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Desiree Keegan

Cedar Beach waters in Mount Sinai run into the Long Island Sound. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Suffolk County has signed off on joining New York State in suing the Environmental Protection Agency for dumping dredged materials in Long Island Sound.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) announced last summer the state would be taking legal action against the EPA after in 2016 the agency moved to increase the number of open water dumping sites in the Sound from two to three, despite a call from state government leaders of both New York and Connecticut in 2005 to reduce and eventually eliminate the practice of dumping in the Sound.

The Eastern Long Island Sound Disposal Site, now a permanent open water site for the disposal of dredged materials, is midway between Connecticut and New York, and less than 1.5 nautical miles from Fishers Island, which is part of Southold Town and Suffolk County, despite technically being in Connecticut’s waters. The disposal site is in an area that had never before been used for open water disposal.

Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who represents Southold, Riverhead and communities in eastern Brookhaven, initiated the legislation directing Suffolk County to join the action against the EPA.

“This is another step in a decades-long fight to try and get the EPA to play by the rules,” Krupski said. “The Long Island Sound is threatened by pollution, warming waters and acidification, and the last thing that should be done is to dump potentially toxic substances into the estuary.”

Legislators Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) and Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) joined Krupski in sponsoring the legislation authorizing the county to join the lawsuit.

“For more than the 30 years, leaders from both shores of the Long Island Sound have invested heavily on a cooperative effort to restore its life and majesty,” said Hahn, the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee. “As such, the decision by our neighbor to the north to dump potentially toxic pesticides, heavy metals and industrial by-products into the Sound is nearly as dumbfounding as the Environmental Protection Agency’s willingness to allow it.”

Cuomo made the case against expanded dumping when the lawsuit was announced.

“We will continue to do everything in our power to protect New York’s environment, and with the EPA’s unfathomable and destructive decision to turn the eastern Long Island Sound into a dumping ground — now is the time for action,” Cuomo said in 2016. “We will establish that this designation not only poses a major threat to a significant commercial and recreational resource, but that it also undermines New York’s long-standing efforts to end dumping in our treasured waters.”

Last year, Brookhaven and Southold towns joined the lawsuit, which contends the EPA failed to adequately investigate alternatives to open water disposal and overestimated the need for the new site. It also alleges the Long Island Sound Dredged Material Management Plan, which was approved by the EPA, violates the Ocean Dumping Act and Coastal Zone Management Act, and cited a “failure to address environmental impacts on the Long Island Sound.” The body of water was designated an Estuary of National Significance by the EPA in 1988 and is recognized as an important economic engine for Suffolk County and all of Long Island, supporting both recreational and commercial businesses and contributing billions of dollars to the regional economy.

“We’re here to send a very strong message — that we are opposed to dumping in the Sound,” Romaine said during a press conference Aug. 28 at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai. “The State of New York and this governor, Andrew Cuomo, has done a great service to this state and to the residents of Long Island by working to enjoin, in the court, the EPA from allowing continued dumping in the Sound.”

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By Desirée Keegan

Joe Panico will be taking his football talents far from Miller Place.

The senior defensive tackle has been selected to participate in the American Football Worldwide ELITE High School program, which gives well-accomplished high school football players from throughout the United States an opportunity to travel around the world to compete against the best U19 football players from other countries. This month, Panico and the AFW team will visit Italy. Panico was the only student from New York state who was selected to participate in this opportunity.

Joe Panico. Photo from Miller Place School District

“This was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up — how many players will ever get the chance to play American football in another country?” said Panico. “I’m most looking forward to bonding with new
teammates from all over the country in such a short amount of time, playing for my country and getting to see what the skill level is of the Italian team.”

To qualify for the roster, players needed to have been a starter for their high school team on offense, defense or as a specialist and have a history clear of disciplinary measures. Prior to playing against the Italian team, AFW players will also participate in educational tours of Rome, Vatican City, Tuscany, Siena, Florence, Cinque Terre, Lake Como and Milan.

“We’re extremely proud of Joe and wish him the best,” said Miller Place head football coach Greg Murphy. “This opportunity will enable him to create lifelong connections and experience a different country and  culture in person.”

“Joe has been an incredible role model within the Miller Place school district, both as an accomplished
athlete and as an engaged community member, and we are honored to support him as he pursues this wonderful opportunity,” Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said. “We wish him success at the highest level.”

“I’m most looking forward to …  playing for my country and getting to see what the skill level is of the Italian team.”

— Joe Panico

AFW is committed to providing growth experiences that impact its participants, combining the positive  values developed through American football with the education and academic experiences international travel uniquely provides. The program’s goal is to help young people channel their passion for football, propel them toward a greater understanding of the world and explore new possibilities and dreams for their future.

