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Desiree Keegan

Gerry Mackedon has become a swinging success, finishing qualifier nine strokes ahead of second

Gerry Mackedon swings away during a St. John’s University tournament. photo by Big East/Stephen B. Morton

By Desirée Keegan

Gerry Mackedon can be found swinging his golf club until the sun sets.

Once the Port Jefferson native’s shift is over at the local country club, the St. John’s University sophomore takes time to perfect his game.

“Gerry spends six or seven hours a day maintaining his game and training for his tournament schedule,” said his father Bill Mackedon, a Professional Golfers’ Association of America head golf professional at Port Jefferson Country Club. “During the summer months, unlike with most kids, there’s really been no taking the summer off. He’s very dedicated to giving himself the opportunity to, and improving, his skills to become the best golfer he can be.”

Gerry Mackedon competes for the Red Storm as a freshman. Photo from St. John’s Athletics Communications

Gerry Mackedon is coming off some recent successful tournaments, and is currently competing in the New York State Men’s Amateur Golf Championship at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course to prepare himself for the USGA U.S. Amateur golf tournament at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California, Aug. 14 to 20.

Last month he won the 2017 U.S. Amateur Championship sectional qualifying round at Huntington Country Club with a 131 36-hole performance — nine strokes under par and ahead of the second-place finishers at even par.

“I am deeply honored by this accomplishment and hope I can represent Port Jefferson Country Club by playing my best golf ever,” Mackedon said in a country club statement. “I am extremely thankful to all of the members who have shown me support in many ways during the last few weeks.”

Winning by that margin is something St. John’s University head coach, Mal Galletta, said is an impressive achievement.

“No matter what his score is in relation to par, to win anything by nine shots in golf shows tremendous ability to put yourself way ahead of the competition,” he said. “His ability to go low, too — it really shows that he’s not just comfortable with winning by one. Not many players can do that or have that mind-set, and I think that’s going to bode well for him in his future.”

Mackedon also placed first at the Michael Hebron championship, the Long Island Golf Association’s top amateur stroke play, Aug. 1 at Bethpage Black.

“It’s nice to play a tough golf course like that — Riviera is a tough golf course as well,” he said. “I still have a lot of work to do so playing well in that tournament gives me some confidence.”

“He was always a top player and he’s so focused and very dedicated to the game.”

— Bob Spira

Mackedon began swinging the club seriously at the age of 10, but was a tri-sport athlete at Ward Melville, playing baseball and basketball.

“I think children should play multiple sports,” the standout golfer’s father said. “It enhances their abilities in each. I think it helped in his development as a golfer.”

Although the swing for baseball is different than golf, the Ward Melville graduate tried out for the varsity golf team in seventh grade, and made the team.

“His stroke was good and he had a great straight ball — at that stage he just needed to work on his mental game,” Ward Melville head coach Bob Spira said. “He was always a top player and he’s so focused and very dedicated to the game.”

Mackedon captured the Suffolk County individual title by shooting a 145, three strokes over par, and also led Ward Melville to its second-straight Suffolk County team championship his senior year. He finished second in the state tournament — one stroke behind first.

He also competed in the renowned American Junior Golf Association circuit, where he shot an average of 77.3 per round, and placed first in both U.S. challenge cups — the Long Island and Northeast junior classics. He took second place in the 2015 Met PGA future series at Bethpage Red, finished third in the 2015 Met PGA future series at Eisenhower Park White and carded a 64 to post another first-place showing at the Met PGA junior event.

“He has a natural talent and that ability to make it look easy.”

— Mal Galletta

“Gerry’s ability to go low is very special,” said Jim White, a Port Jefferson Country Club member and former Long Island caddie scholarship winner. “To win U.S. Amateur sectional qualifying medalist honors by nine strokes is unheard of. He’s a great kid.”

Bill Mackedon said he and his son practiced on his short game for the first two years as the young golfer’s body changed month to month, before adding to his repertoire.

“The initial training and development was to make him an outstanding player around the greens,” the father said. “Then we worked on his full swing and training him to play at the highest level he could possibly play at.”

The head pro said his son’s determination never wavered.

“He stayed within the Mackedon realm when it comes to instruction, but he’s a student of the game,” he said. “He studies the swing — he does what he needs to do. In my opinion, he out trains and outthinks most athletes on the golf course and I think that’s why he’s been so successful.”

He learned from not only his father, who won numerous PGA section events and three player of the year awards while still holding three course records, but also from his grandfather, a head professional for more than 35 years.

Gerry Mackedon winning the 2017 U.S. Amateur Championship qualifier at Huntington Country Club. Photo from Bill Mackedon

Galletta said he sees the work put in, as his athlete came away with a one-hole playoff win for the Connecticut Cup Championship in October — just a month into his college career.

“He has a natural talent and that ability to make it look easy,” he said. “Besides his playing record, I was really impressed with the length he can hit the ball, even in high school. He’s committed to the team and wants the team to win just as much, if not more than he’d like to see himself win.”

His achievements have helped him proudly continue his family’s legacy.

“My wife Michele and I are very excited of this segue into possibly playing beyond college golf,” the college coach said. “I think it’s the beginning of a very bright future for Gerry.”

At the Riviera Country Club, he will be competing in the USGA championship won by the likes of Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

“I just hope Gerry enjoys the experience out there,” Galletta said. “Even people who are just part-time golfers, or even those who don’t know Bill or Gerry, should rally around him and be proud of that fact that someone is doing well enough at that age to compete on a national level. It’s a top-notch professional championship setup, and having competed in it myself I know it’s a different feeling than anything else he’s ever competed in. I hope he takes it all in and if he puts his head to the fact that he can do well, besides just thinking about the fantastic achievement of qualifying, I think big things are coming his way.”

H.E.L.P. International student-athletes boast new uniforms donated from Smithtown school district. Photo from Kimberly Williams

By Desirée Keegan

Athletes in the Smithtown school district have something in common with students in Uganda thanks to the efforts of several educators from across Long Island.

