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Emma Wimmer

Mount Sinai Students Against Destructive Decisions club members organize gifts that will be donated to children at Concern for Independent Living in Medford through the Hauppauge-based nonprofit Holiday Magic. Photo by Kevin Redding

Mount Sinai High School students took on the roles of Santa and his elves to make sure local children in need have gifts to open this Christmas.

In a continued collaboration with Hauppauge-based nonprofit Christmas Magic, 43 members of the school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club embarked on shopping sprees at Smith Haven Mall and Walmart Dec. 1 to bring holiday cheer to underprivileged children. They set out to find gifts for more than 60 boys and girls from Concern for Independent Living, a nonprofit agency in Medford that provides permanent housing for homeless families, based on wish lists they wrote to Santa.

With $4,500 supplied by Christmas Magic, SADD club members bought more than 100 gifts — each child receives about three — from wireless headphones to action figures and dolls, to sweatshirts and diapers.

Members of Mount Sinai’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club unpack gifts to be donated after going shopping. Photo by Kevin Redding

Back at the high school, the students turned the cafeteria into a makeshift Santa’s workshop. They organized the gifts, piled them into garbage bags and sent them off on a big truck to be wrapped and delivered back to the school Dec. 6, where the district hosts a dinner for the children and their families, where club members join Santa Claus himself in presenting the wrapped gifts.

“I think this teaches the students compassion,” said John Wilson,  a special education teacher and the SADD Club’s co-advisor who said the district is in its 18th year of involvement with the program. “When they see some of the lists — and there’s a jacket or something they take for granted — I think it humbles them and makes them appreciate what they have.”

In one letter, which included a drawing of a smiling snowman and a Christmas tree, a young boy asked Santa for a tech watch and a lightsaber. In another, a girl asked for a pair of boots and a unicorn onesie.

“I love getting the lists,” said Julie Pfeiffer, an 11th grader and SADD club member, who picked up wrestling action figures and Roblox toys for a 7-year-old boy. “We get these lists from them, in their own handwriting, and it’s so sweet. We’re able to give them what they want, directly. It warms my heart so much.”

High school senior Ruchi Thaker bought a sports kit and learning toys for a 1-year-old boy as well as a My Little Pony toy and a bracelet making gift set for a little girl. Junior Rebecca Muroff tracked down a specific brand of hoodie and phone case for a 15-year-old girl.

“You just feel good about doing this,” said Emma Wimmer, a senior who bought a Nike sweatshirt, a pair of sneakers and pants for two teenage boys.

Margaret Kopcienski, a junior and president of SADD Club, said this is her favorite event of the year and said prior to the Dec. 6 dinner that she looked forward to meeting the children at the high school.

“We’re able to give them what they want, directly. It warms my heart so much.”

— Margaret Kopcienski

“It’s really magical seeing how happy they are,” Kopcienski said. “It’s a great time and really cool to see the result of all our hard work and how much joy the presents bring to them.”

The school district will also be reimbursing Christmas Magic more than $7,500 raised during its Turkey Trot 5K and Fun Run Nov. 25, an annual fundraising event run by SADD co-advisor and history teacher John McHugh. Last year, upwards of 11,000 kids across Long Island were gifted through the nonprofit.

“It’s an amazing feat that the students and staff at Mount Sinai make this happen every year,” said Charlie Russo, who founded Christmas Magic in 1990 out of a lifelong passion to give back to those less fortunate. “It just speaks volumes as to where the district is and where their community service efforts are. I can’t praise them enough.”

Russo said Christmas Magic has been working alongside Concern for Independent Living, one of about 70 agencies involved, since the nonprofit was formed.

Concern for Independent Living was formed in 1972 and has been recognized as the largest nonprofit provider of supportive housing for individuals and families in need on Long Island. Ralph Fasano, the organization’s executive director, said Mount Sinai students have helped families and kids get through the holidays for years.

“All the families come from low-economic brackets and oftentimes there’s not enough money to buy kids gifts,” Fasano said. “When these kids get things they’ve wanted for years — gifts they never thought they’d ever have — it restores some hope for them.”

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Mount Sinai falls in the Long Island championship game for a third straight season. Photo by Alex Petroski

It took 23 games, but the undefeated 2017 Mount Sinai Mustangs softball team finally met its match in the Long Island championship game. The Mustangs fell to MacArthur, 7-0, June 2 at St. Joseph’s College for its first loss of the season. Sophomore starting pitcher Julia Golino allowed five earned runs, 10 hits and two walks over 3.1 innings to blemish her was-perfect record.

Mount Sinai prays for a rally in the seventh. Photo by Alex Petroski

Mount Sinai’s powerful offense managed just four hits in the final after scoring at least six runs in 11 out of their last 12 games. For a third consecutive season, the Mustangs reached the high of a county championship, only to fall short of a Long Island crown.

MacArthur’s Jessica Budrewicz shut down Mount Sinai with a complete game shutout, seven strikeout performance. She allowed three Mustang hits in the first two innings, but just one more over the final five. Mount Sinai head coach Thomas Tilton applauded her performance in the circle.