Team USA head coach Jim Barnes selected players based on evaluations of highlight films.

“Assembling this team that will have the opportunity and responsibility to represent the USA and American football in Italy has been a rewarding experience in and of itself,” Barnes said. “It is inspiring getting to know some incredibly ambitious young men and their supportive families who commit to make big dreams become reality. This international education and athletic tour will be a tremendous growth experience that will expand the horizons for these aspiring student-athletes. This journey will be used as a springboard that propels our AFW ELITE players to more success in college, collegiate football and in life.”

Mount Sinai teacher Glynis Nau-Ritter conducts an experiment during class in the 1980s. Photo from Glynis Nau-Ritter

By Desirée Keegan

Glynis Nau-Ritter is not your conventional teacher.

“I know I’m different,” the Mount Sinai educator said. “I’ve been told that a lot, and I think part of it is I’ve had a lot of experience [which] I try to bring into the classroom.”

In life and in teaching, different can be memorable.

Glynis Nau-Ritter, a science teacher, has been at Mount Sinai for 27 years. Photo from Glynis Nau-Ritter

Judith Esterquest, Harvard Club of Long Island chair of the Distinguished Teacher Selection Committee, said she sees how Nau-Ritter has changed student’s lives. After a nomination by former student Seth Brand, now a junior at Harvard College, the 27-year Mount Sinai teacher was awarded the Harvard Club of Long Island’s Distinguished Teacher award.

Nau-Ritter’s experience includes a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s in marine sciences from Stony Brook University. As a teacher’s assistant at Stony Brook, she was stranded on an island while conducting research. The group was soaked, with no food or water while waiting to be rescued. Nau-Ritter said once she told her classes the story, news spread that she’d “lived on Gilligan’s Island.” When she received a teaching position at St. Anthony’s more than 30 years ago, she had no background in education, but Nau-Ritter said it never held her back.

“I was trained in pure science, so I might see things a little differently, but the kids know it and respect it,” she said. “I didn’t need classroom training. You do what you think is right, and it works. Kids constantly say ‘listen to her stories,’ because they’re real world.”

Brand said he thought his former teacher was deserving of the recognition.

“With life experience worth listening to, Mrs. Nau-Ritter is interesting both to learn about and to learn from,” Brand said. “She stands out because she didn’t just connect to elite students, she has taught nearly every type of student our town produces. She’s the zany teacher who painted life into the study of life. She’s the heart of our district.”

Nau-Ritter has run the gamut as far as subjects and levels, teaching Advanced Placement biology classes, A.P. environmental science, marine coastal science, chemistry and earth science, even special education students. She is also an adjunct professor at Stony Brook and Syracuse universities. Her work as a graduate research assistant performing studies in marine environments led to six articles being accepted by research journals. She was an avid diver and now a snorkeler.

“She’s the zany teacher who painted life into the study of life. She’s the heart of our district.”

— Seth Brand

The Port Jefferson Station resident also helped Mount Sinai’s Ocean Bowl team repeat its first-place win in the Bay Scallop Bowl this year, an academic competition testing students’ knowledge of marine sciences, and represented New York in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl. Active in advising many extracurricular activities, Nau-Ritter is also involved in the school’s environmental club, among others, and  rolls up her sleeves for an annual Cedar Beach cleanup each fall, coordinating school efforts with the Ocean Conservancy.

“Mrs. Nau-Ritter understands that academia is not confined to the four walls of the classroom,” Mount Sinai High School principal Rob Grable said of the Mount Sinai fixture. “[She is] the consummate educator and professional. She is well aware of the academic expectations that await students at the college and university level, and she prepares our high school students accordingly.”

Nau-Ritter is the second consecutive Mount Sinai teacher to be honored with the recognition. Gary Kulik, a calculus teacher, received the distinction last year. The science teacher said knowing Kulik for many years, she knows they both focus on getting their students to a higher level of thinking.

Mount Sinai teacher Glynis Nau-Ritter with her Ocean Bowl quiz team. Photo from Glynis Nau-Ritter

“The kids know you’re dedicated,” she said. “I’m there well past the afternoon bell, and I think that’s what truly makes a good teacher. It’s about being there for kids when they have questions that need to be answered. They want help in their careers or want to understand science topics.”

The Queens native also likes to bring news into the classroom, driving home her philosophy of applying the real world to her classroom.

