By Bill Landon
Comsewogue High School hosted Centereach in a boys soccer nonleague match Sept. 1 prior to the start of their respective league schedules. The teams tied 1-1.
By Bill Landon
Comsewogue High School hosted Centereach in a boys soccer nonleague match Sept. 1 prior to the start of their respective league schedules. The teams tied 1-1.
By Anthony Petriello
Applause could be heard far and wide June 21 at Comsewogue High School’s graduation ceremony.
The applause rained down from the packed bleachers on the varsity football field for all of the graduates, but for a select few there was a bit more meaning behind the cheers. Five graduates were honored for their brave decision to enter various branches of the U.S. armed forces rather than attending a traditional two- or four-year college. Twins Jarrett and Jaeden Whitfield, Bernadette Reyes, Tyler Jensen and Nicolas Robinson are the Warriors preparing to serve their country.
Comsewogue High School Principal Joseph Coniglione summed up his feelings watching the five students accept their diplomas and prepare to move on to their next steps in life.
“These students worked hard to get where they are,” he said. “They have made a commitment to this country and, without any doubt, made this community and this school very proud.”
Three out of the five students recognized will be enlisting in the U.S. Air Force, including the Whitfield twins. They are following what they called their dream, but also a dream their mother, Keira Whitfield, said she had always had but was not able to fulfill.
“They are living out my dream of joining the Air Force,” she said. “In doing so they will become independent, productive citizens of the United States and that’s all I ever wanted for them.”
Originally from Queens, and with a family background in both the Air Force and the Navy, the Whitfields are looking to brighten their futures.
“I hope to become a more disciplined person,” Jarrett said.
During graduation, the five students were called up to the stage to be honored and recognized individually. District administration knew the special ceremony was coming, but left it a surprise for the students.
“I was very surprised to be honored,” Jaeden said. “It didn’t feel real. It felt like a dream … having my recruiter there helped me feel more comfortable.”
Tyler Jensen is the third student who enlisted in the Air Force. He is following his grandfather’s path to the Air Police, which is an arm of the Air Force Security Forces along with the Military Police and the Security Police. As a member of the Air Police, Jensen will be working to protect the assets of the Air Force, as well as securing Air Force installations and other facilities operated by the military branch.
Jensen attributed his desire to serve his country not just to honoring his grandfather but also out of a sense of civic duty.
“I am also joining because not enough people in my generation are enlisting and there is not enough help,” he said.
Comsewogue school board president John Swenning, who led the way honoring the students during graduation, also beamed with pride referencing the graduates-turned-armed forces members.
“On behalf of the Comsewogue board of education I would like to publically thank these young men and women who have decided to serve in a branch of the United States military,” he said in a statement. “It is their selfless commitment to protect our freedom and liberty that allows the rest of us the opportunity to chase our dreams.”
Robinson enlisted in the U.S. Marines. He said he has had a desire to join the Marines since 2005, when he was only 5 years old after his brother had enlisted.
“He is my role model,” Robinson said of his brother.
Robinson said he often thinks about the day his brother graduated from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina.
“When I saw my brother graduate from Parris Island, it gave me chills,” he said.
He is proud to have enlisted in the Marines and isn’t worried about the life change he is about to encounter.
“It’s like any other job,” he said.
Reyes is headed to the U.S. Army, also following a family trend, as her father is an Army veteran. She said she was unsure of her path after high school, but after meeting with an Army recruiter at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach, she made the decision to pursue a career in the military.
Reyes said she was ecstatic to have been honored at the graduation ceremony.
“It was a great feeling to be introduced in front of the students, parents, administration and the board of education,” she said.
Reyes plans to complete basic training and continue her education through the Army.
The Comsewogue High School Class of 2018 said its goodbyes June 21 at the annual graduation ceremony June 21 on the football field. Valedictorian Luke Begley and Salutatorian Charles Clark addressed the crowd in attendance and the class of nearly 300.
