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Coach

Vinny Altebrando with his wife Kristie and their four daughters. Photo from Kristie Altebrando

When it comes to handling students, the teachers, administrators and faculty members at South Huntington school district have a new mantra these days: WWAD, or “What Would Altebrando Do?”

It’s a tribute to a man who, as a physical education and special education teacher and renowned varsity wrestling coach at Walt Whitman High School for the last 15 years, consistently went out of his way to make students and student-athletes’ lives better — particularly the “underdogs” that struggled in and out of school.

Vincent Altebrando was somebody who once bought a tuxedo and prom ticket for a wrestler who came from a broken home and couldn’t afford them, and then dressed in a tuxedo himself, picked up the teenager and chauffeured him to the big event. He was a beloved local whose nine-hour wake service last month drew a crowd of 3,000 people, where hundreds more had to be turned away.

Vinny Altebrando, who was Walt Whitman’s wrestling coach, on left, with state champion Terron Robinson during the state tournament. Photo from Terron Robinson

The renowned coach, a Miller Place resident who died April 20 at Stony Brook University Hospital after being diagnosed with HLH, a rare autoimmune disease, at 51, had a big heart and an infectious laugh, an affinity for belting out Beatles songs, and a tough-love competitive spirit that not only put the district on the map athletically, but helped his players beyond the sport. There really was nothing he wouldn’t have done to help his students, according to those closest to him.

“He was always about the kids,” his wife Kristie Altebrando said. “He was always doing things for them. And just when you thought it was enough because his plate was full, he found more room on it. He’s changed a lot of lives.”

Both in school and at home, she pointed out, referring to their four daughters, each of whom compete in sports, from lacrosse to volleyball and field hockey.

“With his attitude, grace, helpfulness and encouragement, it’s all made them who they are,” she said. “I just hope he’s looking down, knowing that while he was alive he was doing all this for people.”

Robin Rose, Walt Whitman’s head varsity football coach and childhood friend of Vincent Altebrando’s, said the wrestling coach had a myriad of accolades. He won the sportsmanship award at this year’s Suffolk County Wrestling Coaches Association ceremony.

 “The best compliment is that Vinny turned athletes into state winners and he helped non-athletes become winners themselves,” Rose said. “He’s a guy this district can’t replace.”

Altebrando also played a large role in launching adaptive physical education and a Special Olympics program for the district’s special needs students.

Vinny Altebrando and his youngest daughter Mirabella. Photo from Katie Altebrando

“It’s an amazing void that he leaves in the school,” fellow Walt Whitman physical education teacher and childhood friend Scott Wolff said. “He was this big, tough, sweet guy; this big center of life in the building and that’s gone now, so we’re all trying to fill a little piece of it — just by building up spirits, being nicer to each other, spending more time with the kids who are struggling. I can already feel the effects.”

Wolff and Altebrando, who was raised by his mother and older brothers after the death of his father at a young age, both went through the Middle Country school system; graduated from Newfield High School a year apart; and were hired at South Huntington Elementary School on the same day in 1994. According to Wolff, Altebrando has been the same since he first met him.

“Vinny was always the best guy to be around — fun, humble and knew how to make everybody feel comfortable and special,” he said.

Terron Robinson, 19, knows that about the coach perhaps better than anybody.

The 2017 Walt Whitman graduate first met his coach as an eighth-grader as a budding wrestler. Robinson said he’d long been cast aside by teachers and other students at school due to his family background — two of his brothers had been to prison, and he thought everybody assumed he’d wind up there as well. He lost his mother at a young age and by the time he was in ninth grade, his father and a brother died, too. It didn’t take long, however, for him to have somebody to turn to.

“In my eyes, that man [Altebrando] was like my father,” said Robinson, who, under the guidance of Altebrando, was a state champion wrestler by 11th-grade. “He saw the good side of me when nobody else did. He was always there for me no matter what. Without him, I’d probably be in a jail cell.”

Altebrando made sure Robinson always had food and clean clothes. He pushed him to do well in school and treat everybody with respect. He took Robinson to the doctor when he was hurt. The coach would even take it upon himself to drive every morning from his home in Miller Place to where his student-athlete lived in Mastic Beach, pick him up and take him to school in South Huntington — where the two of them often worked out together before classes started.

“There was no greater bond I’ve seen between coach and player than the one they had,” Walt Whitman high school athletic director Jim Wright said. “Vinny just saw him as a kid with potential, as a wrestler and also as a person. He brought out the good qualities in Terron and turned him into a citizen.”

Vinny Altebrando, on right, with his oldest daughter Anjelia, who will be attending his alma mater, Springfield College, in the fall. Photo from Katie Altebrando

Altebrando graduated from Newfield High School in 1984. He was a star athlete on football and wrestling teams, the latter being a somewhat lackluster sport in the district before he came along.

