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Comsewogue High School

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Comsewogue’s football team was relentless in a game at home against Hauppauge Sept. 21, scoring early and not letting up. While the Eagles put in a touchdown in the second quarter and two more in the third, the Warriors kept a consistent tally all the way through the game to finally end it 47-20.

Senior Anthony Cambria had seven receptions, breaking a Long Island record 318 yards, along withfour touchdowns for Comsewogue. Cambria broke the record of 309 set last year by Oceanside’s Jake Lazzaro.

Brady Shannon, a sophomore completed 12 of 16 passes for 350 yards and three touchdowns for the Warriors. Senior Jaden Martinez had 12 carries for 207 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He opened the scoring with an 88-yard touchdown run in the first. Junior Ryan Minaugh made six tackles, including one sack, for the Warriors.

The win puts Comsewogue 1-1 in league, and the team is set to retake the field against Harborfields Sept. 28. Game time is 1:30 p.m.

All photos by Rudy Gray

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Comsewogue’s girls soccer team scored in first 10 minutes into the second half, but the Warrior’s lead proved short-lived Sept. 16. The West Islip Lions answered back with a pair of goal two minutes apart and tacked on an insurance goal late in the final period. With the loss the Warriors slip to 1-3 in the early season.

The Warriors will look to put another game in the win column when they travel to Half Hollow Hills East Sept. 20. Game time is set for 4 p.m.

Comsewogue students clean graves at first annual Joe’s Day of Service in 2018. Photo from Comsewogue School District

By Andrew Harris

Each Memorial Day, people often wonder what they can do to be more patriotic. Some of us even feel guilty because we shopped, barbecued and beached … and came away without any real opportunity to express our appreciation for America’s fallen heroes.

Andrew Harris

This year, one event Comsewogue School District teachers are planning on having will be one of the most impactful and educational field trips for our high school students. Although this may not be your typical run of the mill, fun field trip, we believe that our students will walk away with a new sense of pride, purpose, and a more meaningful self-respect for themselves and others, especially those who have served and given the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.

On May 29, we will host our districtwide Joe’s Day of Service initiative. Joe’s Day of Service is about community service, where students and the Comsewogue community pledge to give back. This project was inspired by Superintendent Joe Rella’s spirit and belief that students and community members can improve the lives of others, and their own lives, by working together. One example is the Calverton Project, which was created by students in our consortium program but is available to all students at the high school.

After applying to be “of service” at Calverton Cemetery, which is part of our National Cemetery Administration, Comsewogue students have been accepted to assist with a very special task. Management at Calverton have told us many of the tombstones for our fallen soldiers do not receive full sunlight on a daily basis. Because of this, some of the tombstones start to develop mold and become discolored.

Since the U.S. upholds very high standards at our national cemeteries, they have selected us, and will allow our Comsewogue students to do the very honorable job of beautifying and cleaning the tombstones on this special day — on this very special hallowed ground. It certainly will not be fun, and might even be monotonous and challenging… perhaps even boring. It will also take some good old fashioned “elbow grease” and require hard work; especially when they reflect upon exactly who they are doing this for, and see the names and information as they are working on each tombstone.

This year some of our students will be selected to escort the family members of veterans, who are coming from around the New York City area, perhaps for the first time, to visit the grave of their fallen family member. Some may need assistance to walk, or perhaps to read or even translate the headstone into their native language. Surely a few tears will be shed.

We feel that this act of kindness, selflessness and patriotism will be extremely powerful to our students. Hopefully, the impact will take a student outside of themselves (and away for their cellphones) to be educated, inspired, and humbled by giving service to others.

During this time, they will get a chance to reflect and think about how other men and women of all ages, backgrounds, faiths, races and creeds have laid down their lives for each and every one of us. We realize that this is quite different than the standard Bar-B-Q’s, storewide sales and beaching that we all have become accustomed to around Memorial Day.

Our students may even have to stop, respectfully remove their hats, and bow their heads as young fallen soldiers might be carried through the cemetery, accompanied by their families, to be laid to rest on that day. This field trip is like no other they have ever, or will ever experience. We will be giving special honors to our community’s fallen airman, Dashon Briggs from Port Jefferson Station, whose children will be attending our schools next year. One of our students, Ava Pearl, is doing her project with the creation of a portrait for the family, which will be placed in our schools so his children, and all the students, may see that he was a hero who died so “That others may live.”

Along with the Calverton Cemetery visit, some teachers and students are planning to host a walk to fundraise for a student in our high school whose family is having financial distress due to his recent diagnosis and treatment for leukemia.