“I’m very much into observing and noticing everything on the outside,” she said. “I like to infiltrate science in any way I can, and I love when I see the lightbulb go off when they get it. I never thought I was going to be a teacher. I was always very much into research, but seeing these kids so excited about learning, I guess I got bit by the bug to be a teacher. Looking back, I know I’ve made a difference in many lives, and for that I’m grateful.”

Nau-Ritter and the 11 other honorees will be recognized at a ceremony at Heritage Club at Bethpage April 15, and Harvard Club of Long Island will announce the distinguished teacher who will also receive a scholarship for a “Harvard experience” at Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“Devoted teachers like Mrs. Nau-Ritter offer Long Island students deep expertise, extraordinary talents and countless hours of attention,” Esterquest said. “By capturing the minds and imaginations of our children and preparing them for challenges that were unknown even a few decades ago, these teachers shape the future of our country.”

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Pete LaSalla rushes through Eastport-South Manor’s defense before rocketing a shot that finds the netting in a loss to the Sharks April 9. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Rocky Point came from behind in the first half, but was victimized by a comeback late in an 8-7 home loss to
Eastport-South Manor April 9.

Up 7-3 heading into the fourth, the Sharks scored five unanswered goals and won the final faceoff with 1:34 left to seal the deal.

Zach Gill carries the ball across the field
despite longstick midfielders’ attempts to hold him back. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I think we did a good job early on offensively, but as the game went on we had many unnecessary attempts to force goals when we should have killed off time,” said Rocky Point’s Pete LaSalla, who finished with four goals and an assist. “As a team we need to continue to grow and be able to close out games and not let teams come back.”

The senior sparked the Eagles’ response in the first quarter when he scored from the right side 30 yards out unassisted with about a minute left to cut the Sharks’ 2-0 lead in half. Classmate Zach Gill knotted things up less than two minutes into the second to make it a new game, and by the 2:39 mark LaSalla scored his second and third goals for a 4-2 lead. He wrapped up his points in the first half with a dish to Gill for a goal that put Rocky Point up 5-2 heading into the break.

“Through the first three quarters I️ thought we played great as a team, we really put everything together and were playing as a whole,” said sophomore goalkeeper Tyler Kotarski.

Up 6-3, Rocky Point went a man down after a late hit and fended off shot after shot with the first-year varsity starter making multiple stops between the pipes.

“We had great goaltending from Tyler Kotarski,” LaSalla said. “When we went a man down I was happy that our defense stepped up and didn’t let up a goal.”

Tyler Kotarski prepares to put the ball in play after making one of his 12 saves. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The goalie said he was just trying to do his job.

“I was just trying to save every ball that came at me,” Kotarski said. “We killed both of the penalties with only four guys on the field — it felt great to get that defensive stop. During times like that I️ try not to pay attention to the scoreboard and act as every shot could be a game-winning goal.”

LaSalla scored in the final minutes of the third. Also taking faceoffs all evening, he won possession twice in the final quarter, but the Sharks found a way to steal it back, each time scoring to close the gap until the game was knotted at 7-7.

“We just need to keep the momentum going through all four quarters and finish strong,” Kotarski said. “Lacrosse is one of those sports where you can score multiple goals in a short amount of time, and that’s exactly what Petey [LaSalla] did and that’s exactly what they did in return. It’s been a real honor playing on varsity and watching our team improve as a whole. We’ll bounce back from this.”

Rocky Point looked to redeem itself with a game at Mattituck April 11, but results were not available by press time. Rocky Point returns home to take on neighboring Mount Sinai April 13 at 4:30 p.m.

Matt Ryan, a Miller Place graduate, is a former Olympian and captain for Team USA in 1996. Photo from Matt Ryan

Miller Place native Matt Ryan keeps a phrase in his back pocket: “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

“I knew I could control the hard work, and where it led I didn’t know,” he said. “But I knew the hard work would get me there.”

His athletic determination led him to a nine-year professional handball career, becoming Team USA’s 1996 Olympic captain and three-time U.S. Handball Player of the Year. His 225 official international matches are an American record and he’s noted as one of the greatest handball players in American history. Now, he’s part of the 2018 Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame class.

Matt Ryan, now the Executive Director
of Regional Development at Georgia Tech, shows off his Olympic jacket. Photo from Matt Ryan

“It certainly paid off,” the current executive director of regional development for Georgia Institute of Technology, said laughingly.

A three-sport athlete for Miller Place, his Panthers success started in basketball. He also played for the baseball team and ran cross country.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child, and that was my case in Miller Place,” said Ryan, who has two older brothers and a younger sister. “Everyone was wonderful from teachers to coaches to parents, and the bond with fellow classmates, it’s a bond like none other. It’s reinforced daily, even now through Facebook. We always supported each other.”