Despite some tense moments late in the game, a fast start, a huge play on a fourth-and-25, and a key second-half touchdown drive propelled the Comsewogue football team to a victory in its homecoming matchup against Hauppauge Oct. 21. The Warriors move to 3-5 with the 28-21 win, which head coach Sean Tremblay called his team’s most complete performance of the season.
“It was the first time we started and finished a game all year,” Tremblay said after the win.
Presumably riding the adrenaline rush that comes with playing in front of a packed out, electric homecoming crowd, the Warriors jumped out ahead of the Eagles (0-6) in the first half.
Junior running back Reno Molina found the end zone in the first quarter to put Comsewogue up 7-0. The Warriors took to the ground early and often, producing more than 300 yards rushing on the afternoon, though one big pass play might have been the key to the win.
On a third-and-17 from the Hauppauge 22-yard line early in the second quarter, running right on an option play, sophomore quarterback Jaden Martinez kept the ball and eluded several Eagles on his way to what he thought was a score to put his team up two touchdowns. A holding penalty backed Comsewogue up and wiped the touchdown off the scoreboard, and on fourth-and-25 from the Hauppauge 30-yard line, the Warriors went to the air.
“I had seen something in coverage and I knew [Richie LaCalandra] was going to be open — we just needed to protect it and we did, and Richie got in,” Tremblay said of the play, which he called a momentum changer. He said he never considered attempting a long field goal or punting on the fourth-down play.
Martinez took the shotgun snap and rolled to his left, uncorking a perfect pass to the wide open senior LaCalandra running a corner route, who made the catch and skipped into the end zone to put the Warriors up 14-0. The play accounted for all of Martinez’s yardage through the air for the game.
“Richie’s just a great athlete,” the quarterback said of his running back. “He got himself open and I rolled out of the pocket, and he was just wide open.”
LaCalandra had 90 yards rushing and a touchdown to go along with two catches for 30 yards and the fourth-down score through the air. His rushing touchdown came on a reverse handoff from the Eagles’ 21-yard line in the final minute of the second quarter, as LaCalandra made a few Eagles’ defenders miss on his way to the goal line, where he lunged in despite having his helmet ripped off.
“We came out and worked hard in practice this week, and it all paid off when it came to the game,” he said.
The Warriors took a 21-0 lead into halftime, but a strong third quarter from the Hauppauge offense and two Warriors’ fumbles left the door open for a comeback.
“Defensively they were throwing the ball underneath our coverage,” Tremblay said of Hauppauge’s effective third quarter on offense. “We were so worried about them throwing the ball vertically that at times we were bailing just a little bit too much.”
With less than a minute remaining in the third, Comsewogue got the ball back up 21-14, and with junior quarterback Tom Tommaso under center, the Warriors engineered a drive that ended in a 6-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Mike McGuire to put his team up 28-14.
“After we scored and made it 28, that kind of regenerated our fight,” Tremblay said of the key second-half drive. Molina intercepted a pass with seven minutes remaining in the fourth in Comsewogue territory to ice the game for the Warriors.
Comsewogue’s two turnovers were the fewest the team has had in any game this season, according to the head coach. He said it shouldn’t be a surprise that it led to a win.
The Warriors will be back in action Oct. 27 at East Islip for the final game of the season. Opening kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
By Jill Webb
At the top of their respective classes at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School and Comsewogue High School are five talented and smart 2017 graduates.
Chiara Rabeno has earned her place as Port Jeff high school’s valedictorian. She will graduate as an AP Scholar with Honor with eight AP credits and has received a National Merit Scholar letter of commendation along with earning a gold award on the National Latin Exam three years consecutively.
In addition to her commitment to academics, Rabeno was an active participant in athletics during her high school career. She played softball and field hockey, earning an All-Conference distinction two years in a row.
Rabeno was president of National Honor Society, and balanced the rest of her time as a member of the Interact Club, Environmental Club, Science Olympiad, and a participant in the STEM program.