Carisa Eye, a Smithtown High School East varsity field hockey assistant coach and Nesaquake Middle School lacrosse head coach, is the latest educator to get inspired to give uniforms to the H.E.L.P. International school in Masese, Uganda.

Smithtown physical education teacher Carisa Eye helped send over the most recent batch of uniforms to Uganda. Photo from Kimberly Williams

“The things we take for granted over here like uniforms, that are so easily available to us in our school district, are things that kids don’t get in other parts of the world,” Eye said. “The little things go a long way. It makes you feel good to see these kids in our jerseys, and it shows it doesn’t take much to make someone’s day. I want my athletes to understand that.”

Eye originally asked Smithtown administration to coordinate a donation to send to Ghana, after a friend and former Smithtown student, who teaches in the William Floyd school district, asked for help through Facebook. Eye was able to collect a boxful of uniforms with the help of Smithtown athletic director Pat Smith, but her friend could only take some of what she was given. She came across another Facebook post, a press release regarding Smithtown West marine science teacher Kimberly Williams and the work she’d done with her sister-in-law Carolyn Ferguson, and Eye asked Smith to connect her to Williams.

“We do have a bunch of older uniforms we don’t use, and this is a great way of putting them to use for a good cause,” Smith said. “It’s really nice to see some of our teachers wanting to get on board and we hope the kids, who know what we’re doing, can appreciate what we have here.”

The athletic director hopes the district can continue its involvement with H.E.L.P.

“Seeing the photos they look like a team — they were arm-in-arm and you can tell it made such a difference,” he said. “It’s a great thing for us to be involved in. If we can continue to do this for underprivileged kids, we will, and I hope we can.”

While the idea originated with Ferguson’s former Rockville Centre assistant superintendent Delia Garrity, who helped form the school in Uganda with her husband Peter in 2010, she said she was thrilled to hear of the spread of generosity.

Some of the Smithtown uniform donations from physical education teacher Carisa Eye went to students in Ghana. Photo from Carisa Eye

“It’s all word of mouth, which is amazing,” said Ferguson, a Rockville Centre physical education teacher. “The reach has been incredible.”

Garrity, who just returned from one of her trips to Uganda, said her student-athletes’ transformation has been palpable since being outfitted in the gear.

“When we began our athletic program, our children wore whatever clothing they had — which was not much,” she said. “They played with bare feet and kicked a dilapidated soccer ball. A soccer ball was used for volleyball with players hitting the ball over an imaginary net. When we received donations of athletic supplies and uniforms from Rockville Centre and Smithtown schools, among others, our kids were over the top with joy.”

She described some of the changes she’d seen in the young athletes since they were given the uniforms.

“They have more confidence, more belief in themselves as a team, more motivation to practice and a stronger work ethic,” she said. “Our teams win most local tournaments in soccer, volleyball, netball and track and field. Other schools do not want to play against H.E.L.P. Primary in the opening rounds of any tournament because it’s become a powerhouse.”

H.E.L.P. International school’s soccer team in Uganda received the first Smithtown uniform donation in 2015. Photo above from Delia Garrity

The idea of Smithtown contributing to the cause began when Ferguson was talking with Williams during a Christmas dinner. Also in charge of equipment and uniforms in her district, Ferguson detailed how she’d helped Garrity collect jerseys since 2013. Moved by her sister-in-law’s involvement, Williams asked for a donation from Smith, and the first batch was sent over from Smithtown in 2015.

“I think if someone is getting rid of something it should go somewhere before the garbage,” Williams said. “When resources are so limited, there’s always someone who needs it, and I work hard to make sure my kids understand that. Whether it’s uniforms or composition notebooks.”

Ferguson said the jerseys mean more to the children in Uganda than just the ability to play sports.

“Wearing the same uniform gives them pride and it encourages them to keep going,” she said. “That sense of community that perhaps they don’t normally have.”

Eye said the program also gives her pride in where she grew up and now works.

H.E.L.P. International student-athletes boast new uniforms donated from Smithtown school district. Photo from Kimberly Williams

“I love my teams and I love my town,” she said. “Smithtown has always been supportive, especially of athletics, so it didn’t surprise me when I sent an email and they got back to me right away. They’re always willing to help.”

She said she was moved seeing photos of the smiling faces of Ugandan children donning the red and blue.

“It makes me cry,” Eye said. “They wash their uniforms and lay them out to dry on rocks like prized possessions. I’m going to try to keep donating every year and have my teams participate.”

Williams already handed over another box to Ferguson that has been sitting and waiting on her dining room table. Ferguson will pass the donations, which came from one of William’s former students who teaches in Maryland, over to Garrity to take on her next trip, and the cycle will continue.

“It’s connecting kids through the uniforms,” Williams said. “Smithtown is developing the whole athlete — not just their sports abilities. That makes me thrilled to be part of this.”

For more information on H.E.L.P. International or to find out how to get involved, visit www.help-international.org.

Kerrin Maurer reflects on time playing for team Italy in World Cup

Kerrin Maurer competes in the World Cup for team Italy. Photo from Kerrin Maurer

A Setauket native is spreading her love of lacrosse across the globe.

Kerrin Maurer, a St. Anthony’s High School and Duke University graduate, arrived home from Guilford, England with a revived passion for her favorite pastime after playing for team Italy in its first Federation of International Lacrosse Rathbones World Cup appearance. Despite her competitive nature, she said she enjoyed her time teaching Italian children about the game more so than the actual tournament.

“Being able to play the sport I love while traveling and helping to grow the game was a unique opportunity,” she said. “We want to help Italy sustain the sport in the country for as long as possible.”

Kerrin Maurer earned a most valuable player nod following one of team Italy’s wins. Photo from Kerrin Maurer

When she did step onto the field, Maurer shined.

The midfielder earned Most Valuable Player honors twice during pool play, and concluded the World Cup tournament with 61 draw controls. The former Duke All-American tallied 21 goals and 20 assists for the second-most points in the tournament. In the eight games played, she caused three turnovers.