Being in a large family on a block with many kids pushed him to his athletic limits.

“Older friends in the neighborhood pushed me to come up to their level,” he said. “I learned a lot in that — how to overcome obstacles and battle through any circumstance. A lot of my work ethic came from that as well.”

In 1984 as a high school senior, Ryan was the New York Basketball Player of the Year. As a junior, he was second team All-Long Island and won a gold medal at the Empire State Games with the Long Island squad.

Physical education teacher and baseball coach Don Pranzo met his soon-to-be outfielder in seventh grade, and said he knew he was destined to be a great athlete.

Matt Ryan competes in the Olympics for team handball. Photo from Matt Ryan

“He was amenable to teaching,” Pranzo said. “He was a good, nice kid who listened to you and tried out what you suggested.”

Pranzo introduced handball to his students during class after former Miller Place physical education teacher and field hockey coach Judy Kopelman presented it to the other teachers. Kopelman, a 2008 Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame inductee, was selected to the U.S. national handball team from 1974-76.

Pranzo said he had one problem asking Ryan if he’d play the game — the footwork was completely opposite of basketball. In handball, an athlete runs three steps before dribbling, and after dribbling once, can take three more running steps before dribbling again, passing or leaping into the air to shoot. Ryan was willing to give it a shot, and Pranzo said the teachers concluded that if it affected his basketball game, he’d be excused from class.

“As it turns out, he played with some intensity, especially during the tournament, and he continued to play basketball and had no problem with the footwork,” Pranzo said. “He had the visual skills, the physical ability at 6-4 to go over the defense and fire the handball at the goal cage. He was very good.”

Ryan went on to play basketball in college and said he thought it would be the last time he’d play handball.

The U.S. Olympic committee doesn’t have a pipeline for nontraditional sports, where team handball would fall, and instead sends recruiters out to college campuses trying to identify elite athletes across the country. Ryan took part in NFL combine-style testing after graduating, and emerged as one of the top 30 entering training camp.

“I was fortunate enough to know a lot about handball thanks to Miller Place,” Ryan said. “I took a shine to it there, looking forward to those end-of-the-year tournaments.”

“I was blessed, given a tremendous opportunity, and I wasn’t going to squander it. I was
going to make every drop of sweat matter.”

— Matt Ryan

He immersed himself into training three or four times a day, six days a week and competed internationally.

He said representing Team USA was the experience of a lifetime.

“I was blessed, given a tremendous opportunity and I wasn’t going to squander it,” Ryan said. “I was going to make every drop of sweat matter, whether it was in the weight room, on the track, through mental preparation and visualization, or being out on the playing field. I didn’t want to have any regrets. I wanted to walk away knowing I gave it my all.”

He said while many look forward to the opening ceremony of the Olympics, he was in it for more than that.

“I couldn’t wait for competition to arise,” he said. “That was an absolute charge, not only representing my team in the opening ceremony in 1996 but leading my team into competition for the six games we played.”

Miller Place pitched into his Olympic appearance. Having to fund his own training and trip to the 1996 Atlanta games, his mother hosted a variety show fundraiser that thousands attended.

“I was just overwhelmed with the response,” he said. “I shook everyone’s hand or gave them a hug. They sent me off with their well wishes and I was completely moved by that. It’s one of those experiences I’ve taken with me through the journey — to realize my life of sport wasn’t just on the court, but I was able to make an impact in the community and on other people in a positive way.”

Matt Ryan met then-president Bill Clinton during his Olympic journey. Photo from Matt Ryan

In 2004, Ryan was honored with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America National Service to Youth Award. In 2013 he was inducted to the Miller Place Athletic Hall of Fame.

“The success Matt achieved both as a Miller Place student and as an alumnus is a testament to his hard work and drive,” Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said. “His commitment to positive sportsmanship is emblematic of Miller Place athletics.”

Ryan said he struggled through his Miller Place hall of fame acceptance speech because his father had just had a heart attack and wasn’t able to attend. He said he’d hoped his dad would be around if he were to be inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame. He will be attending the induction ceremony May 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Watermill Caterers in Smithtown.

“My father drove me everywhere — completely gave of himself, and now being the parent of a 12-year-old who plays sports, I know how difficult it is when he did that with me, and had three other kids involved in sports,” Ryan said. “The opportunity for him to be there and embrace this recognition with me, which is an extension of him and my mom, it’s completely overpowering.”

Almost as moving as the induction honor itself.