“She’s good man — she moves it, she’s got a rise ball, a nice changeup, she hit her spots and she didn’t miss much,” he said. “   Tip your hat to her, she’s a good pitcher. That kid can throw.”

MacArthur celebrates defeating Mount Sinai in the Long Island championship game. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Generals put Golino in a hole early, scoring the first five runs on two-out hits. Golino couldn’t escape trouble in the fourth frame, and junior Emma Wimmer had to come into the game in relief to stop the bleeding. Even a 40-minute weather delay due to thunder and lightning couldn’t cool off Budrewicz and the MacArthur bats.

The Mustangs’ head coach reflected on the impact the team’s three seniors had on the season.

“They left a great mark, a great mark,” Tilton said of the departing group of 12th-graders who helped deliver the first three Suffolk County championships in program history during their tenure. “They’re the foundation of what we’ve built here and hopefully we can continue to do it.”

The Mustangs will be returning all but one starter in 2018, as left fielder Angela Bukofsky is the only regular graduating.

Hailey LaGuidice swings at a pitch. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It definitely means a lot — it’s great,” an emotional Bukofsky said after the game of the three county crowns she’ll be leaving behind at Mount Sinai. She said her teammates were what she will miss most about playing for the Mustangs. “We definitely deserve it. We worked really hard to get here. Going from a record that was about even in wins and losses to being 22-0 is just amazing.”

Though the loss stung in the present, Tilton said he still has a hopeful eye on the future.

“I think we’ve got a really strong team again next year — we’ll be back at it,” he said. Golino and fellow starting pitcher Wimmer dominated all season in 2017 for the Mustangs, and both will be back to try to get over the hump in 2018. Standout shortstop Lové Drumgole, who Tilton called “the real deal,” and one of the best players on the Island earlier in the playoffs, will also be returning for her senior season to give a run at a Long Island title another shot. “We won’t be quitting,” Tilton said. “I can tell you that.”

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The Mount Sinai softball team raises up its championship plaque following a 8-1 win over Westhampton-Beach. Photo by Alex Petroski

Before 2015, Mount Sinai’s softball team had never won a Suffolk Class A title. Now, the county crowns are coming in bunches.

The Mustangs completed their Suffolk schedule a perfect 22-0 with an 8-1 victory in the championship game against Westhampton Beach May 27 at Mount Sinai High School. Junior Emma Wimmer led the way with a complete game, eight-strikeout performance on the mound and went 2-for-3 with four RBIs at the plate — including a three-run homerun in the fifth.

Emma Wimmer throws a pitch. Photo by Alex Petroski

“Couldn’t happen to a better kid,” head coach Thomas Tilton said of Wimmer’s big day. He praised his starter and sophomore pitcher Julia Golino for their season-long dominance in the circle. “We have a two-headed dinosaur here — we have a kid that’s 12-0 and another kid that’s 10-0. So on any given day, either one of them can go, and they do their job.”

Golino served as a catalyst for the offense against Westhampton, chipping in three doubles and scoring two runs in the blowout win. She’s been one of many underclassmen to step up for the Mustangs throughout the course of the 2017 season, and given her age, could be a sign that the three straight championships might only be the beginning.

“I think being younger helped us,” Golino said. “We’ve gained experience through this, and we’re only going to grow through the years.”

Wimmer, who will also be back to make a run at four straight county titles in 2018, expressed a similar sentiment.

“It’s good because you get to work with them throughout all the years, and everyone’s just progressively getting better,” she said. “We’re all growing up together basically.”

Julia Golino hits one of her three doubles. Photo by Alex Petroski

Before Wimmer’s big swing in the fifth, Mount Sinai led 4-1 thanks to two sacrifice flies from tenth graders — one by Holly McNair in the third and another by Ilexa Skulnick before Wimmer’s homer in the fifth — and several baserunners taking the extra base on fly outs and wild pitches. Following the semifinal win, Tilton repeatedly used the word “gritty” to describe his team, and the same toughness and willingness to grind out at-bats characterized the performance Saturday before Wimmer blew the game open.

“We were hitting it hard, they just weren’t falling in,” Tilton said. “It was just a matter of time. They were playing us deep and we were just trying to hit the ball in front of them.”

Westhampton made Wimmer work early on the mound. The first two batters reached on a single and a walk to start the game, but two strikeouts with runners on second and third eliminated the threat in the top of the first. A double and a single to start the third inning got Westhampton on the board first, but Wimmer settled in, allowing only one more baserunner over the final four innings. She retired 14 of the last 15 batters she faced.

Emma Wimmer’s teammates congratulate her after a three-run homer. Photo by Alex Petroski

The hurler said she couldn’t remember a better all-around game in her career, and called it “awesome” to come up with the clutch performance in a county final.

“It was a great feeling, I was so happy,” Wimmer said, reflecting on what went through her mind as the homer sailed over the centerfield fence. “It definitely let some of the pressure off. Having more runs helps when I pitch because you get that insurance.”

Mount Sinai will face McArthur in the Long Island championship June 2 at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue at 3:30 p.m.

The Mustangs celebrate their third straight county title. Photo by Alex Petroski

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