The valedictorian attributes her success to having supportive family and friends who encourage her, along with finding time to focus on things she enjoys.
“Ultimately by doing what you love to do, I think that you’ll end up doing well in everything else,” Rabeno said in an interview.
In the fall, Rabeno will study biology at Boston College, on the pre-med track to become a doctor.
Like Rabeno, salutatorian Xinyi Hong has received a gold award for three straight years on the National Latin Exam. She has a lengthy list of academic achievements, including being a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, an AP Scholar with Distinction, and earning the American Chemical Society Award.
Hong’s parents emigrated from China, and Hong herself was born in Germany. Her family came to the United States when she was six years old, moving to Port Jefferson when she was in fifth grade.
Hong served as co-captain of the Science Olympiad team, treasurer of the Environmental Club, and sits first chair viola in the school’s orchestra.
She said one of her proudest accomplishments is overcoming shyness as a way to contribute to her own personal growth.
“I would be scared to say hi to people,” Hong said in an interview. “That’s something I’ve definitely had to work towards as opposed to something that came easily to me.”
When she attends Duke University in the fall, Hong said she will pursue a science-related field.
During graduation June 23, Rabeno and Hong broke with tradition somewhat, delivering their valedictorian and salutatorian addresses together on stage. They shared the stage and spoke in tandem about the gifts the other possesses. The address touched on the honesty of Hong and the sentimentality of Rabeno, delivering the ultimate message of needing balance in order to achieve their full potential.
At Comsewogue High School, Marissa Kaye Lehner has been named the class of 2017 valedictorian.
A Nation Merit Scholar, Lehner took nine advanced placement classes during her time at Comsewogue. She was a part of several national honor societies, including music, English, math, science, social studies, and Spanish.
Outside the classroom, Lehner was co-captain of the tennis team, winning a doubles match during the Section XI conference championships. She was a part of the academics club, math team, Bringing Unity Through Youth club, robotics and Girl Scouts.
Lehner said a key trait in her development as a student and person is she isn’t afraid to ask for help, and frequently encourages others to “rely on the people you have around you.”
Attending the University of New Haven this fall, Lehner will major in national security, working towards a career as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. government.
Two students had matching grade point averages for second place in Comsewogue’s senior class and will share the salutatorian position — Lauren Ehrhard and Lucas Szeto.
Along with taking seven AP classes throughout high school, Ehrhard has been involved with athletics, including softball, and Athletes Helping Athletes, a club designed to teach elementary school students what it means to be a good athlete.
She was a member of Task Club, a community service organization called BUTY, chamber orchestra, and pep band.
One of her favorite experiences was being the director for a Night For Jason, an annual talent show that raises money for Friends of Karen, an organization supporting families with children suffering from cancer.
The biggest force driving her academically is having “really big dreams ahead of me,” Ehrhard said. “I know that the only way to reach that is to get good grades and be the person I know I can be.”
Ehrhard will be studying criminal justice at the University of New Haven, where she will join the ROTC program in preparation for joining the Air Force post-college.
Like his co-salutatorian, Szeto took seven AP classes. Szeto said school has always been something that has come easy to him, though that didn’t stop him from putting in his full effort.
Szeto is also proud of his musical achievements — he plays the upright bass. He participated in two different music festivals, the Long Island String Festival and the Suffolk County Music Educators Association festival, and contributed to the Bay Area Summer Orchestra.
Lisa Szeto, his mother, recalled as a child Szeto told her he wanted to start playing video games. She told him she didn’t have time to teach him how, so Szeto took it upon himself to learn how to read so he could play.
“If he wants to learn something he will learn it with gusto,” his mother said of the memory. “If he doesn’t he will get through it.”
After graduation, Szeto will be attending Rochester Institute of Technology and majoring in computer science.
Comsewogue High School students with an eye for filmmaking got the Hollywood treatment Monday, May 22, as they walked the red carpet, screened their short films for family and friends, and received awards.