“This whole thing is humbling, quite frankly,” Ryan said. “I never set out for successes. I just put the work and effort in, the focus and drive, and let the chips fall where they may. To be part of this 2018 class, mentioned in the breadth of so many Long Island greats, it’s pretty remarkable.”

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Team takes Division I title in Syracus, three Middle Country girls place in Top 10 in scoring

Middle Country’s girls bowling team took home its first state title since 2013 March 11 in Syracuse. Photo from Nicole Lettich

With a difficult oil pattern on the lane, the Middle Country girls bowling team knew what it was going to take to win a state title — and it had the talent to spare.

“We knew it would be tough bowling on a more challenging pattern, but we knew spares were going to be so important,” senior Nicole Lettich said. “As most of us say, strikes win games, but spares win tournaments. We are a strong team and knew we could take on whatever was thrown at us. We just needed to focus each game and make good shots. That’s exactly what we did.”

Amanda Scarfogliero leads off for Middle Country’s girls bowling team. Photo from Amanda Scarfogliero

Lettich, noted by head coach Mandy Dominguez as the most consistent bowler on the team, averaged a 191.67 over six games.

“She did great, she’s steady,” Dominguez said of his one of four seniors.

With her team up by just 118 pins heading into a crucial Game 6, she bowled a 223 to help seal the deal and a state title March 11 in Syracuse.

“My parents tell me all the time that I bowl with a poker face and don’t let bad scores phase me,” Lettich said. “I don’t really put any added pressure on myself, I just focus on making my spares and throwing good shots. When I throw a bad shot, I shake it off and get ready for the next frame.”

Lettich, who finished Sunday ranked fourth in New York, was one of three Middle Country bowlers to rank in the Top 10 in scoring. Junior Amanda Scarfogliero (No. 7) and freshman Hannah Skalacki (No. 2) were the others.

“I’ve never had a team improve in the offseason the way that this team did,” Dominguez said. “Last year we only had one 200 bowler, and this year I had five. The girls really stepped it up, and have so much grit and determination. We had a 280-pin lead at one point in the tournament and to lose that lead is hard for any team in any sport, losing a lead late in the game. They gut it out and brought it back. It says so much about their resiliency and willingness to never give up.”

Middle Country’s girls bowling teammates were all smiles on the bus ride home after being crowned state champions. Photo from Nicole Lettich

Middle Country won a state title in 2013 and since lost three battles to East Islip and one to Sachem for a ticket upstate. This year the girls took the league title before overcoming that county hurdle with a 43-pin win, and weren’t going to let an oil pattern stop them from going all the way. Scarfogliero said the team practiced for the 41-foot Tower of Pisa Kegel pattern, asymmetric in design with a shift to the inside, in the weeks leading up to the tournament. After averaging 215 at the county tournament, Middle Country finished with a 180 average upstate, according to Dominguez, proving even with practice how difficult the sport pattern can be.

“It was a whole new atmosphere,” said Scarfogliero, who leads off for her team. “It took us by surprise, but we worked together as a team so the oil pattern wasn’t as hard. We helped each other and with the oil pattern being so hard I didn’t even think I was going to make it up there [in scoring], but that wasn’t even a priority for me. I wanted to put my team in the best position to win states.”

For Skalacki, her freshman status shouldn’t be misunderstood. The three-year varsity team member bowled a 193.83 average, just about three pins under first. As the team’s anchor, she said there’s a lot of pressure when her team needs extra points at the end of each game, but she thrives under it.

Middle Country’s girls bowling team hoists up the state championship banner. Photo from Middle Country school district

“If we need a certain amount of pins to win, I have to get them, but I love the attention and the competition,” said Skalacki, who was strongest in the first three games, bowling a tournament-high 226 for Game 1. “It’s heart-dropping, and I love knowing I play a big part in helping the team come out with a win.”

She said after finally topping East Islip, she knew Middle Country had a lot to prove, and the team wasn’t going to settle for anything less than a perfect finish.

“We had the biggest motivation to win,” she said. “Now people know Middle Country and know how good we are. We wanted to prove people wrong — to show we have what it takes — and we did it.”

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Bowling right up twins’ alley

Bowling is how the Lettich twins roll.

The duo each competed for a state title last weekend in Syracuse, and clean swept their senior season with gold medals in their respective tournaments.

“It’s honestly breathtaking to make it this far and win it all,” Nicole Lettich said, noting that she was on the 2013 state championship winning team, but didn’t yet have the skills to be invited to compete. “Going to the state tournament with my brother who I’ve been so close with was probably the most amazing thing I could have done in my senior year.”

Middle Country twins Nicole and Thomas Lettich took home state gold. Photo from Nicole Lettich

The twins’ mother bowled in high school, and found they had their own itch to compete after competing in a league in second grade.