“She killed the draw,” team Italy head coach and University of Massachusetts women’s lacrosse head coach Angela McMahon said. “She was scoring a ton, setting up her teammates, communicating and being a leader. We don’t get a lot of practices so it was a work in progress and she helped the whole team improve. She really stepped up.”

Maurer performed especially well in an 18-17 win over Haudenosaunee. The teams battled back and forth, entering halftime tied 10-10, but Italy pulled through with an 18-17 victory. Maurer turned in three goals, four assists and eight draw controls to help spearhead the attack.

“I haven’t got to play in a while, so just playing again was a ton of fun,” Maurer said. “Every game was super competitive, which was awesome.”

The two-time All-American graduated from Duke in 2014 as the program’s leader in assists with 119. A three-time Tewaaraton Award nominee, an award given to the best collegiate player, Maurer graduated second in Duke history in career points with 280 and tied for fourth in career goals with 161, while finishing on a 47-game point scoring streak. She helped the Blue Devils to four NCAA quarterfinal appearances, and reached the semifinals in 2015 after topping Princeton University in the quarterfinals.

Since graduating with a degree in political science, she was named an assistant coach at Division I Mount Saint Mary’s University in Maryland, and this month, will begin a new venture as an assistant at Princeton. Maurer is currently completing her master’s degree in sports management, and said she was excited to also be able to hone her coaching skills during the FIL tournament.

“Learning the proper technique from successful coaches has helped me grow my love for the game and want to teach others the way I’ve been taught.”

—Kerrin Maurer

“I think seeing the game on an international level, seeing what everyone else is doing and the different systems is helpful,” she said. “You see these different strategies and plays and it’s good to learn and study.”

Her teammate Gabby Capuzzi from Pennsylvania, who is currently a coach at the United States Naval Academy, thought the team benefited from having coaches on its roster. She first met her Setauket friend during tryouts in Italy when she let her borrow a pair of her gloves.

“She’s a tough, hard-nosed Long Island player,” Capuzzi said. “She’s not selfish, she fed me most of my goals and she’s a team player, but she’ll take her looks. She’s a good heads-up player.”

Maurer said she’s thankful for her time spent playing lacrosse in Setauket at an early age. Because of the coaching and guidance she received, Maurer said she felt like she was able to bring a lot of skill over to Italy and the team.

“I think I’m really fortunate that Setauket is such a hotbed for lacrosse,” she said. “Feeding off a ton of knowledge within the area about lacrosse and the excitement around the game has helped fuel my passion along the way. Learning the proper technique from successful coaches has helped me grow my love for the game and want to teach others the way I’ve been taught.”

Team Italy wasn’t sure if it would even be able to compete in the FIL. There were concerns as to whether Italian Americans would be allowed to play for the team, and when the news broke they would be allowed, the midfielder couldn’t be happier.

“It was surreal,” she said of being a small-town girl playing on such a big stage. “When they did make the decision and I was chosen to play, it was a dream come true. It’s the highest level you can play at.”

Kerrin Maurer teaches native Italians in Italy. Photo from Kerrin Maurer

Italy finished 11th out of 25 teams. It was the only country making its first appearance to finish in the top half of the list, with other first-timers like Switzerland (19), Mexico (20), Sweden (21), China (22), Spain (23), Columbia (24) and Belgium (25) also making inaugural entrances.

“Coming in 11th, even though it may not sound like a big deal, was huge for us,” Maurer said. “We finished the highest out of any team making its debut ever in the tournament’s history. I think that in itself, and seeing the Italian citizens improve over the course of this process, that’s what it’s about for us.”

Her teammate agreed, adding that the changing atmosphere is current exciting for lacrosse.

“The most rewarding part of all of this is growing our sport to hopefully make a push for the Olympics in a few years,” Capuzzi said. “In January 2013 we were teaching 20-year-olds how to catch and throw who had never picked up a stick before. We’re usually working with youth at camps here in America and it’s exciting to get youth and club programs up and running in Italy. I think we sparked that.”

For now, Maurer is just focused on continuing to spread the love.

“We’re trying to keep it fresh,” she said. “We’re trying to get viewership up and spread it around the world. Everyone’s excited to learn the sport and it brings a renewed energy when I step out onto the field with them — remembering why you play the game.”

The William Miller House is located at 75 North Country Road in Miller Place. File photo

A Gardiner grant is growing one local historical society’s reach.

The Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society announced the approval of a $4,750 grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, which will be used to upgrade and enhance the format and capabilities of its website and social media platforms.

The Daniel Hawkins House was donated to the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society. Photo from Edna Giffen

“The website itself will allow us to better communicate with our members and the general public, and to build awareness about our society and the local history that we are stewards for,” historical society trustee Matthew Burke said. “Once the upgraded website is unveiled, we anticipate launching multiple social media outlets that will seamlessly connect with and populate our website to further enhance our outreach efforts.”

The Miller Place Historical Society was founded in 1979. In 1982, the name was changed to Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society to reflect the membership and the close ties that the two communities have had since the 1600s. Burke filled out the application, emphasizing how upgrading can continue to raise awareness of the historical significance of the hamlets and the buildings the society owns.

The main property is the 1720 William Miller House — the namesake of the town and the oldest house in Miller Place. Its listing on the National Register of Historic Places enabled the eventual preservation and restoration of the structure beginning in the early 1980s. In 1998, the Daniel Hawkins House, located just east of the William Miller House, both on on North Country Road, was donated to the society. It has undertaken a major fund drive to finance the restoration of the historic gem, with the hopes of using it an archival library and exhibition space. Doing this, will also allow for the William Miller House to become a living museum.

Becoming connected with the Gardiner foundation, according to Burke, could help the society in this process.

“We like to see organizations try to become more sustainable by broadening their outreach and embracing technology to make regional history more accessible.”