The first annual North Brookhaven Scholastic Film Festival, sponsored by Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and the Comsewogue school district, gave students, grades nine through 12, the opportunity to showcase their original films, each projected before an audience on the big screen in a mini-lecture hall.
The 18 films, submitted mostly by video production students, were no longer than five minutes and included public service announcements on the dangers of texting and driving and cyberbullying; a documentary on the friendship formed between two foreign exchange students; and a series of narratives, ranging from comedy to romance to horror.
“I think it’s important we create opportunities for people to express themselves, and they are so talented, clearly, from all the ambition that came out of today,” said Cartwright, who handed out individual certificates to the participating filmmakers after the screening.
The councilwoman got involved after Lou Antoniello, of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, approached her with the idea to make a film festival for students as a way to bring more culture to the area.
“I said, ‘why not have one here for Northern Brookhaven?’ as I never heard of a scholastic film festival,” Antoniello said. He said he hopes down the line, as the event grows, scouts from bigger festivals like Stony Brook and the Hamptons will be in the audience and pluck student-produced films to screen.
“The sky’s the limit,” he said.
Antoniello said the festival was open to all school districts within Brookhaven and he hopes more will participate in the next one in September.
Kayla Jones, a 17-year-old senior at Comsewogue, produced two of the night’s entries, the texting and driving PSA, and “Distance,” a black-and-white silent film about a long-distance couple.
“It was really great to have this — I didn’t expect it was going to be as big as it ended up being,” Jones said. “It felt really good to have people see the things I created and like my ideas. It’s such a great experience to see something that was in your mind, on screen.”
Cassavete Porta, a senior classmate of Jones’ who plans to study film in college, directed a music video based on the song “Survive” by The Moog.
“I was raised by two film geeks so basically any song I listen to, I have a scene in my head to go with it,” Porta said on his entry. “It’s a good feeling because everyone clapped and had a good time. When you have an audience, you can tell if your movie is good or bad.”
Karen Verdisco teaches the school’s video production class, wherein students learn basic editing techniques on Final Cut Pro, video editing software, as well as how to work with a green screen. She encouraged her class to participate in the festival.
“I helped them with their story lines, basically guiding them through the process and critiquing their films to help them get better,” Verdisco said. “Just to watch the movies in a crowd and to hear everybody laughing and reacting, it made me feel unbelievably proud.”
Rocky Point has two candidates, an incumbent and a newcomer, vying for two open board of education seats.
With trustee Melissa Brown choosing not to run again, trustee Sean Callahan seeks re-election while Joseph Coniglione, Comsewogue High School principal, is putting his name in the hat.
Callahan, a 41-year resident and graduate of the Rocky Point school district, was first elected to the board three years ago. He has worked as an external auditor specializing in auditing school districts, is a certified New York State School Business Official and currently serves as an employment and labor attorney, well versed in bond and civil service issues and other aspects of education and school law.
If elected, he said he wants to continue the communication among all stakeholders that has started to come back to the district.
“When I first ran, there was a breakdown between the administration, the existing board and teachers,” Callahan said. “I believe the board has since made an earnest effort to really talk to the community and teachers to hear their concerns. I’m trying to continue the dialogue — I talk to the custodians, teachers, everybody in the district. That’s what I hope to continue.”
As a member of the board, Callahan has seen a tightening of academic eligibility policies, where students are required to perform well in the classroom before they can take part in any extracurricular activity.
Outside of the board, Callahan has been involved in the North Shore Little League for more than nine years and coaches CYO basketball and soccer for St. Anthony’s Church in Rocky Point. He and his wife have three sons — aged 18, 17 and 15 — enrolled in the high school.
Coniglione, an educator for 22 years and principal of Comsewogue High School, has decided to make a run for a seat on Rocky Point’s board of education.