“Then it became an event to go to,” Wolff said, laughing.

Altebrando went to Springfield College in Massachusetts, where he wrestled and received a degree in physical education.

It was during a hectic commute from his first teaching job in Brooklyn that Altebrando bumped into an old familiar face — his future wife — from his high school days.

“We took the train home together and we were engaged within a month,” Kristie Altebrando said. “He was my lifeline, my go-to guy … and it’s overwhelming to see the outpouring of love from so many people for what he’s done and see how many lives he’s touched.”

Natalia Altebrando, 13, a North Country Road middle school student and goalie on a travel lacrosse team, said her father taught her on and off the field how to find courage and strength, and to be kind to others.

“He made such an impact on my life,” she said. “This has broken my heart in a thousand pieces, and the only one who would [normally] be able to fix that for me is him.”

Altebrando’s oldest daughter, Anjelia, 17, will be following in her father’s footsteps and attending Springfield College in the fall.

“He was my role model and really pushed me to work hard for what I want,” she said. “He let me know that anything is possible.”

Ward Melville's Lauren Hansen carries the ball up the court while Commack's Casey Hearns follows close behind. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

Former WNBA player, Commack graduate and current Ward Melville girls basketball coach Samantha Prahalis was frustrated and emotional on some calls the referee made while facing her alma mater Jan. 2. She received two technical fouls and was ejected in the middle of the fourth quarter in a 75-59 loss.

“I thought [the referees] missed a lot of calls,” Prahalis said. “If you let a few travels go, let a few backcourts go in a crucial time — we’re trying to come back, [and] there were a few big calls that I didn’t think were made.”

This is Prahalis’ first year as Ward Melville’s head coach. She was embarrassed that she was tossed, and said she has to do a better job of maintaining her composure.

Ward Melville’s head coach Samantha Prahalis, a former Commack star, coaches the Patirots from the sidelines. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I can’t put myself in a situation and get a technical, and then [to] get another one,” she said. “Lesson learned. I learned from it and we’ll learn from it as a group and we’ll move on.”

Ward Melville junior guard Lauren Hansen felt that Prahalis was in hostile territory facing her old team.

“I felt that the refs were just gunning for her,” she said. “It’s Commack environment.”

Commack assistant head coach Russ Tietjen was with Prahalias at Commack last year when she was an assistant. He is aware of her emotions on the court that translated to her emotions as a player at Commack.

“Sammy was a great player here and you can see her intensity as a coach is very similar to when she played,” Tietjen said of Prahalis. “She had a Ward Melville team who was ready to play; they played hard. That’s what good coaches do — they get their teams to play hard.”

Commack had several offensive weapons with four players scoring 16 points or more. Meanwhile, for Ward Melville, Hansen recorded 39 points and was the only player in double figures for the Patriots.

Junior guards Amanda McMahon and Katie Kelly lead the Cougars with 18 points each. Senior Casey Hearns recorded 17 and classmate Kim Shalhoub added 16. They combined for 69 of Commack’s 75 points.

“We have a group of great shooters and we like to push the tempo,” Tietjen said. “When you’re making your baskets, it looks good. It looked good today. The level of competitiveness in these girls is second to none.”

Kelly enjoyed going up against her former assistant head coach. She says it ramps up the competition.

“Sammy is a very good competitor and loves to win as much as we do,” Kelly said. “It just makes the atmosphere that much better to play in. It make us want to win even more.”

Kelly’s learned her game from former player and point guard Jillian Spagnuola who graduated in 2016, when the team went 22-1. Kelly is doing her best fill Spagnuola’s shoes.

Commack’s Katie Kelley looks to make a play up the court. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I learned everything from Jill,” Kelly said about her play style. “I learned how to run the point and organize the offense.”

After being down by at most 30, the Patriots went on a big run in the four quarter and cut the deficit to 12 after Prahalis was ejected. Senior forward Shannon Brazier said her coach ignited the spark.

“We just weren’t going to go down without a fight,” Brazier said. “We wanted to do it for coach and wanted to come back for her.”

Hansen’s scoring prowess is nothing new to her. Brazier says that’s always how her teammate plays. But the junior’s main focus is to face Commack again in Ward Melville territory.

“The loss brings us motivation to come back and go harder and beat them next time,” Hansen said. “We’ll bring a crowd next time, too.”

With Prahalis as the opposition to Commack, she enjoyed battling in her old stomping grounds.

“It felt good,” Prahalis said. “Ward Melville is my home now. I love Commack, I grew up there, but I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

Ward Melville’s next game is at Brentwood Jan. 5 at 4 p.m. The Patriots fall to 2-4 on the season with the loss while Commack improves to 7-1. The Cougars travel to William Floyd  Jan. 5. Tipoff is currently
scheduled for 4 p.m.