“Bowling is such an underrated sport in high school, and to finally win it all proves to schools that bowling shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet, but actually acknowledged more because it is a very difficult sport,” she said. “A lot of people don’t see it that way.”

Middle Country finished with a grand total 5,332 pins, nearly 200 ahead of second-place finisher Orchard Park (5,157). Her brother Thomas Lettich competed on the Section XI boys All-Star team. He’d averaged 224 during the regular season, and said even though he’d won his team’s MVP awards, and was named an All-Star, All-County and All-League bowler, he was most confident competing because of the last month’s worth of practicing six day a week.

“I have grown so much over the years, improving my physical and mental game,” he said. “Since I am a lefty and had an advantage and disadvantage since I’m the only one on the left side. The lanes were brand new, so I knew it was going to be difficult, but being chosen to compete on this team with a group of boys that I was very close with and were fun to bowl with was a goal of mine.”

He said it was a unique experience competing alongside his sister.

“When I am bowling bad she supports me and helps me, and when she’s bowling bad I support her and help her,” Thomas Lettich said. “She unfortunately didn’t have the ability to watch me, but I was able to cheer her on in her match and it was exciting to have the chance to be together. We had great accomplishments and it’s a great way to go out.”

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

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

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

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

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

Harry Schneider. Photo from Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Burkley. Photo from Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teams up with twin brother Elijah, Dan O'Connor and Thomas Fodor to take first in 4x800 relay

Isaiah Claiborne crosses the 1,000-meter run finish line at the state championships March 3. Photo from MileSplit

Isaiah Claiborne could see his Fairport foe hot on his trail. Like last year, the 1,000-meter run came down to a final lap sprint, but midway through it, Claiborne kicked it into high gear and never looked back. The Northport senior crossed the finish line in a state-championship winning 2 minutes, 26.95 seconds at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on Staten Island March 3.

“A week ago my arm was too locked up and I knew I needed to work on that,” Claiborne said. “Today, I got out and I just wanted to be fast, especially since I was on the outside. I didn’t want to be slow to get stuck behind. I left it all on the track.”

Elijah Claiborne comes in a photo-finish second place in the 1,600-meter run. Photo from MileSplit

After leading early in the race, Claiborne fell into third place, but worked his way back into prime position. With 150 meters left, and the field looking like it might leave him behind, he made the move that made all the difference. His time was a new school record and second-best in New York State. It also set a new meet record, breaking Liam Purdy of North Rockland’s 2014 mark of 2:27.63.

“It’s awesome to come out here and win among big competition,” Claiborne said. “I tried to stay relaxed, make it my own race and not get too nervous. My coach says stay composed, stay relaxed, and that’s what I did.”

Of three sets of twins in contention to sweep events at states, Claiborne’s twin brother Elijah was closest to making it happen. Schenectady’s Maazin Ahmed got in the way though, maintaining his lead to the end line to come through with a photo-finish win. The two runners completed the 1,600 in 2:15.543 and 2:15.548 in a race where no one person stayed in first for long.

Northport’s 4×800 relay team of twin brothers Elijah and Isaiah Claiborne, Dan O’Connor and Thomas Fodor were crowned public school state champs. Photo from NYSPHSAA

“After just missing placing at states last year, I used that emotion to propel me toward the finish line.” Ahmed said. “I knew the race was going to be tight — anybody had a chance to win. I stayed with the pack and kicked fast at the end.”

Babylon’s Vlad Cullinane, who has been the top high jumper in the state all season, made it official by clearing six feet, seven inches. Shoreham-Wading River’s Richard Casazza was second, clearing 6-6.

“I was battling with [Casazza] all season and we were inches away from each other,” Cullinane said. “Every time I saw him miss, it felt pretty good. I was working on my form, and it feels great to beat him again.”

Northport’s 4×800 relay quartet of Elijah and Isaiah Claiborne, Dan O’Connor and Thomas Fodor were also public school state champions, completing the event in 7:56.52. The same team minus Fodor, finished first in the outdoor state championship last year.

“I don’t like going head-to-head,” Isaiah Claiborne joked. “My guys always give me a gap so I don’t have to worry about it.”

He and the rest of his relay team will compete at New Balance Indoor Nationals March 9-11 at the Armory Track in New York City.

“I won’t think about it too much,” Claiborne said heading into this weekend. “I’m definitely confident, and I’m going to take it all in.”