—Kathryn Curran

“We’re thrilled not only to have received the financial assistance, but to start developing a relationship with the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation,” he said. “Executive Director Kathryn Curran has already introduced us to other members of the Long Island preservation and history communities who may help us.”

Besides handing out the capacity-building grant, networking, according to Curran, is part of what the foundation is all about.

“We want historical societies to link to each other, so if somebody likes going to a Revolutionary War house or Civil War site, they would want to go to another — their success would be built on each other to create tourism,” she said. “We also want them to come to us in the future for funding for different kinds of projects to build their base, their audience and their supporters.”

She said history is hot — noting a rise in genealogy searching and finding different connections to their communities — so she said this is a good time for historical societies to be growing.

“We like to see organizations try to become more sustainable by broadening their outreach and embracing technology to make regional history more accessible to a new audience,” Curran said. “Historical societies don’t like change, and they really need to grow. These investments by the foundation are there specifically to help them become more self-sufficient and have a broader outreach. It’s all about making history an important part of the community.”

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

Receives innaugural USA Fencing National High School Coach of the Year honor

Fencing coach Jeff Salmon receives the first USA Fencing High School Coach of the Year award from former Penn State University head coach Emmanuil Kaidanov. Photo from Jennie Salmon

Jeff Salmon is an accomplished fencer in his own right, but he now he has proof that his prodigies are receiving coaching that is second to none in the United States.

The acclaimed fencer and head coach of the boys team at Ward Melville High School was named the inaugural winner of the USA Fencing High School Coach of the Year award.

“The word honor doesn’t even come close,” said Salmon, a Mount Sinai resident and owner of Mission Fencing Center in Rocky Point. “It’s a cool award, it’s an amazing honor and it makes you reflect on a lifetime of work.”

Jeff Salmon teaches his daughter Olivia out on the strip. Photo from Jennie Salmon

Eighteen individuals from high schools in six different states were nominated for the prestigious award.

Under Salmon’s leadership, Ward Melville’s teams have continued a winning tradition, including capturing the 2016-17 Long Island championship. The program has maintained a 158-match winning streak that ranks among the most impressive in interscholastic athletics nationwide.

“Jeff’s done so much for the kids here, but promoted the sport throughout Suffolk County, the state and the nation,” Ward Melville athletic director Peter Melore said. “Jeff’s a fantastic coach and he’s been honored in so many ways on local levels, it was time for him to be recognized at the national level.”

The Comsewogue High School graduate who originally competed in foil made the switch to sabre at Penn State University. Although he was a Suffolk County champion and Empire State Games gold medalist while he was a Warrior, the switch proved to work in Salmon’s favor.

“The Penn State team had strong foilers and could use a sabre fencer,” he said. “I was a little disappointed with my achievements in foil, so I was willing to accept the new challenge. It benefited me to switch and I adapted quite well.”

During his years as a Nittany Lion, he trained under Emmanuil Kaidanov, a five-time U.S. national team coach and Wes Glon, an Olympic and World Championship coach. Salmon placed in the top 12 as an individual in the NCAA championships and was one of two sabre fencers chosen for NCAA training at the German Olympic Center in 1987. He was an assistant coach for the Penn State fencing team during two national championship seasons before he brought his expertise to Ward Melville by starting a fencing club in 1995. In 1999, by popular demand, the club became a varsity team.

His athletes are consistently among the top on Long Island, and his team has won 13 league, county and Long Island titles. Salmon has won Suffolk County Coach of the Year honors seven times and USA Fencing Long Island High School Coach of the Year three times, but this is his first national achievement, one that many said they thought was long overdue.

“I wasn’t surprised because I know never to be surprised by what he does. His vast pool of knowledge and understanding of the sport and his nature of innovation is everything you need in a coach.”

— Danny Solomon

“I know he is one of the best coaches in the country, so it is a no-brainer to choose him,” rising Ward Melville senior Danny Solomon said. “I wasn’t surprised because I know never to be surprised by what he does. His vast pool of knowledge and understanding of the sport and his nature of innovation is everything you need in a coach.”

Solomon, who is a county champion, has also won four national championships, including at this year’s Junior Olympics, one international competition and many national and international medals. He is a two-time USA Fencing cadet team member and has gone to the cadet world championships twice.

He credits all of his success to his, at times, intimidating coach.

“I was terrified of him,” he joked. “Imagine being a seventh-grader seeing this huge, scary, bald guy flailing swords around. It would scare anyone.”

But the sabre competitor said things drastically changed over time.

“He is the reason I am the fencer I am today,” Solomon said. “He has definitely pushed me everyday. He can be both serious and friendly, but is always trying to get the best out of you.”

Soon-to-be University of Notre Dame freshman Jack Rohan agreed.

“He always tries his best to relate to his fencers to the point where he is not a coach but a friend,” he said. “He has been a huge contributor to my improvement in fencing and definitely deserves such an award.”

The sabre fencer, who joined the Patriots in eighth grade, was named All-Long Island last year after finishing with the best record in the county (35-3). He also won gold in sabre at the Jeff Wolfe Holiday Tournament.

His older sister Alexa played for Salmon, so Rohan was familiar with his longtime coach, and said he decided to give up focusing on his primary sport, lacrosse, to fence.

“On the Ward Melville team we commonly refer to him as ‘the magic’ since talented fencers may graduate, but he is always able to put together a championship-caliber team,” Jack Rohan said of the decorated coach.

Jeff Salmon with acclaimed protégé Danny Solomon after he won the Konin Cadet World Cup in Poland last year. File photo from Ward Melville school district

Melore, who stepped in as athletic director a couple of years ago, is proud to have Salmon as part of the program.

“He’s poised, professional, smart, passionate about the sport and really good with the kids,” he said. “He’s a great teacher of the sport. A lot is done in preparation, before and during matches, and he knows just when to give support and strategy to our athletes. It’s reassuring to have a veteran, and rapport is everything. We’re very proud he have this great program and tradition that Jeff built and I feel confident that our kids are getting taught the right way.”

Salmon said the joy he gets in seeing his students achieve their goals means more to him than any award or achievement.