Girls basketball leader for nearly four decades inducted into state hall of fame

Rich Castellano in the huddle with a Northport team. Photo from Rich Castellano

By Desirée Keegan

When Rich Castellano was asked to fill in for a season as the girls basketball coach at Northport Middle School, he had no idea the chain of events that followed would change the rest of his life.

That decision to head the team led to a 38-year stint as the varsity coach, 613 wins, 24 league titles, 10 Suffolk County championships, five Long Island championships and three trips to the state semifinals. He was named 2011 Russell Athletic/Women’s Basketball Coaches Association National High School Coach of the Year after first receiving the WBCA District Coaches of the Year award, has been welcomed into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame and was inducted into the New York State Public High School Athletic Hall of Fame July 26.

Northrop girls basketball head coach Rich Castellano talks to his players. Photo from Rich Castellano

“I had no idea what it would lead to,” the retired math teacher said. “I’ve been blessed —  I was there at the right time. The sport started to take off. Everything was in the right place.”

After starting at the middle school, he moved up the chain with a handful of students, taking over the junior varsity team the following year, and began his career at the varsity level in 1979.

The Tigers won a league championship that winter, the first of three in a row, and next thing he knew the team was hanging a county championship banner on the gymnasium wall.

“I felt we were going in the right direction,” Castellano said. “The little kids in the stands who were watching us play wanted to become Lady Tigers. Everyone who watched our success early now had the opportunity to be on the court. There’s nothing like playing for your high school in front of your family and friends — it’s a whole different atmosphere.”

He credited the initial achievements to being able to work with the girls year after year until they reached the varsity level with him. But the success didn’t stop there. Northport took home six straight county championships from 1989 to 1994, a feat that had never been done nor never been duplicated.

Rich Castellano speaks to young Northport basketball players during a previous Tigers camp. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“The girls wanted to be basketball players,” Castellano said. “Now, it’s like a self-perpetuating thing. They know what to expect. We’ve really been consistent all the way through.”

Coaching that middle school team was the first time he’d led a group of females. The Selden resident had previously been a football and baseball coach, and has since also coached boys and girls volleyball and softball.

“It was unique, it was different,” he said of his first time coaching girls. “I think they taught me to be a better coach. You take things too seriously sometimes even though it’s just high school sports, and I think they gave me a better perspective.”

To feed into his program, he runs summer camps to keep the kids involved and get the younger generation’s feet wet.

Katie Kelly, a former player who is now the junior varsity coach at Northport, teaches at the camp.

“It was always my dream to end up playing for him,” she said of Castellano. “He’s the best coach I’ve ever had, and I’ve been on many different teams. He’s so dedicated to this program, his team and his girls. Everyone has the same nice words to say about him. He know a lot about the game, he know a lot about being a coach.”

Northport girls basketball head coach Rich Castellano watches from the sideline with union varsity coach Katie Kelly. Photo from Rich Castellano

Kelly, who was a part of two county championship and two Long Island championship seasons with the Tigers, said learning how to be a part of a team was the most important thing she took away from her time at Northport.

“He has always emphasized the importance of being on a team, playing together and cooperation,” she said. “I think that’s what makes the team so successful. And obviously in his career he’s been successful, so it seems to work.”

The head coach has seen the trickle-down effect, too.

Even with a myriad of accolades to his own name and with the induction into the state hall of fame, he said it’s never been a one-man show, crediting his other coaches and players like Kaylie Schiavetta.

“She’s an unsung hero who played her butt off and never looked for credit and did it all for the love of the game and the love of her teammates,” Castellano said. “I never wanted all the attention, I didn’t play one minute in any game. It was all their success. It was all their hard work and all the stuff they had gone through to get to where we were. If you look around the gym, there’s a lot of championships. It’s something I take a lot of pride in, but I wouldn’t be where I am without kids like her. She taught me that.”

Still, he was shocked when he heard of the nomination to the NYPHSAA hall of fame.

Northport girls basketball coach Rich Castellano with former player Kaylie Schiavetta as she signs her letter of intent. Photo from Rich Castellano

“Oh my God, you’ve got to be kidding me,” he said was his reaction when he heard the news. “It caught me off guard. It was a ‘wow’ moment. It took all the girls who played for me to have that feeling. I’m obviously very proud and humbled, but it also makes me reflect on all the girls have achieved over the years and what they’ve helped us achieve.”

Schiavetta was excited to hear of the honor.

“It’s about time,” she said, laughing. “I think everything he’s done for girls basketball is very memorable, whether you played for Northport or not. If you played girls basketball on Long Island you know who Richard Castellano is.”

Inside the basketball arena but outside the court, Castellano brought Coaches vs Cancer to Suffolk County, a program that 95 percent of schools in the county currently participate in. He has led the program to raise tens of thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society since its inception.

