“They have key players that have trained all year long, and they’re ready.”

Dorf said the boisterous Centereach crowd had an impact on his team’s performance, and they’ll learn from it for the meets ahead.

“It’s not an exciting moment when you lose any bout, but any good fencer is an amazing person to watch and we could feel their pride in that moment,” he said, pointing to Das’ win. “But when you face a good opponent, it shows us that we’re not the best all-around, and that we have room for improvement.”

Gift of hearing made possible through nonprofit program Senior Dreams Come True

Sally Lepis gets fitted for new hearing aids at the McGuire Hearing Center in Centereach. Photo from Seiden Communications

Thanks to a nonprofit program, one Selden senior is calling her new hearing aids a dream come true.

Sally Lepis, who lives independently at St. Joseph’s Village, a subsidized housing complex, was granted her wish for new hearing aids by Senior Dreams Come True. The nonprofit program founded and run by the elder law firm Genser Dubow Genser & Cona in Melville benefits low-income seniors on Long Island by granting wishes — from helping a senior meet basic needs to fulfilling a lifelong dream. The program especially looks to grant wishes for seniors who have given back to their communities or helped others in their lifetime.

With significant hearing loss, 102-year-old Lepis could not afford to replace her more than 25-year-old hearing aids. Whether speaking to one person or in a group, she has difficulty communicating.

To fulfill Lepis’ wish, Senior Dreams reached out to David Carr, owner and director of McGuire’s Hearing Centers, which is headquartered in Centereach with 10 facilities in the New York City and Long Island areas. He agreed to donate two of the most advanced, custom in-canal hearing aids plus four appointments with the audiologist to do testing, programming and fine tuning of the devices. The total cost for the hearing aids and services is $7,500.

“I was intrigued with this important program to help seniors and the amazing story of Mrs. Lepis and her family,” Carr said. For many years, he has helped seniors in need throughout the U.S. by donating hearing aids to the less fortunate through a program he started called the Foundation for Sight and Sound.

Often referred to as “Mother Teresa,” Lepis has remained the anchor for her family, maintaining a positive attitude no matter what personal hardships she goes through. When she was 57, her husband died. She also lost her twin sister at a young age and raised her then 14-year-old niece Olivia Schmidt in her home.

“No one is more deserving of a Senior Dreams wish than Sally,” Schmidt said. “[She] has devoted her life to caring for many family members and friends while coping with her own sadness and losses she has endured.”

Lepis worked as a seamstress from a young age and only recently got rid of her Singer sewing machine. When her husband died, she worked at B. Altman Department Store in Manhasset as a sales clerk before retiring.

Before she stopped driving at age 95, Lepis did her best to care for friends by driving them to doctor’s appointments. She even saved a friend’s life when she found her stuck in a bathtub for several days.

“Mrs. Lepis has given so much of herself over the years to friends, family and those in need in her community,” said Jennifer Cona, managing partner of Genser Dubow Genser & Cona. “She is exactly the kind of person for whom Senior Dreams Come True seeks to grant wishes.”

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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.”

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