“As the years went on, I found that I had a lot more satisfaction just changing the kids lives and building the confidence in them and having them grow as human beings,” he said. “Certainly the tool is fencing, but I find that that’s been the real joy in the journey.”

He reflected on similar ideas when he gave his acceptance speech, after receiving the award from his former coach Kaidanov.

“Not everyone is going to be an All-American, not everyone is going to be an Olympian, but what we do as high school coaches is take kids that have their hat over their head, their hands in their pockets, and we have them stand up straight and be confident in themselves,” he said. “This sport is hard — really, really hard. Parents really need to understand how hard this is mentally, physically. And that little success that they had makes them the men and women that they become. It gives them the confidence to go on in life — whether they achieve great things in fencing or just get that ‘E’ [lowest fencer rating] that they’ve been wanting so badly. It’s so important.”

Stony Brook women's lacrosse head coach Joe Spallina rounds up his team. Photo from Stony Brook University athletics

Joe Spallina has done what many would deem impossible.

In six short years, the Mount Sinai resident and Stony Brook University women’s lacrosse coach has turned the university’s program from a U.S. Lacrosse Magazine RPI-ranked No. 62 team, into the No. 2 team in the country.

“He knows what he’s doing,” said Frankie Caridi, 2014 Stony Brook graduate and former goalkeeper for the Seawolves. “His coaching style, his philosophy and his ideas are allowing them to get to where he wants to bring that program.”

Stony Brook women’s lacrosse coach Joe Spallina talks plays with his Seawolves. Photo from Stony Brook University athletics

Caridi played under Spallina as a freshman at Adelphi University. He had the opportunity to make the move to Stony Brook and encouraged Caridi, now associate head coach for the Adelphi Panthers, to make the move with him during her playing career.

“He was a great coach straight from the beginning,” she said. “Just playing for him at Adelphi that one year was amazing. The fact that he believed in the few of us that went with him that we’d be able to change the program pretty quickly — he sold us.”

Caridi said she was not only sold on making the switch because of his vision of building a national championship caliber team, but because he was honest about what he was looking for from his players and what he thought they could be.

“He shot the truth,” she said. “He’s someone who is able to get the most out of you. He demands you to be the best you can be … every single day. I respected him so much as a coach, because he respects us as players.”

Her first conversation with him when being recruited to play for Adelphi was about if she wanted to win a national championship and be an All-American.

“He told me the opportunities that I had, and he let them play out,” she said. “I credit all of it to him.”

Caridi became one of the most prolific goalies in Stony Brook program history. Her .514 career save percentage is tops in the school’s record book, while her 5.91 goals-against average is the best among any goalie with at least 1,500 minutes played.

Stony Brook women’s lacrosse head coach Joe Spallina speaks with attack Kylie Ohlmiller. Photo from Stony Brook University athletics

The East Northport native won two America East championships and qualified for two NCAA tournaments, earning International Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association Third-Team All-American status in 2014. She was also named the Lacrosse Magazine and ILWomen.com Goalie of the Year, picked as the America East Defensive Player of the Year and nominee for the Tewaaraton Award, given to the most outstanding American lacrosse player.

Current Stony Brook attack and soon-to-be senior Kylie Ohlmiller also bought what Spallina was selling.

“He told me I could live out my dreams here,” she said. “He told me I could win a national championship in my time here, I’ll be the face of women’s lacrosse and on the cover of magazines. And it’s all happening now. He painted my dream in my head for me and has been making it all possible.”

She agreed with Caridi that he’s been able to shape the athletes to get the program to where it is today.

“I think if I were to go anywhere else, and a lot of my teammates would say the same thing, that we might not be the level of lacrosse players that we are or even the people that we are,” Ohlmiller said. “We want to give our fans — all the little girls who play lacrosse — the dream of coming to Division I lacrosse games and watching a good, Top 5 Division I program play and compete for a national championship.”

“He’s someone who is able to get the most out of you. He demands you to be the best you can be … every single day.”

— Frankie Caridi

The Islip resident said she wants to be a coach one day, and Spallina is the inspiration.

“He’s able to be stern and be authoritative, but at the same time he can throw a joke in there like he’s one of your best friends,” she said. “He’s able to make it fun, and that’s ultimately the reason we play. It’s to have fun and win.”

He and Ohlmiller were big proponents in recruiting her younger sister Taryn, who will be a sophomore in the upcoming school year. As the leading scorers on the team, the two are referred to by their head coach as a couple of the “big dogs” on the team. Kylie Ohlmiller’s 164 points shattered the previous Division I record of 148. Her 86 assists are also a new DI record. She was American East Offensive Player of the Year, was named a Tewaaraton finalist, also an IWLCA ILWomen Attacker of the Year. Her younger sister led all Division I freshmen and ranked seventh in the nation with 98 points last season. The attacker was named America East Rookie of the Year and an IWLCA All-American.

“Once you’re one of his big dogs he wants to be closer to you,” Taryn Ohlmiller said. “He does one-on-one workouts with us, he gets you out there early, doing shooting drills. He cares about you as an individual as much as he cares about the team.”

Stony Brook women’s lacrosse head coach Joe Spallina walks the sideline during a game. Photo from Stony Brook University athletics

The team-first mentality that the Ohlmillers and the Seawolves have bought into under Spallina, who is also the head coach of the Long Island Lizards, propelled Stony Brook to new heights in 2017, as the Seawolves went 20-2 and advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals – all new high-water marks in program history. The team broke Division I single-season records for assists (222) and points (576) in 2017 while leading the nation in scoring defense (7.27) and scoring margin (8.82).

For his leadership, in turning the program around and becoming the winningest coach in program history, Spallina has been named America East Coach of the Year in 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017, and was named IWLCA Coach of the Year for the Mid-Atlantic Region following this season. He also garnered several coach of the year honors with the Lizards.