“To me, it’s one of my biggest accomplishments,” he said. “Basketball officials get involved by wearing pink shirts, the girls where pink socks, pink ribbons in their hair and pink t-shirts, the girls have me wear a pink tie — we’re into it big time.”

Rich Castellano with young Northport players and alumni during a Coaches vs Cancer game. Photo from Rich Castellano

The charity event hits home for Castellano, because he was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2006. The girls’ shirts have a basketball court on the back with the words “I’m playing for” above it. There’s an empty space to write the name of a cancer survivor or victim the player wishes to honor during the games.

“A lot of the girls put my name on their shirt beside their grandmother or their neighbor or their parents, so that’s kind of cool, too,” he said.

Over the years, the coach has kept in contact with most of his former players. He’s been to almost 20 weddings, christenings, graduations and even spoke at the Northport sports hall of fame induction ceremony for all seven of his honored athletes, all in the last two years since its inception.

Sisters Cami Ruck and Kimberly Ruck, Renee Raleigh, Debbie Ronan (McCabe) and her now-sister-in-law Regina Ronan, Christine Michalopoulos and Jill Byers are all merits of his success.

Rich Castellano with members of a former Northport girls basketball team. Photo from Rich Castellano

Kimberly Ruck’s daughter is in seventh grade at Northport, and will soon be playing for her mother’s coach. Debbie and Regina Ronan have both come back to coach alongside their mentor, and Michalopoulos went on to coach college basketball.

“It validates decisions you made,” Castellano said. “They liked what they were doing and it’s a compliment they’re coaching.”

He will also be inducted into the Northport sports hall of fame this fall alongside Schiavetta, who played for her coach since seventh grade and attended the camp since fourth grade.

“I thought he was really funny,” she said of her initial impression of Castellano. “He always does a good job making the little girls laugh and make them feel comfortable. He has a way of challenging and bringing out the best qualities in a player.”

Her father Lou Schiavetta, who has been a coach at the camp for the last 10 years, agreed.

“Coach Castellano could sell ice cream in the North Pole,” he said. “There are people that are givers and takers — he’s a giver. He’s all for the kids and for his program. As you can see, it speaks for itself with all the banners and honors he’s received. He’s one of the winningest coaches in the county.”

Girls basketball banners line the walls of the gymnasium at Northport High School. File photo by Desirée Keegan

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I’m a coach for a boys’ basketball team. I want to win every game because that’s what America is all about — winning. I want to make my team great again, because we haven’t been as great as we’d like to be and that’s not acceptable.

Now, I know there are parents on this team and the other team who find my methods and my approach worrisome. Don’t. I’m going to win and that’ll be great and I have a plan. No, I’m not going to share it with you and, no, just because you heard some things about me doesn’t mean they’re true.

Who’s telling you all those things? Do you believe any of them? Well, you shouldn’t, because I don’t. I have plenty of people who are eager to tell you how great I am. There’s a woman with blonde hair who I can put in front of you who will make sure you understand what I mean when I say what I say.

Well, I don’t always say anything. I prefer to tweet, particularly about the other team. You see that other coach the other day? I heard someone, and mind you it wasn’t me, suggest that he might not have been born in the United States.

Yes, I know he’s still allowed to coach here and, yes, I know there are plenty of incredibly important people who came to the U.S. and contributed greatly to the founding, establishment and greatness of this country. That’s not the point. The point is that I want to win and be great and greatness comes from here, and not from over there. If you can’t tell, I’m pointing to the fertile, rich, wonderful soil beneath my feet. Well, no, actually, I’m not pointing to the soil. I’m pointing at my expensive shoes. You want greatness? You need nice shoes.

Speaking of nice shoes, did you see the shoes that one of the moms wore to the game the other day? Wait, what? I’m not allowed to notice beautiful women and their nice shoes now? That’s not fair. If they wear the shoes, I should be able to notice them. I notice the nice shoes my daughter, Danika, wears and they make her feet look magnificent. I’m so proud of those shoes and those feet.

Oh yes, I heard that other coach saying things about me behind my back while I was looking at him and he was speaking to me. How dare he say things that didn’t support me. He should be locked up.

If I were on Twitter right now, I’d say he was wrong! I might spell it incorrectly because my mistakes give my opponents, who I trounce like sad little bugs, something to talk about when they’re trying to get in the way of my greatness.

So, here we are at the game. It’s finally starting. The referees look shifty to me. Who wears black and white? Is that some kind of politically correct statement? It didn’t work for Seinfeld when he had that black-and-white cookie episode. He got sick. Remember that? Ah, TV. Isn’t it awesome?