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Port Jefferson 126-pound senior Vin Miceli maintains control over his opponent. Photo from Section XI

By Desirée Keegan

Down 7-0 in the state wrestling semifinal with 50 seconds left, a switch flipped for Vin Miceli, leading to him wrestling his best, most exciting match of his career when it mattered most.

Vin Miceli embraces head coach Mike Maletta, on right, and gets a pat on the back from brother Nick, on left, after his semifinal come-from-behind win. Photo from Vin Miceli

“I remember watching a match a week prior to states when another wrestler was down six points in the third period with short time left, and ended up coming back and winning the match,” the Port Jefferson senior 126-pounder said. “So I said to myself, ‘Why can’t I do this?’”

He started letting his opponent get up for one point, only to take him down for two. Doubling up on points, he finished the match ahead 12-10, guaranteeing himself at least a second-place finish.

“It was one of the best feelings ever winning that match,” Miceli said. “Something I will never forget.”

The No. 3 seed was taken down twice early in the final and pinned in 1:33 by Schuylerville’s Orion Anderson, who won his third straight state title at Albany’s Times Union Center Feb. 24. Even knowing his challenger’s pedigree, the Bloomsburg University commit didn’t let Anderson’s credentials stymie his confidence, or his eagerness to get out on the mat and wrestle in the last match of his high school career.

“I knew my opponent was going to be a challenge, and I knew he was going to come out at me aggressive, so I had to do the same back,” Miceli said. “I was super excited to be able to wrestle in the New York state finals, but was also a bit sad knowing that was my last high school match ever. Being able to wrestle on that stage is not an opportunity everyone gets, so I was definitely pumped to be there.”

Port Jefferson senior Vin Miceli sizes up his opponent. Photo from Section XI

Head coach Mike Maletta pulled his varsity athlete up from middle school in eighth-grade, after he went 11-0 the year prior. Miceli is one of the youngest wrestlers to exceed 20 wins in Port Jefferson history as an eighth grader, and finished his Royal career with 140 wins, second to 2016 graduate Matteo DeVincenzo (148).

“When Vin gets beat, he gets up, stands tall and comes back for more,” Maletta said. “That semifinal match was a culmination of that work. He said he wasn’t going to be denied. For him to get the reward for what he’s worked so hard for is satisfying for all of us. He knew it was his time.”

By the end of his career, Miceli evolved from the young varsity grappler he once was. He earned a spot in the state tournament his freshman year, but went 1-2. He lost in the county finals his sophomore and junior years, missing a bid to states, but this time around, he knew he was ready for a different result. The 126-pounder said he wrestled 80 offseason matchups, squeezed in double practices and private lessons on Sundays, and even saw a nutritionist to make sure he was strong and healthy at the weight he was competing at, while cutting his weight the right way, because he’d struggled with that in the past.

“I knew I was well prepared for this moment and I wasn’t letting anything stop me from getting on that podium,” Miceli said. “I knew I did everything I could to make sure I was 100 percent ready to go up there and compete.”

Vin Miceli has his arm raised after a state tournament win. Photo from Section XI

His father, Joe Miceli, said what he enjoyed most was seeing his son Nick, a former Port Jefferson wrestler, out on the mat by his brother’s side as an assistant coach, especially during the semifinal match.

“Seeing the two of them out on the mat celebrating after that win was really special,” Joe Miceli said. “Losing was frustrating in his sophomore and junior years, and he wanted to make sure he put the work in to get back up there again. Wrestling and dedicating himself the way he has, built a lot of character in him and made him very self-dependent. It’s sink or swim out there, and he developed well. This season was more than anyone expected.”

Vin Miceli said the sport has taught him many valuable lessons, and he’ll remain proud to don the purple and white, even if he was in Section XI blue and white up on the podium.

“Wrestling has made me the person I am today,” Miceli said. “Wrestling is not only a sport, but is something that will help you grow and mature as a person and change the way you look at things in life. I was able to make bonds with friends that will never be broken, and memories that will never be forgotten. Winning matches has been one of the best feelings, but it’s more about knowing that all that work you have put in has paid off. Being on that state podium is always something I dreamed if and worked for, and now I can say that standing up there is an awesome feeling.”

Port Jefferson’s Vin Miceli, third from right, stands atop the Division II 126-pound podium. Photo from Vin Miceli

Wins 138-pound Division II state championship in sudden victory

Mount Sinai 138-pounder Mike Zarif leaps into head coach Matt Armstrong's arms after winning his state championship finals match. Photo from Matt Armstrong

Mike Zarif treated his final appearance on a high school mat like he would any other. He completed his pre-match ritual of splashing cold water on his face and praying before stepping out under the state championship finals lights. He was confident in his abilities, and didn’t need a saving grace.