“He deserves all of the recognition — he deserves the world and so much more,” Kylie Ohlmiller said of her head coach. “Last year we were ranked second in the nation behind No. 1 undefeated University of Maryland, and that’s just in a couple of years — it takes decades for some coaches to do. He’s doing what a lot of coaches can’t or haven’t done, and it’s really cool to see. It’s insane how he’s flipped the culture of Stony Brook athletics.”

Smithtown East lax player scores three goals, SWR's Chris Gray adds two

Smithtown East's Connor DeSimone hoists up his Under Armour All-America MVP trophy. He scored three goals and added two asssits in North's win. Photo from Connor DeSimone

By Desirée Keegan

In a game that was likely to feature a potent offense — with 44 of the country’s best rising college men’s lacrosse freshmen on the field — it was Smithtown East’s own Connor DeSimone that led the way.

He tallied a hat trick and two assists, and was among 11 scorers that were part of an aggressive North attack that beat South, 18-16, in the Under Armour All-America senior boys all-star game at Towson University July 1. The victory snapped the South’s six-game win streak.

Smithtown East’s Connor DeSimone looks for an open lane. Photo from Connor DeSimone

“My teammates were just looking for me the entire time,” DeSimone said. “They definitely did most of the work, and I give them a lot of credit.”

North went on a 9-1 run in the first half to go into halftime up by six, and the Johns Hopkins University commit helped pace that burst. After  North withstood a man-down situation four minutes into the second quarter, DeSimone picked up a turnover deep in his own offensive end and pushed it into the goal to tie the score at 6-6.

Soon after, DeSimone gave North its lead off an assist from attackman Tehoka Nanticoke, who will play next season at the University at Albany. Then, DeSimone widened the advantage to two when he fed midfielder Matt Licciardi, a Cornell University commit, for a score.

“I was just in the right place at the right time,” DeSimone said. “Competing against the best in the country was something special. Being there was such a great experience.”

Navy commit Nate Buller later powered through the zone with a defender guarding close to his shoulder for an overhead score, but South, which opened the second-quarter scoring in less than a minute, didn’t register another point for the remainder of the half.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray races into South’s zone with the ball. Photo from Chris Gray

Instead, DeSimone completed his hat trick and four of  North’s 10 first-half scorers added points.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray and teammate Jackson Reid followed DeSimone with one apiece in the span of about a minute.

After Gray found the back of the net, the entire North team congregated in South’s defensive territory, even the bench players, and played duck-duck-goose with the Boston University-bound attackman. It was one of the multiple elaborate celebrations North rolled out during the win.

“It was on the fly,” Gray said of the celebration. “My teammates did a great job all game passing me the ball and every time I shot the ball I tried to use the best angle I had, wether it was a regular shot or a backhand shot. The celebrations play a big part in the UA game because its all about having fun.”

The attackman said he also liked practicing and competing with, and against the top talents in the nation.

“Practice was awesome because everyone was so talented drills were very fast paced and the ball rarely hit the floor, which was very cool to see,” Gray said. “During the game I felt our team did really well sharing the ball and hustling. Everyone was giving it 110 percent and looking for the open man, which made the game so much fun.”

DeSimone made the underclassmen rosters as a sophomore and a junior. The midfielder capped off his high school career being selected as a senior and bringing home the MVP trophy tied for a game-high five points.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray plays duck-duck-gooose with his teammates following a goal. Photo from Chris Gray

“It was a life-changing, incredible experience,” he said. “It’s a little taste of what college lacrosse will be like and I just loved being out there. There’s no better way to end my high school career.”

The stands were packed with people from all over the country, including every underclassmen group competing during the weekend. Seeing the younger fans there brought back memories for DeSimone, who was in the stands in 2011 when his older brother was on the team.

“Growing up you look at the kids in the senior game, and say, ‘I wanna be that guy,’” DeSimone said. “We’re the best players from our class, from our schools, so seeing a bunch of kids there and knowing I was once in the same shoes, it’s inspiring.”

He said being so passionate about the sport, earning the selection, competing and contributing during the winning game was a humbling experience.

“This event is the best event I’ve ever been at, and knowing I got selected to play with the best players in the country, it means the hard work has finally paid off,” DeSimone said. “Hopefully it’s just the start.”

By Desirée Keegan

Although North came out on the losing side, falling 16-15 to South July 1, Long Island athletes helped propel North to the first overtime game in Under Armour All-America girls’ lacrosse tournament history. The all-star game pits the best graduating high school lacrosse players in the country against each other every year.

Local lacrosse players Kelsey Huff, Sophia Triandafils, Emily Vengilio, Jamie Ortega, Shannon Kavanagh, Molly Carter and Hannah Van Middelem. Photo from Emily Vengilio

Mount Sinai’s Emily Vengilio and Hannah Van Middelem, Shoreham-Wading River’s Sophia Triandafils, Middle Country’s Jamie Ortega and Smithtown East’s Shannon Kavanagh were all local leaders chosen to play in the senior game.

“I was so excited when I got the call from Under Armour,” Triandafils said. “Long Island is one of the best areas for lacrosse. Everyone was so skilled and we all meshed together. This game was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve done involving lacrosse.”

The girls were treated like celebrities, being provided gear and getting their photos taken all weekend. Kavanagh was just excited to get out on the field one more time before traveling to the University of Florida.

“To have one last hoo-rah before heading off to college was the cherry on top of a great high school career,” she said.

University of North Carolina-bound Ortega and soon-to-be teammate Alli Mastroianni from New Jersey led North, which never trailed in the game, with three goals each. Kavanagh added a goal in the loss.

“We came out strong and really played fast and competitive, and didn’t stop fighting,” Ortega said. “I was happy with how I played and was even happier to add points to help our team compete against the South.”

Smithtown Easts Shannon Kavanagh carries the ball for North. Photo from Shannon Kavanagh

Mastroianni opened the scoring and positioned herself for game MVP honors, finishing with three goals, two assists and four draw controls. North built its early lead, going on a 4-1 run and upping its cushion to 9-5 with six minutes left. The lead, however, was thanks in large part to goalie Riley Hertford’s nine saves in the first 30 minutes — one shy of the record for most in the girls’ Under Armour All-America game.