Anyway, so we need to win the game and we need to make sure the other team loses. I’m going to win because I know things other people don’t and I’m “marts.” You see? I had a deliberate misspelling there, putting the “s” in the wrong place.

Now that the game has ended, I’m disappointed in everyone. The refs? Rigged! The other coach? Ridiculous! The fans? Well, what do the ones who complain know anyway?

I know I won, but that’s besides the point. I want the losers to know that they’re losers, even though they can be great someday, too, if they listen to me.

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The Smithtown West girls’ lacrosse team took a group photo after beating Northport for the first time in school history. Photo from Carrie Bodo

By Desirée Keegan

On her wall in her office, Smithtown West girls’ lacrosse coach Carrie Bodo has an old photo of one of her Hofstra University teams posing for a group photo, with her lying on the turf field.

Her girls asked her several times about the significance of it. Bodo said her Pride team had never beaten the University of Delaware, and that photo was taken after the first time the team had done it. She has wanted to replace that photo for a long time now. Her Bulls team had also never beaten Northport, so she told the girls that if they did this season, she’d swap out one winning photo for another.

The Bulls made a goal, and achieved it, outscoring Northport 11-7 on April 29, and Bodo took a photo lying down on the turf field with the girls behind her. The girls also had a goal to win the school’s first ever Suffolk County title. Although the team fell one goal shy, dropping the county title game to West Islip, 9-8, in the school’s first appearance in the finals, the team had a postseason success that made all the hard work of a 15-2 season all the more worth it.

Members of the Smithtown West girls' lacrosse team rally around head coach Carrie Bodo after she earned the Suffolk County Coach of the Year award. Photo from Smithtown school district
Members of the Smithtown West girls’ lacrosse team rally around head coach Carrie Bodo after she earned the Suffolk County Coach of the Year award. Photo from Smithtown school district

The Suffolk County Girls Lacrosse Coaches Association named Bodo the Suffolk County Division I Coach of the Year. She was also named Smithtown Central School District’s Coach of the Year. Although earning the recognition, she was more excited for her team than herself.

“They wanted it for me more than anything,” she said. “For me, anything I get is truly because of them. It was nice because they were so excited for it.”

Before coming to Smithtown in 2006, Bodo was the head women’s lacrosse coach at Hofstra University for 14 years, and was also the field hockey coach for almost half of her time there. She had played lacrosse since she was in seventh grade, and even played for Hofstra, before becoming a graduate assistant on the team and taking over the helm when she was just 24 years old. When the time came to choose which sport would be her focus, the decision was easy.

“The sport is such a part of me,” she said. “The big joke is I’ve never had a spring break since seventh grade. It goes to show how much I love it. I love everything about the game. I love playing it, I love watching the girls, and being with the girls, seeing them achieve, seeing them go to college.”

Although leaving the sport briefly when she had children — two boys — she began teaching and was soon asked to take over the West team when the school split. Her athletes are happy she agreed to take over the program.

“When it comes to the game, she is smart and always gives us so much motivation to win. One thing that I love most about her is that she loves to have fun and she has a big heart. Even when we lost, she would tell us to keep our heads up and always have a positive outlook.”

— Kayla Kosubinsky

“I have to say I’ve never had such a good relationship with one of my coaches, both on and off the field,” said Kayla Kosubinsky, who has played under Bodo since eighth grade, but knew her from back when she would attend the booster club camp that her coach runs every year. “Bodo has impacted Smithtown lacrosse just like she did when she coached Hofstra. When it comes to the game, she is smart and always gives us so much motivation to win. One thing that I love most about her is that she loves to have fun and she has a big heart. Even when we lost, she would tell us to keep our heads up and always have a positive outlook.”

This sort of parent-daughter relationship she’s created with her girls is crucial to Bodo and her players, and is an integral part in the team’s success.

“We have this joke that I’m their mom,” Bodo said, laughing. “They always call me mom, and I call them my family. I love that part of it more. Just hearing about their boyfriends, and the prom and that kind of stuff. It’s that girl atmosphere I don’t get in my personal life. That’s what makes us closer as a group.”

Although it took some years to get the Bulls to the level they’re at now after the school split, nine of the 12 starters from last year’s squad committed to play lacrosse. The younger kids in the area are seeing the older ones’ success, and want to emulate that, something Bodo hears at camp over the summer.

For players like senior Mackenzie Heldberg, who committed to play at Johns Hopkins University, leaving a coach like Bodo is bittersweet, but she will always be appreciative of what her longtime coach has done for her.

“I couldn’t ask for a better coach — she has taught me so much about not only lacrosse, but life, and has helped me develop into the player I am today,” said Heldberg, who played for Bodo for five years, but knew her for eight because her older sister also played for the Bulls. “As our coach, she always pushed us to our fullest potential and I dedicate our success this year to her, for she was the glue to our team. Having Bodo get this recognition is so heartwarming and amazing because she deserves it. This team has improved tremendously since I’ve been a part of it and the common denominator of it all is Bodo. She led us with pride and fearlessness to a county game and I couldn’t be happier I’ve gotten to play under someone as amazing as her.”