“I told myself, whatever happens, happens, but I knew I was ready,” the Mount Sinai wrestler said. “All the work I’ve put in was going to pay off.”

Mount Sinai wrestler Mike Zarif stands atop the Division II 138-pound championship podium. Photo from Matt Armstrong

The fifth seed at 138 pounds in Division II, Zarif won his first state title in dazzling sudden victory fashion, 6-4, when he used a Merkle, or a side headlock, to get takedown points against No. 3-seeded Riley Gerber of Camden. The maneuver was completed with seconds left in overtime inside Albany’s Times Union Center Feb. 24. The referee blew the whistle, and after a long pause, raised two fingers up in the air to signal the back points the senior earned, and ultimately, the win.

Realizing he had just become his coaches’ first state champion, he rushed over to Matt Armstrong and Kurt Wagner, embracing them with open arms.

“Mike lost it,” said Armstrong, the head coach. “We were all so excited for him — so incredibly proud — because we know how hard he’s worked and how in the past year alone his skills have really sharpened. New York boasts top-notch wrestling, and his title was well deserved. He went out there like a man possessed, totally focused on winning. He wasn’t just happy enough with making it to the finals, he took it to an extreme at a very competitive weight class.”

The senior has come a long way in a short time. Zarif started on the varsity team as a sophomore, and said back then, he never thought this day would come.

“He went out there like a man possessed, totally focused on winning.”

— Matt Armstrong

“If you told me as a sophomore I was going to be a state champ my senior year, I would’ve laughed and said ‘I wish,’” Zarif said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I started this journey, and this shows that with hard work, you can accomplish anything.”

He said he took wrestling seriously from the moment he joined the team, dedicating himself to the sport by competing in the offseason, heading to extra practices at Ascend Wrestling Club three days a week after team ones, and entered major tournaments against the cream of the crop.

“He put everything out there and proved it’s not when you start, it’s how you finish,” Zarif’s mother Nissy said. “He wrote in his college essay back in September that he was going to win counties and states. I told him, ‘Wait, don’t write that yet. Don’t’ jump the gun.’ But I’m so glad he did because he made his goals and dreams come true.”

The 138-pounder also learned from his mistakes, noticing the bad positions he’d put himself in that led to giving away points or getting pinned. Knowing this, Zarif was able to take advantage of a mistake in a critical point in the state tournament. Down 3-0 in the quarterfinal against Section I’s Jack Wrobel, the Prawling High School athlete grabbed Zarif’s leg while he was riding him on top, and the Mount Sinai senior worked it to his advantage. He cross-faced Wrobel to his back and pinned him with three second left in the second period.

Mount Sinai wrestler Mike Zarif with his Mustangs coaches after winning his state finals match. Photo from Matt Armstrong

“While losing, I looked over at coach Wagner and he told me the kid was getting tired, and to keep shooting,” said Zarif, who wins most matches by a technical fall, scoring 15 more points than his opponents. “That’s exactly what I did. I just stayed calm — knew that no one in the state can go a full six minutes with me — kept pushing the pace and working for my takedowns. No one in my bracket was unbeatable, and my coaches kept telling me this was my title.”

Port Jefferson’s Vin Miceli, the No. 3 seed at 126 pounds, was taken down twice early and pinned in 1:33 by Schuylerville’s Orion Anderson, who won his third straight state title. Division I Rocky Point’s 120-pounder Anthony Sciotto, the No. 1 seed, fell in the finals in a 9-6 decision to No. 6 Zach Redding of Eastport-South Manor. Sciotto’s teammate Corey Connolly lost 10-4 in the semifinals to top-ranked Jacori Teemer of Long Beach, who made history by becoming the first New York wrestler to win five straight state titles. Ward Melville’s Rafael Lievano lost a close bout, 9-6, in the semifinals at 132 pounds to the eventual state champion, and Smithtown West’s Tim Nagosky lost 6-0 in the 285-pound semis to state champion Deonte Wilson from Amityville. Section XI dominated Division I with 245 points and came in fourth in Division II with 158.5.

Zarif completes his wrestling career with Mount Sinai after the team won the county and first state dual meet team title. He becomes the district’s second ever state champion.

“Mike has helped open the doors — he had a chance to show the kids what can happen when you work hard and dedicate yourself,” Armstrong said. “I can’t say enough good things about the kid. He’s someone we can point to in the future. Nothing comes easy, you must work for everything that you get. You have to make sacrifices — that’s been our motto this year and on all our gear — and that’s a kid that’s sacrificed so much. That’s what it takes to be a champion.”

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