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Devin Rotunno

Girl Scout Devin Rotunno helps kids plant seeds using her Gold Award project Aug. 10 at the Long Island Explorium on East Broadway in Port Jefferson

Port Jefferson’s most inquisitive young explorers will have a new, sustainably minded activity to learn from thanks to the efforts of one of their own.

Girl Scouts looking to achieve their Gold Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout can earn, are tasked with identifying an issue in their community, conducting research, pitching a project and shepherding it to completion in a leadership role in the hopes of achieving some greater good for the community.

Girl Scout Devin Rotunno, a Port Jeff resident heading into her senior year at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, decided to achieve her Gold Award by building a station where kids can plant locally native vegetation at the Long Island Explorium, a Port Jeff museum located at 101 E. Broadway dedicated to fostering an environment of learning and discovery for visitors of all ages, where Rotunno has volunteered for years. She dropped off and set up the project with help from her parents Aug. 10.

“When I started here early last year in 2017, we felt the programing here has always been about STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics], and we wanted children, guests and visitors not only to know STEM for the knowledge of STEM, but really the civic component of it, like, ‘What’s the big deal about learning about science, technology, engineering and math?’” said Angeline Judex, executive director of the Explorium. “The civic component is obviously our interaction and our relationship with the world and our environment surrounding us. I’ve been trying to infuse some sort of sustainability type programing and I think this was something that we thought was perfect.”

Rotunno’s project was built from common cedar wood and includes a laddered portion where kids can keep and monitor their plants as they grow, as well as a station to plant seeds, equipped with soil and gardening tools. She credited a family friend and contractor for helping with the design and lending his shop and tools for the cause. 

“I love it here so much, and as my Gold Award project was approaching I thought it would be the perfect place to dedicate my Gold project to,” Rotunno said of the Explorium. She reflected on providing a new program for kids now in the position she used to be in, visiting the museum to enjoy activities it had to offer. “It’s awesome, just the feeling — since I’m going off to college in a year, the fact I can leave something they can use forever — it’s just a good feeling I can give back.”

Carol Van Duyn, the museum’s manager who has been there for 13 years, reflected on the full-
circle nature of Rotunno’s time at the Explorium.

“Many of the children that came to join and participate in the interactive exhibits continued and then they became volunteers, and then came to us to ask us if they could do something to leave their mark, and we were thrilled,” she said. “She [Rotunno] kept redesigning and reconfiguring, coming back to remeasure before she made her final cut. So, this was a work in progress for a number of months.”

Rotunno’s mom, Jennifer, who also served as Girl Scout Troop 2988 leader since her daughter was in kindergarten, shared her feelings about witnessing the culmination of the long process for her Scout daughter.

“It’s awesome, I’m very proud,” she said. “I’m proud that she’s been a Girl Scout all these years. It’s not common for a girl to make it to this age and to this award. It’s a really special thing. She’s loved coming down here and volunteering.”

All photos by Alex Petroski

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Port Jefferson's Devin Rotunno volleys in her first singles set against Comsewogue. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Precision protected Port Jefferson girls tennis’ undefeated League VI streak.

Junior Devin Rotunno’s accuracy was a much different style than that of her junior opponent, Comsewogue’s Nikita Katukota, whose hard-hitting forehand forced Rotunno to cover every inch of the court. One point between the two players spanned 40 hits in the volley, and in the end, Rotunno prevailed, winning 7-6, 7-5 to lead the Royals to a 6-1 outscoring of host Comsewogue Sept. 18.

Comsewgoue’s Nikita Katukota slams the ball back over the net against Port Jefferson’s Devin Rotunno. Photo by Bill Landon

“I haven’t [seen] her before, but my coach told me she’s good, she hits hard, so I came in knowing it was going to be a tough battle,” Rotunno said. “I felt that I had consistency and I really think that gave me an advantage today.”

Katukota said she looked forward to facing the Port Jefferson lineup because she wanted to test herself against a formidable opponent.

“She’s a really good player — she hits the ball really hard, which I really like because I want to challenge myself against players who hit the ball with pace,” she said of Rotunno. “She has a lot of top spin, she moves her feet around the court so I just had a great time playing her.”

In second singles, Jillian Lawler also won her match in two sets, topping Comsewogue’s Kaitlyn Musmachev 6-2, 6-4, but the third singles matchup took three sets to decide.

Port Jefferson seventh-grader Nicolina Giannola battled Comsewogue’s Ankita Katukota, Nikita’s twin sister, and hung on after dropping the second set to win the decisive third, for a 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 edging.

The bright spot for the Warriors came in fourth singles play. Trisha Sandhala recovered from a 1-6 loss to take the next two sets 6-4, 6-4 snatching Comsewogue’s lone singles victory.

“I think they’re better than I thought they’d be,” Comsewogue head coach Michael Taheny said of Port Jefferson. “I liked our fight. My singles players are good, but [Port Jefferson is] hands down better than every other team we’ve played so far. It was a little shock to our system in that ‘wow, these [Port Jefferson] girls are really good.’”

Port Jefferson’s Jillian Lawler reaches for the ball in her second singles match. Photo by Bill Landon

The Royals also dominated doubles play, taking all three matches in two sets each. Although Taheny noted his team’s young new doubles squad is going through an adjustment period, Port Jefferson head coach Keith Houghtaling also noted an adjustment to be made in relying on depth, especially when the Royals next face Middle Country. With the win over Comsewogue, Port Jefferson’s fifth straight to put the team at 5-2 overall, it puts a target on the team’s back, but things could change the second time around against some of the teams.

“[Middle Country is] a tough team with a deep lineup — we beat them 5-2, but all three doubles went three sets, and one of the singles went three sets, so we could’ve just as easily lost that 4-3,” Houghtaling said of the Royals’ Sept. 8 win over the Mad Dogs. “We beat Mount Sinai 5-2 [Sept. 13], but one of their singles was out, so again that could be tough [when they’re back to full strength].”

Houghtaling said the pressure of being the No. 1 team in the league isn’t going to stop his Royals.

“We may have been able to sneak up on some teams earlier in the year based on last year’s record, but now that we are in first place, I fully expect each opponent will bring their very best lineup and effort against us,” he said. “I can assure you that our girls are fully aware of this, and they are up for the challenge.”

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