Teachers have the opportunity to “plug in” by creating their own Project Based Learning activity that tie into their own curriculum or joining in the many activities around the district, all service projects for our local community.

Local and national news media outlets and politicians will be attending, as well as members from 106th Airlift Wing.

If you would like any more information, please feel free to contact Andrew Harris in whatever way is most convenient for you, at aharris@comsewogue.k12.ny.us, phone or text 631-428-2530, Twitter with #JDOS2019, or Facebook at Joe’s Day OF SERVICE.

Let’s do it for Joe.

Andrew Harris is a special needs teacher at the Comsewogue High School.

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Isabella Gordon, 15, organizes the nearly 300 pounds of hygiene products she collected for donation. Photo from Ali Gordon

Inspired by a leadership camp she attended over the summer, Comsewogue High School sophomore Isabella Gordon identified a problem in her community and took it upon herself to fix it. Before she knew it, her bedroom was piled high with feminine hygiene products set for donation.

Isabella, 15, said she had been interested in attending the Eleanor Roosevelt Girls Leadership Worldwide camp, a program offered by the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill in Hyde Park New York aimed at helping attendees gain confidence, develop a voice and unlock one’s leadership potential, ever since her older sister attended more than a decade ago. She went this past summer and met young women from around the world, and upon returning home, she was struck with an idea.

The teenager said she came across a video on YouTube that detailed the difficulty homeless women on their menstrual cycle have in obtaining hygiene products and wasted little time springing to action.

“I was interested and talked to my mom that night and was like, ‘Hey, I want to work on this,’” she said following a Comsewogue board of education meeting Nov. 5, where her mom Ali Gordon has served on the board for three terms. “So for the next week or so me and my sister were kind of just thinking up names for it and we ended up with ‘Hygiene for All,’ came up with a mission statement, because I felt so passionate about it.”

Isabella said she set up a Facebook page for her newly formed initiative and asked people to donate products for her cause by sending them to her home. Eventually her bedroom was piled with items in bins waiting to be distributed to those who needed them. Mineola-based nonprofit food bank Island Harvest organized a “stuff-a-bus” event Oct. 6 at Comsewogue’s homecoming football game, during which attendees of the game were encouraged to bring food items to be donated to those in need. Isabella and Hygiene for All provided the food bank with more than 100 boxes of feminine hygiene products, dozens of toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, and deodorants. In all the haul amassed nearly 300 pounds, according to Gordon.

“It was incredibly inspiring to have my 15-year-old come up with the idea,” the BOE member said. “Inspiring and very exciting. She didn’t need much assistance at all. She had a vision for this and really wanted to be able to help people and she’s done that and plans to continue to do that.”

Isabella said she hopes to one day turn the project into a charitable venture and is already interested in expanding it to more communities and school districts. She said she hopes to pursue a degree in medicine, at this point with her eye on one day becoming a midwife. Feminine hygiene products are among the most requested items for all food pantries, as many homeless and disadvantaged women are forced to choose between spending money on items like these and food, according to Food Bank for New York City, which holds an annual campaign calling for products for women.

“I feel very proud, especially of my community, so I’d say it went pretty well,” Isabella said.

To donate visit Hygiene for All’s Facebook page and send a private message to get the address.

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Body tissue belonging to James Nielsen, 17, who died in July, could prove helpful for researchers of aggressive, rare form of cancer

James Nielsen, 17, of Port Jefferson Station, while on a family trip in Tennessee to see the solar eclipse in 2017, just weeks before he and his family learned he had cancer. Photo from Steven Nielsen

Making sense of loss is never easy, though a Port Jefferson Station family has drawn strength from their 17-year-old son’s bravery and desire to help others, even in his last days.

“Bad things happen to people and this just happened to happen to me, and we’re just going to do the best we can with it,” James Nielsen told his father Steven when they learned the 17-year-old had been diagnosed with a form of cancer so rare and devastating only one documented case of survival exists.

James Nielsen, 17, of Port Jefferson Station, after becoming an Eagle Scout. Photo from Steven Nielsen

The Comsewogue High School student was diagnosed with NUT midline carcinoma in December 2017, an aggressive form of cancer akin to a death sentence. Despite the devastating prognosis, the Eagle Scout from Troop 454 engaged in rare, barely fleeting moments of despair, according to his parents, even spending the day he died — July 16, 2018 — playing UNO card games and watching the World Cup.

James’ form of cancer is characterized by tumors that form in bones or soft tissue. No effective treatment for NMC exists, there are no guidelines, and current approaches to treatment are based on discussions among a few oncologists who each have had a single experience treating this disease, according to the writings of Dr. Christopher French, a pathologist researching NMC at Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center in Boston, who also advised James’ family after his diagnosis.