“I want to make sure there’s an open line of communication among parents, teachers and students,” Coniglione said. “The goal should always be to make sound decisions in the best interest of the student’s academic, social and emotional needs. I’m always looking to do a better job [in Comsewogue] and have had great success in this area. It’s really all about the kids. I want what’s best for them.”
Looking to be part of the team, the 15-year Rocky Point resident, and father of two students in the district, grew up in Holbrook and graduated from Sachem High School before earning his master’s degree in reading and elementary education from Dowling College. He taught special education in the Brentwood school district for 10 years, before becoming assistant principal and ultimately principal at Comsewogue. He’s served the Comsewogue district now for the past 12 years.
At Comsewogue, Coniglione said he’s implemented parent and student committees, as well as surveys throughout the school, to gauge a wide variety of perspectives on how to improve the district. He wants to bring more transparency to Rocky Point and encourages the board to open up its books and ask the public what they think needs to change.
In the past, Coniglione said he had been concerned about balancing his role as principal and board member, which is why he never ran previously. But in speaking with administration in both the Comsewogue and Rocky Point districts, he realized there would be no issue.
“There seems to be no conflicts at all — everything is spread out and the meetings I need to be at, I can book around,” he said. “The Comsewogue administration is very supportive of my run and the board told me it wouldn’t be an issue.”
The school budget and board of education vote is on May 16 at the Rocky Point High School gym from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Suffolk County’s Department of Health encourages residents to take advantage of Narcan training classes at Comsewogue High School, 565 Bicycle Path, Port Jefferson Station on March 27 at 7 p.m. and Longwood Middle School, 41 Yaphank Middle Island Road, Middle Island on March 29 at 7 p.m. The training will enable participants to recognize an opioid overdose, administer intranasal Narcan and take additional steps until EMS arrives. Participants will receive a certificate of completion and an emergency resuscitation kit that includes nasal Narcan. For more information, call 631-852-6109.
Can’t make it on those dates? Hope House Ministries will host a free Narcan Training Workshop on Thursday, March 30 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at its Human Service Center, 1313 Main St., Port Jefferson in the Sister Aimee Room. Participants will learn the essentials of opioid overdose prevention and receive certification as Trained Overdose Responders as well as an overdose response kit that includes naloxone (Narcan). For more information or to register, please call 631-928-2377 or 631-473-0553.
United States citizens owe a debt of gratitude to first responders who put themselves in danger in the name of public safety on a daily basis. A national foundation took a small step toward repaying that debt for a 2016 Comsewogue High School graduate whose father and grandfather were first responders.
Christina Lettich is currently a freshman at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She grew up in Port Jefferson Station, where her family still lives. Her dad Michael Lettich was a member of the Suffolk County Police Department stationed in the 5th Precinct. In 2003, he was disabled in the line of duty. This month also marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Michael’s dad Thomas Lettich, and Christina’s grandfather. In 1992 he died in the line of duty while working as a New York City firefighter when Michael was just 20 years old. To honor her father’s and grandfather’s service, Lettich was one of 28 high school graduates in the nation to be awarded a scholarship from the National Law Enforcement and Firefighters Children’s Foundation in 2016. The scholarships are given out based on academic merit, financial need, community service and exceptional leadership.
“First responders have given so much to defend and protect us,” Al Kahn, NLEAFCF president and founder said in a statement. “How better to honor their commitment to all of us than to ensure that their children achieve their full potential. Helping to better pay for their college and complete their higher education is the least we can do to honor these law enforcement and firefighters’ families.”
Lettich expressed her gratitude for receiving the assistance to pay for her college education, and for the work people like her dad and grandfather do so selflessly.
“I have a great respect for civil servants,” Lettich said in an email. “It is not for everyone and not a job I think I could do. I like to make people laugh and smile.”
Lettich is an aspiring cartoonist and storyboard artist. She is studying fine arts at school and has had 60 of her own characters copyrighted to this point. Her dad recalled what it was like to hear she would receive the prestigious scholarship.