South twice had to come back from significant deficits; they trailed 11-7 at halftime but came out of the gates strong, scoring five of the first six goals in the second period to knot things at 12-12. North again built a significant lead, going up 15-12 with 10:19 remaining after a pair of free position shots and an unassisted goal.

North had two opportunities for a late game-winning goal after Mastroianni won the last draw of regulation. Kavanagh shot high with one minute remaining, then Vengilio, who is headed to Pennsylvania State University, picked up a ground ball with six seconds remaining, but the team couldn’t get a look at the cage.

“We moved the ball in transition nicely and everyone was looking for that one more pass — we had some pretty nice defensive stops,” Kavanagh said. “But everyone was so good, so it was so much fun to be able to play against such good competition. If I could do the whole thing over again I would in a heartbeat.”

Van Middelem made five stops for North in the second half.

Sophia Triandafils, Emily Vengilio, Kelsey Huff and Shannon Kavanagh lisen up during halftime. Photo from Shannon Kavanagh

“We really got after it in the little time we had together,” she said. The team had three practices Friday before playing the game on Saturday. “It’s not hard to come together though when you have such talented lacrosse players playing together. I felt confident between the pipes knowing I had the top defenders in the country in front of me. It was an honor to be selected for such a prestigious event.”

Her Mount Sinai teammate was one of them, and Vengilio said she was glad to have shared the experience with her.

“It was really amazing to represent Long Island with all the girls I played Yellow Jackets with, and it was awesome that Hannah and I got to represent our hometown,” Vengilio said. “You’re out there playing with 44 of the best players in the country so obviously people are going to score goals and people are going to get stopped on defense. It was a great experience.”

Mount Sinai was the only school to have two players competing on the same team.

“With Mount Sinai being such a small spot on the map it’s great to be out there,” Vengilio said.

The win is just South’s fourth in the 12-year history of the game, and vengeance for North’s win last season.

“Lacrosse has meant the world to me since the day I picked up a stick for the first time,” Van Middelem said. “I have made lifelong friendships and memories from this sport.  It has helped me grow into the person I am today and has taught me so many life lessons. I couldn’t picture my life without lacrosse.”

The Under Armour 2017 senior girls lacrosse team representing the North contained a large amount of Long Island lacrosse players. Photo from Shannon Kavanagh

By Desirée Keegan

Local school districts took pride in their highly accomplished students at the top of the class this year. Last weekend, valedictorians and salutatorians from Miller Place, Mount Sinai,
Rocky Point and Shoreham-Wading River took to the stage to address their peers during the Class of 2017 commencement ceremonies.

Miller Place

William Sussman and David Argento were the school’s valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.

William SussmanSussman, who graduated with a 101.4 GPA, was a National Merit Scholar and Advanced Placement Scholar with Honor.  He was president of the Future Business Leaders of America and received U.S. State Sen. Kenneth LaValle’s (R-Port Jefferson Station) Youth Leadership Recognition Award. Enrolled in nine AP courses throughout his years at Miller Place, including AP Chemistry and college computer application, he served as the Mathletes team captain, and was a member of the National Honor Society and the Foreign Language National Honor Society.

He will attend Yale University in the fall to major in electrical engineering.

“I think the best way to put it is gratification,” Sussman said about being named valedictorian. “After years of putting in hours of work — staying up late to do all the homework and projects in addition to extracurriculars — it felt good to be recognized.

Sussman followed in the footsteps of his father, Dr. Howard Sussman, an associate professor of clinical family medicine at Stony Brook University School of Medicine and valedictorian of his own high school in 1988.

“It’s kind of exciting and poetic,” Dr. Sussman said. “He values education incredibly highly and he’s really gone above and beyond to learn all he can.”

David Argento

Argento, who is heading to Providence College in the fall to study finance on the school’s St. Thomas Aquinas scholarship, was named salutatorian with a 99.1 GPA. With a loaded schedule, he was a National Honor Society parliamentarian, co-captain of the varsity tennis team, an Eagle Scout, and was also a member of Mathletes, orchestra and a jazz combo musical group. Like the valedictorian, he has taken nine AP courses at Miller Place. Argento said he hopes to have the opportunity to run his own business someday.

Argento’s older brother Chris was valedictorian at the school in 2012. He said he never expected to be in the position he is now.

“It feels great, but I didn’t really have it as a goal to be salutatorian,” Argento said. “I just tried my best and it seemed to work out.”

He said he chose his college because of its similarity to Miller Place, which he called a very positive environment.

“Both schools are rather small, and I just felt very comfortable there right from the start,” he said.

Mount Sinai

At the top of Mount Sinai’s class are Ben May and Helene Marinello.

May, the school’s valedictorian, graduated with a 103.97 GPA, and is known for his environmental work. He was the founder of Mount Sinai’s Model United Nations and environmental outreach club, was on the Matheltes team, and was captain of the Ocean Bowl team, which won a national title this year. He took three AP classes as a sophomore, four as a junior and six his senior year.

Benjamin May

“The school was very receptive to me wanting to challenge myself academically,” he said. “Over the past three years we’ve made the school very sustainable [through the environmental outreach club]. We started a recycling program, we do annual cleanups with about 70 students cleaning up Cedar Beach.”

Outside of school, the valedictorian was also on the planning committee for the first Long Island Youth Conservation Summit and is the group’s current national communications coordinator, writing the emailed newsletter. Through the Sea Youth Rise Up campaign, he won a video contest last spring, was selected to travel to NYC and Washington D.C., where he participated in a live internet broadcast, met with the president of the United Nation’s general assembly and met with former President Barack Obama’s (D) environmental quality council.

“It was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, because with that meeting, we were pressing them to found a new national monument at the marine protection area called Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument,” May said of the new marine protected area Obama established last fall.