“The cancer type that he had is extremely rare and he has a yet even rarer variant of that cancer,” French said in a phone interview. “His tumor was really quite unique. It had a different gene, a variant that is extremely uncommon.”

In late August 2017, upon arriving at cross-country team practice at Comsewogue, James’ mother Jean Nielsen said she noticed a sizable lump on her son’s leg. She said he brushed off her concern, went to practice, and even ran an additional mile when he got home. That night, she had her husband Steven Nielsen examine James’ leg. He said it looked swollen but not necessarily alarming, but when he touched the tumor it was rock solid. A trip that same night to a walk-in medical clinic led to a visit to Stony Brook University Hospital, and by that weekend the family knew their oldest child of four had cancer.

Initially doctors believed he had Ewing’s sarcoma, a diagnosis with a far higher survival rate and clearer treatment options than NMC. In the early stages of his battle, James’ mother said she wrote “treatable and curable” on the first page of a journal the family kept pertaining to his illness. James began what was expected to be a 10-week cycle of chemotherapy, but by the second week of October 2017, it became clear the tumor wasn’t responding to treatment, and immediate surgery would be necessary.

At about 10 p.m. Oct. 12, 2017, just six hours before he was scheduled to head to Manhattan for surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, James’ surgeon called and informed his parents there was a possibility he would need to remove their son’s entire leg, and not just portions of the thigh muscle and femur as initially expected.

“I’ll never forget, he looked at us, he sat silent for a moment, and he goes, ‘OK — we’ll do what we have to do,’” James’ father recalled. “And then it was pretty much, ‘Good night.’”

During hour 17 of a 20-hour surgery, the Nielsens were finally informed James would be able to keep his leg.

A positive outlook is often cited as essential in situations like James’, and for the Nielsens positivity flowed on a two-way street.

James Nielsen rides around Manhattan on Thanksgiving night 2017 after undergoing a round of chemotherapy. Photo from Steven Nielsen

“I guess we’ve always just kind of been in the place like, ‘It doesn’t help’ — letting your head spin and certainly getting overwhelmed by emotion — you have to kind of keep everything together for him,” Steven Nielsen said. “He made us so strong. We made him strong, but he led the way.”

Being able to salvage his leg was a small, yet short-lived victory. By December, doctors were finally able to pinpoint his diagnosis. Staring down a cancer with such long odds of survival precipitated an unusual response from the Nielsens — a trip to Disney World.

“We didn’t let it control us, we controlled it,” the father said. Self-pity was never in James’ vernacular. “We were never naive about the possibilities of what could happen, but we also, all of us, really felt that it wasn’t worth putting your energy there. Put energy toward your cure. And so we lived life that way.”

The family dedicated their son’s last months to embracing life, spending Thanksgiving evening perusing Manhattan after an eight-hour round of chemo, looking at stores on Madison Avenue, a night his father remembered as “magical.” They visited a ranch in upstate New York just weeks before his death, one of James’ favorite places to vacation. They went to the beach.

While their focus was getting the most of their time remaining, James’ parents were far from ready to give up the fight. Feeling like their experience at Memorial Sloan Kettering left something to be desired, Steven Nielsen did some research that led him to French. James participated in some clinical trials and spent time at the Boston facility, where he and his father even managed to find time to explore the city and visit colleges with notable pharmacy programs, a field in which James had expressed a future interest.

The father’s dogged pursuit of answers for his son led French to mistakenly call him “doctor” during one of their numerous correspondence.

“He wrote in a way that made me think that he knew quite a bit about medicine, I just assumed he was a physician,” French said, laughing. Both Nielsens are teachers in the Comsewogue district.

French is hoping to soon be provided with donated tissue from James for the purpose of research, one of the teen’s dying wishes. His will be the first cancer cell line, which are living cancer cells used for research, with NMC that French will have been able to get his hands on, an essential gift if there’s any hope for untangling the mysteries of the cancer form.

“The tissue that he donated at his autopsy for research was priceless, and potentially a very valuable tool to perform research with,” French said. “He was just a sweet individual. It tore my heart out when I met him very briefly … It was quite riveting to meet him just sort of knowing the truth, that this was likely to not go well.”

For James the decision to donate tissue for research was reflexive and required about two minutes of thought, according to his parents. The teen was known for reusing Dixie cups and napkins because of his aversion to creating waste.

The Nielsen family goes pumpkin picking shortly before he underwent surgery in Oct. 2017 to remove a tumor from his right leg. Photo from Steven Nielsen

“For him it was just what you do — he didn’t think it was a big deal,” his mother said. “What we look to as heroic or whatever is not really that heroic. Sometimes unassuming people are the most heroic, not people who are very vociferous.”