“I had known about the scholarship and asked Christina to apply for it,” he said in an email. “As she was preparing the application and asking me questions and found out more about my dad she realized how important it was to me. I was honored that she received the scholarship and made me very proud.”
“I have a great respect for civil servants. It is not for everyone and not a job I think I could do. I like to make people laugh and smile.”
— Christina Lettich
Michael Lettich said he and his wife Lisa knew from a young age Christina had talent as an artist. Lettich described herself as shy both growing up and presently, but the ability to express herself through her art, along with her time living in Manhattan and attending the School of Visual Arts has helped her break out of her shell.
“SVA is a very expensive school,” she said. “My parents never questioned if I would be able to go there. They would do anything to make it happen. I worked for Home Depot in my senior year and saved money. I am helping pay back some of my student loans and receiving this scholarship was another way that I could help my parents.”
Lettich was a member of the National Art Honor Society and drama club during high school. In her spare time she also volunteered for the Special Education Parent Teacher Association and at Studio E art school in Miller Place.
“We are proud to be a part of helping Christina achieve her academic goals,” Kahn said.
Skeleton racer nabs first place in 2016 IBSF World Cup race in Lake Placid
On her home track in Lake Placid, Port Jefferson Station’s Annie O’Shea won her first gold medal in a World Cup skeleton race.
O’Shea scored a combined time of 1 minute, 50.34 seconds, beating out Switzerland’s Marina Gilardoni by 0.09 seconds for the top spot. O’Shea slid down the track in a time of 55.26 seconds in her first heat, which was good enough for third place, a tenth of a second behind the leaders. She followed that up with a time of 55.08 seconds in her second run, tying a track record.
“I wanted this for so long,” O’Shea said. “Everything I’ve done these past 10 year — to become better and work on myself and the process, has paid off.”
After her second run at the 2016 International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation World Cup event on Jan. 8, O’Shea stood at the bottom of the mountain watching as the only two racers who could beat her time took their turns. When she saw that she’d won, her jaw dropped as she leaped in the air before hugging her assistant scouting coach, Zach Lund.
“I started crying at the bottom and I couldn’t stop,” she said. After the awards ceremony, O’Shea stopped to sign autographs for young fans.
The Port Jefferson Station athlete, who graduated from Comsewogue and was a 2004 outdoor track and field state champion in the pentathlon when she attended SUNY Plattsburgh, had been ranked 11th in the world coming into this World Cup event in Lake Placid, which is home to the “Miracle on Ice” USA men’s ice hockey team that won a gold medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics.
O’Shea said she appreciates the consistent support from her family, friends and community.
“It’s nice to feel when you go home that people kind of have a place for you or are cheering for you,” she said.
O’Shea had previously won a silver medal in December of 2011 in La Plagne, France. This, however, is her first gold at this level of competition.
Tuffy Latour, the head coach of the skeleton team, said O’Shea has been building towards this moment for several years, and has come on strong this year.
“Her potential [has been] through the roof,” Latour said. “It was kind of story book for her. She [was in] third and then put down a very fast heat.”
Her mother, Linda, watched the race at her desk in the Comsewogue School District’s district office. She said she jumped out of her seat and cheered with one of her colleagues who watched the finish with her, drawing a crowd of people to her desk, who were quick to share I the excitement.
“I’m so proud of her,” Linda O’Shea said. “It’s the perfect start to a new year.”
Competitors in skeleton use the same curved ice track as racers in luge and bobsled. Bent over and holding onto the sides of their sleds, they sprint for five to six seconds, then dive headfirst onto their sleds. Clad in aerodynamic suits, they slide down the track at speeds of over 80 miles per hour, banking through turns with slight shifts of their body weight.
The next World Cup skeleton race will take place in Park City, Utah on Jan. 15th and 16th. The World Cup races are the second-largest events in the sport behind the Olympics. The skeleton team is currently preparing for the 2018 games in PyeongChang, South Korea.