Head coach Andrew D’Eloia speaks to his team during a timeout. File photo by Bill Landon

Head coach Andrew D’Eloia has brought the Northport boy’s basketball team to its first undefeated season.

D’Eloia is in his fourth year as head coach, but he is no stranger to the halls and basketball courts at Northport High School. He graduated from Northport in 1991 and played as point guard for the boy’s basketball team.

“I’m extremely familiar with the district,” D’Eloia said in a phone interview. “I wanted to be able to give back to the community. The Northport High School basketball team did a lot for me, to help me develop — it taught me discipline, teamwork and investing in a common goal.”

D’Eloia now lives in Huntington with his family and owns AD Hoops Training, a basketball training business in Brooklyn.

Before coming back to Northport, he worked as an assistant coach at various institutions including Hunter College in Manhattan and Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School in Brooklyn. He was then offered the assistant coach job at Northport High School and D’Eloia jumped at the opportunity.

Head coach Andrew D’Eloia speaks to his team during a game. File photo by Bill Landon
Head coach Andrew D’Eloia speaks to his team during a game. File photo by Bill Landon

After a year as assistant coach, D’Eloia became head coach, and while he said he didn’t want to bring any major changes to the team, he did want to implement some new focus points.

Among his ideas, he said he wanted to encourage the boys to set up a plan for the off-season, to stay in the best shape they could. He said he believes this helped the team’s bond become even stronger.

“The team chemistry is phenomenal,” he said. “This is one of the best teams I’ve been around in terms of the element of camaraderie, and it’s one of the most unselfish groups as well.”

Since taking over as head coach in 2012, the boy’s record is 72-14, they have won 18 playoff games and made it to the Suffolk County final four all four years. In 2013, the boy’s made it all the way to the state semifinals but fell to New Rochelle.

This was the first year since 1995 that the team has gone undefeated in the league, and D’Eloia credited that to the work of the entire team.

“They are coachable and they do right both on and off the court,” he said. “This is a team in every sense of the word.”

The head coach said that not only are the starting players key to the success of this season but also the supporting players, who have worked well to “conserve small minutes.”

Looking forward, D’Eloia said he hopes his team will continue to play at the highest level possible at every game and go as far as they can in the playoffs.

Harborfields High School. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Harborfields’ boys’ basketball team has become one of the most celebrated at the high school in recent years, with the boys winning the League V title for the eighth straight year.

Although this is only John Tampori’s first year as head coach of the Tornadoes, he has been the assistant coach for the last 11 years, and has been able to seamlessly keep their tradition of domination alive.

Tampori served under Chris Agostino, who left the school left last year for Elmont Memorial High School as the school’s new athletic director.

“I’ve known the players, some of them are three- or four-year varsity players,” Tampori said in a phone interview. “They knew me as well. I knew what I was stepping into. I knew exactly what was going on.”

The transition appears to be just as easy for the players, as the team is currently undefeated in the league and look to be in a great spot in the Suffolk County playoffs, which kick off this Friday.

John Tampori has been with the Harborfields Tornadoes for more than a decade. Photo from Tampori
John Tampori has been with the Harborfields Tornadoes for more than a decade. Photo from Tampori

Tampori said he didn’t want to bring too many changes in as the new coach.

“When things are working, you don’t want to change too much,” he said. However, after losing the Suffolk County A Championship last year, he said he wanted to focus on improving shot selection on offense.

“Playing smarter was a thing I had in mind going into this season,” Tampori said. According to the head coach, that included working the ball into a shot that players are more capable of making, and better time management of the game clock.

Harborfields Athletic Director John Valente said Tampori has exceeded expectations.

“Coach John Tampori had some big shoes to fill when Chris Agostino left,” Valente said in an email. “Coach Tampori has stupendous knowledge of the game and knows all the right buttons to push for the team and players to reach all their goals this season. I couldn’t be prouder of the job he has done this season taking over from a successful coach who he served as an assistant coach to for six years. This is now Coach Tampori’s basketball program.”

For this season, Tampori said the starting five are all very special players, and have really contributed to how successful this season has been.

“They all play super hard in practice and get each other better,” he said of the five, who include seniors Alex Bloom, Dan Morgan, Malcolm Wynter and Robert Pecorelli, and junior Alex Merhige.

For what he enjoys the most about coaching the team, he says it comes down to the type of boys they are.

“We’ve always had really good students — as far as their grades — and they must come from really good families, because they’re all very respectful, polite, and just solid, good young men,” Tampori said. “Even when they get off the bus, they say thank you to the bus driver. That’s a little thing, but it still shows who they are.”