His passion is meeting with politicians and pressing for environmental changes. He plans to double major in international relations and economics at Pennsylvania State University this fall and plans to become proficient in six different languages.

“I could use that for international diplomacy through political advocacy when it comes to the environment, which is what I hope to do in the long run,” he said.

When he thinks about his time spent in Mount Sinai, and when asked how and why he’s striven for success for so long, May recalls the instant he knew he was chasing the No. 1 spot he’s in now.

Helene Marinello

In his AP World History class, for every chapter read, students needed to create an outline. Grades would be given from 1 to 5, depending on how much work seemed to be put in. May’s friend would spend half an hour on his assignment and get a 4, and May put in two hours with each assignment, and received at 5.

“Almost every single time we’d get the grades back, he’d ask me why I put in so much work — What matters getting that extra point?’” May recalled. “I just wanted it. I felt I knew I could get that extra point if I put in a little extra effort, and I kept that mindset throughout high school and put in that extra bit of time to get the better grade. It’s super fulfilling. It shows it pays to put in the extra work.”

Marinello graduated with a 102.04 GPA. She said high school has left her with many
memorable moments, but enjoyed a trip to Disney World this past March the most.

“I felt as though our whole school bonded as one large group, instead of the usual cliques,” she said. “I got to become closer with people I normally would not have talked to.”

She said she felt honored to be at the top of her class.

“The competition between class rank was very vigorous, so it is truly a privilege to be recognized for what I was able to accomplish,” she said. “Seeing all my hard work finally pay off, in a way other than just good grades, brought me great pride. These past 13 years at Mount Sinai have been an all-around learning experience that I don’t think any other school district could have given me. Between the amazing faculty at this district and the community that surrounds the school, I will never be able to forget the memories I have made.”

Rocky Point

At the top of Rocky Point’s Class of 2017 were Pooja Deshpande and Nicholas LoCastro.

Pooja Deshpande

Deshpande graduated with a 105.38 GPA and was a member of the National Honor Society,
vice president of the Math Honor Society, president of the Human Rights Club, the Interact Club and Thespian Society, was a mentor of the North Shore Youth Council’s Big Buddy Little Buddy program, which pairs high school students with younger ones, and tutored students in subjects ranging from mathematics to French.

Taking 10 AP courses, the valedictorian won the Principal’s Leadership Award, became an Advanced Placement Scholar with Honor, received the National Council of Teachers of English Achievement Award in writing and won numerous awards at the Long Island Science Congress. She’s also been involved in the school musical every year.

“I have grown so much over these past years, and I am so thankful to have been raised by such a community,” Deshpande said. “The Rocky Point School district has taught me that not only is being unique accepted, it is celebrated, and the differences that everyone has should be used to bring us closer together, as a strong community.”

Through the Interact Club, she  assisted in a Camp Pa Qau Tuck cleanup in Center Moriches, the school blood drive, fundraised for various organizations and was a mentor to students with various disabilities.

Nicholas LoCastro

“I have learned through these experiences that although I may not be able to change the world, I have the power to change a life, and to someone, that can mean a world of difference,” she said.

She will be attending Stony Brook University’s Honors College in the fall, majoring in neuroscience with a minor in mathematics, on the pre-medicine track.

Close behind was LoCastro, with a 105.13 GPA. Taking seven AP courses, he was also a National Merit Scholar, AP Scholar, was president of the Science Club, member of the honor society, math honor society and thespian society. He played Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound Of Music”, was in the tech crew for spring pocket theater, was a member of guitar club, participated in New York State Council of Administrators of Music Education festival mixed choir and Suffolk County Music Educators Association festival choir.

“Rocky Point has an excellent music and theater program,” he said. “It also let me broaden my horizons and perform in school musicals, something I had never done before high school but am glad I did.”

Natalie Bazata

Rocky Point also had an exhortation speaker in Natalie Bazata, who graduated with a 104.64 GPA.

For all four years, she participated in chamber orchestra and pit orchestra, ran the variety show, a demonstration of the immense musical and artistic talents of Rocky Point students, during her junior and senior year, and also dabbled in school organizations like human rights club, Be A Nicer Neighbor club and Big Buddy Little Buddy.

“The teachers and other staff of the Rocky Point district are caring, passionate and knowledgeable in their fields, and I am incredibly thankful to have crossed paths with them,” she said. “I usually have a huge fear of public speaking, but for some reason, I felt more proud and excited than scared in that moment. Words mean very much to me, so it was an honor to craft a speech that said things exactly how I wanted to say them in a
moment of celebration.”

Shoreham-Wading River

Anthony Peraza and Kyle Higgins finished at the top of the Class of 2017.

Anthony Peraza

Peraza, who continues a string of family success in the district, graduated with a 102.45 GPA.

He took 10 AP courses to be named an AP Scholar with Distinction, ran cross-country all four years, and was named captain, competed in winter  and spring track and played alto sax in jazz band.

“When I first got named, it felt surreal and didn’t really hit me for a while,” Peraza said. “I’ve kept expectations low — I knew I was high in my class, it wasn’t a focus during school.”

He will be majoring in biological engineering at Cornell University in the fall.

“I know academics are great and it will challenge me, which is what I want,” he said.

Higgins graduated with a 102.17 GPA. He took eight AP courses, to be named an AP Scholar with Honor, was vice president of the National Honor Society, a member of Natural Helpers Club,  a varsity lacrosse player,  a community program’s lacrosse coach, and was named academic All-County for varsity basketball and named second team All-Division in football.

Kyle Higgins

“I worked hard in school,” he said. “It was never really my aim to get to salutatorian, I just wanted to do the best that I could, so it was an added bonus just to be named that.”

He will attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall, majoring in aerospace engineering and will play lacrosse for the school. He was also the recipient of the  Thomas Cutinella Memorial Scholarship.

“There were definitely a lot of nights I stayed up way past when I should have because I had to get work done, but it’s just about being able to stay focused on what I was doing at the time and get done what I need to get done,” he said.

Kevin Redding contributed reporting

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