She said the family can take some comfort in knowing there’s a possibility James’ struggles could lead to a better future for someone else.

“I think if you believe everyone has a purpose, you’d like to think such a horrible result would end with something purposeful, like contributing toward the cure for other people,” the father said. “For us to have him taken away, you hope that that’s the reason.”

The Nielsens expressed gratitude for the support and well wishes they’ve received from the community. Some of James’ classmates have taken up fundraising efforts to get a memorial built in downtown Port Jefferson. Members of the school’s marching band wore pins honoring their fallen peer at the homecoming football game this month. Still, his parents stressed James was not interested in pity or ritualistic gestures of remembrance.

“He was very kind, very sweet, very familial — old kind of qualities that aren’t maybe appreciated as much these days,” his mom said when asked how she hoped he’d be remembered. “He was very selfless.”

To donate to aid in NMC research visit http://www.myjimmyfundpage.org/give/nmcregistryfund.

Joseph DiBiasi shows off his completed project at the William Miller House property on North Country Road in Miller Place Sept. 29. Photo by Alex Petroski

Visitors to Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society’s annual Postman Pete event are in for an improved experience thanks to the ingenuity of a local Boy Scout who has reached Eagle status.

Boy Scouts hoping to become Eagle Scouts, the highest rank attainable by a male Scout, are tasked with completing a project that demonstrates leadership and benefits the community. Joseph DiBiasi, a 17-year-old Comsewogue High School senior and member of Boy Scout Troop 1776 said he has been attending the historical society’s Postman Pete festivities since he was a kid, an event that gives kids the chance to hand over a letter to be delivered to Santa around Christmas time.

Those interested line up to head into the building on the rear of the historical society’s property on North Country Road in Miller Place, where they head in when it’s their turn. The small building on the same grounds as the larger William Miller House has two points of entry, though the rear exit had about an 18-inch drop off from the doorway to a layer of rocks, making it unsafe for youngsters to utilize. Instead, a logjam would regularly take place at the main point of entry where those entering would have to saunter around those exiting.

“When kids would come in and see Postman Pete, bring their letter, and then they’d have to make a U-turn and go back out,” society treasurer Gerard Mannarino said Sept. 29 during the ceremony to unveil DiBiasi’s completed project. “It’s not an area that you can have traffic in both directions. We always wanted to be able to open the back door and have them go out, but we had the danger because the step down from there was big and it was just a big rock.”

For his project, DiBiasi drew up plans and constructed a deck, equipped with a railing, to make the rear of the building accessible and usable. The project required the drawing of plans, approval from the Town of Brookhaven building department and Historic District Advisory Committee, some redrawing and reimagining and lots of hard work through the spring and summer.

“In 2016 when Gerrard originally showed this to me I was like, ‘Wow, this needs to be fixed,’” DiBiasi said. “As a kid I went to Postman Pete and I just felt like, when I was a kid it was a big thing for me. So I thought this would be a great addition.”

Greg Muroff, DiBiasi’s Scoutmaster, said he was proud of his Scout’s diligence and dedication to the project, as it also exposed him to some of the “red tape” involved with getting construction projects approved by local government.

“It came out better than I saw in the drawing,” Muroff said. “I knew this was going to be a bit challenging for him but Joseph definitely persevered. He aspires to be an engineer at some point in his life. He definitely has a mathematical mind, and he put pen to paper.”

Brookhaven town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) attended the event and presented proclamations to DiBiasi and Michael Muroff, another Scout from Troop 1776 who presented his completed project that day.

“We always like to take time out of our day to recognize and honor our Scouts,” Bonner said. “So much attention is focused on the bad things our kids are doing and not on the good things they’re doing. It makes me feel good to know that we’re surrounded by some really great kids.”

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The Comsewogue Warriors varsity football team steamrolled its way to a homecoming victory Oct. 6, dismantling Rocky Point 55-0. The win moves the Warriors to 4-1 this season. Comsewogue will be back in action Oct. 13 at Miller Place for a 2:30 p.m. game.

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.

School board President John Swenning honors Nicolas Robinson, Tyler Jensen, Jarrett and Jaeden Whitfield and Bernadette Reyes during graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Anthony Petriello

Applause could be heard far and wide June 21 at Comsewogue High School’s graduation ceremony.

Nicholas Robinson waves to the crowd during graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

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.

Bernadette Reyes receives a certificate from school board President John Swenning during 2018 graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

“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.

Whitfield twins Jarrett and Jaeden look at a certificate with classmate Tyler Jensen during 2018 graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

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.