As far as the next few weeks and the Suffolk County Championship, Tampori doesn’t like to look too far ahead.

“I just talk about one game at a time,” he said. “I don’t want anybody to look ahead and forget what’s in front of us.”

Aside from boys’ basketball team, Tampori is a special education teacher at the high school, and also coaches boys’ and girls’ junior varsity tennis teams in the fall.

“I enjoy the faculty and the type of students you have,” he said of teaching at Harborfields. “You get really nice kids, they respond to what you have to say to them, it’s a nice environment to work in.”

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Athletic director Debra Ferry leaves Port Jefferson after nine years

Deb Ferry volunteers at Miracle League with athlete Brittany Fox. Photo from Ferry

A new year will also bring a new athletic director to Port Jefferson.

After nine years, Debra Ferry is leaving the school district to tackle the athletic department at Half Hollow Hills.

Debra Ferry helped establish the lacrosse program at Port Jefferson and has led its other teams to success. File photo
Debra Ferry helped establish the lacrosse program at Port Jefferson and has led its other teams to success. File photo

“I’m excited and nervous,” Ferry said. “It’s surreal. I established a lot of close relationships and friendships here in Port Jefferson and I’m going to miss the people that I work with. The teachers and the coaches are top-notch; they’re dedicated and compassionate. I love Port Jefferson, but I’m ready to move on and expand my career.”

The Port Jefferson Board of Education accepted the resignation of Ferry at its Nov. 10 meeting, effective Jan. 3. Board President Kathleen Brennan thanked her for her service at the meeting.

Superintendent Ken Bossert also thanked her when reached by phone this week, and wished her luck in her new position.

“I think she did an excellent job being visible within the school community and being a top supporter of our student-athletes,” he said. “We wish her well in all her endeavors. I’m sure she’ll be a great success, and we hope to find someone as committed to Port Jefferson as Debra was.”

Because the school district is small, everyone knew who Ferry was and she had the opportunity to know every student-athlete out on the Royals’ field. Ferry even attended most of the games.

“The kids are sometimes surprised to see her at games, especially making the hike all the way upstate for big playoff competitions, but she was there,” said Rod Cawley, the boys’ cross country and track and field coach. “In my 32 years at Port Jefferson, she’s been our best athletic director. She’s very honest, she’s supportive and she’s fair.”

Originally a teacher, working in Manhattan for one year and in the Bronx for two before becoming a physical education teacher at Northport in 1999 — while also coaching the varsity field hockey program and working as an assistant for the girls’ lacrosse team — Ferry wasn’t sure administration was the route she wanted to take, but soon changed her mind. After looking for positions, she found an opening at Port Jefferson, where she built the foundations of an ever-growing program and learned the ins and outs of the position.

Among her numerous accolades, she was the 2008 Athletic Director of the Year for Eastern Suffolk County Hoops for Hearts and was a Port Times Record Person of the Year in 2012.

“I love athletics,” she said. “I love the kids on the field and sports and the rules and regulations. The intimacy of a small school district and knowing the kids is definitely a benefit.”

Another benefit was learning how to manage her time, juggling her duties as athletic director, attending games and being the 1st vice president for Section XI, among her other responsibilities and roles as a member of many of the section’s committees.

Athletic Director Deb Ferry snapped this photo of Port Jefferson wrestler Matteo DeVincenzo pinning an opponent.
Athletic Director Deb Ferry snapped this photo of Port Jefferson wrestler Matteo DeVincenzo pinning an opponent.

“It’s a lot of commitment and it’s about prioritizing,” Ferry said. “Being on the field is important to me, not just to show support for Port Jeff but to show support to all of the kids. I see them in the halls the next day and it’s fun to talk about the games with them. Every year is different, every team is different, but the success of the athletics here is all about the coaches and the students.”

The Royals experienced such success this fall, when the girls’ soccer team took home the school’s first state championship title in that sport. Ferry was at the game, and also attended a cross-country competition the same weekend, according to Cawley.

“Going up to states, I felt like I was part of the state championship team,” Ferry said. “The kids make you feel very welcomed and supported. It’s rewarding.”

Although it will be different in the bigger Half Hollow Hills school district, with two middle schools and two high schools, Ferry is looking forward to the new chapter.

For the coaches she leaves behind, it’s bittersweet.

“I kept busting her chops, telling her I’m not letting her go,” Cawley said, laughing. “But I want her to do the best she can do and achieve whatever she wants to achieve and be wherever she would be happy.”

Mike Maletta, a wrestling coach who has been a teacher at the school for 23 years, said he will miss Ferry, who he called a stable force for the program she helped build, including helping to establish the boys’ and girls’ lacrosse teams.

Maletta saw the effects of Ferry’s leadership firsthand, especially with his wrestlers.

“Every time I was at the state tournament with my wrestlers, you could see her walking around with a camera around her neck, taking pictures,” he said. “A lot of those pictures make it to the end-of-the-year senior awards banquet and it went above and beyond what a lot of athletic directors do. She was always there supporting our program and those pictures meant a lot.”

He also said she was a big help in staying all day to be an announcer and handle paperwork at the team’s Bob Armstrong Memorial Tournament.

The Port Jefferson girls’ soccer team admires their plaque after winning the state championship this fall. File photo by Andrew Wakefield
The Port Jefferson girls’ soccer team admires their plaque after winning the state championship this fall. File photo by Andrew Wakefield

“That right there will be a huge loss for me,” he said. “She was there making sure everything was done, because during the day, I’m all over the place and it’s nice having someone there helping out the program. There’s a comfort level with having someone you’ve known for nine years, and her leaving is really going to affect me.”

Ferry will remain Section XI’s vice president, but other roles will change, as her new school district is in a different conference. She will also remain involved with the New York State Public High School Athletic Association as the female representative for Section XI.

The outgoing athletic director said it’s been nice to feel appreciated and recognized for the job that she’s done, but feels most proud of the kids and the coaches for the working relationships everyone had and for making her feel supported.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to have developed professionally at Port Jefferson,” she said. “I hope I left a mark here. … I am part of the program, but I feel it’s more than that. That’s the benefit to working in Port Jefferson. The coaches and players make you feel like you’re part of the team.”

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Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain

By Rich Acritelli

Yogi Berra may have grown up playing baseball in Missouri, but when he was a catcher for the Yankees he was Mr. New York.

Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain
Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain

The legend died a few weeks ago at 90 years old, but he will be remembered by Long Island baseball fans for years to come.

Born in 1925, Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra grew up in the Italian section of St. Louis, the son of immigrants who worked many hours to make ends meet for their family. As a kid, Berra discovered his love for baseball and would play at every opportunity, though his equipment was not always very advanced — coming from a poor family, he used old magazines as shin guards.

The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis produced outstanding ball players such as catcher Joe Garagiola, who played against Berra. However, the legend did not get to the major league right away.

Berra’s grades were poor and education was considered a luxury during the Great Depression, so he went to work in a coal mine. But Berra was meant to play baseball — he lost his job because of his habit of leaving work early to play the game with his friends. His parents did not understand or like baseball, but their son excelled and became one of the best players from their neighborhood. In 1942, the New York Yankees brought him into their dugout.

At 17 years old, Berra was away from home for the first time. His career began slowly, and he committed 16 errors in his first season as a catcher, although his hitting was consistent. Times were tough for the young man — he made $90 a month, before taxes were deducted, and there was little leftover after covering his living expenses. There were times Berra was close to starving. At one point, his manager loaned him money to buy cheeseburgers and adoring fans made Italian heroes for him to eat. He sold men’s suits in the winters to get by.

“What you have to remember about Yogi is that all he ever wanted was to be a baseball player.”
— Jerry Coleman, hall of fame broadcaster

Soon into his career, America’s priorities changed. With World War II raging, Uncle Sam started to draft baseball players into the military. Berra joined the U.S. Navy and was in the middle of the action in Europe on one of the most important days for the Allied war effort: June 6, 1944. On D-Day, Berra was on a rocket boat that fired armaments against the German fortifications at Normandy.

That August, the catcher aided landing troops during the amphibious invasion of southern France through Operation Dragoon. After fighting on D-Day, Berra said he was scared to death during those landings, because he realized the Germans could have killed his entire crew due to their proximity to the beaches. Despite his fear, he fought valiantly and went back behind home plate with a Purple Heart.

By 1946, with the war behind him, Berra returned to the ball park. He was one of the toughest and most talented players in the league, a three-time MVP who hit 305 homeruns and earned 10 World Series rings. Don Larsen, who in the 1956 World Series threw a perfect game to Berra, believed the catcher was the best pitch caller in baseball.

Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain
Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain

The all-star was at the center of many historic plays, including when Jackie Robinson famously stole home during the 1955 World Series. Berra, who was catching for pitcher Whitey Ford, attempted to tag out Robinson, but the umpire deemed the runner safe — a call Berra did not agree with.

Once he hung up his catcher’s gear in the 1960s, Berra became a coach and manager for the Yankees, the Mets and later the Houston Astros, among other business ventures.

For a man who did not earn an education past the eighth-grade level, Berra accomplished much during his lifetime, included being known for his creative sayings, commonly known as “Yogi-isms,” such as his famous quotes, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” and “It’s déjà vu all over again.” He was an American and athletic icon who represented the grit and character of his unique nation.

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