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Harborfields

By Bill Landon

Four of the five starters on Mount Sinai’s girls’ basketball team helped the soccer squad score its first Suffolk County title last fall. This winter, the Mustangs brought those winning ways from the field to the court.

Winning has become a tradition at Mount Sinai. The Mustangs went nearly undefeated in League VI play, going on a 17-game streak before a 44-33 loss to Shoreham-Wading River. Despite that, Mount Sinai was able to grab a piece of the league title for the first time in school history. Then, the road to the Class A finals began.

The Mustangs crushed Bayport-Blue Point 91-48 before outscoring Sayville 68-54. The No. 1 seed ultimately found itself up against a familiar foe in No. 2 Harborfields. The two schools had also faced off as the top-seeded teams during the Suffolk soccer finals, and, in front of a near-capacity crowd of 500 at Riverhead High School Feb. 24, Mount Sinai pulled away with another crucial win, 54-42, for its second county crown of the school year.

“Our defense was the key in getting stops and rebounding, and turning those into points.”

—Veronica Venezia

For seniors Victoria Johnson and Veronica Venezia, the win was a long time coming personally and for the program.

“It feels amazing to be Suffolk County champions — Veronica and I have been on the team since eighth grade, so we started a long time ago,” said Johnson, who scored 11 of her 16 points in the second half. “Back then we didn’t win many games, and here we are — it’s a dream come true.”

Sophomore Gabriella Sartori had the hot hand in the first quarter, scoring 10 of her team-high 18 points. First, she swished a free throw to successfully complete a three-point play, and hit a shot from beyond the arc soon after to help her team double its opponent’s score with an 18-9 lead at the end of eight minutes. She also added six rebounds and two assists in the win.

“From the beginning of the season I just wanted to play at this level,” she said. “I’ve been with this group since the seventh grade and to reach this point and watch this team grow is just amazing.”

Behind 31-19 heading into the locker room, Harborfields head coach Glenn Lavey said the 12-point deficit put his team in unfamiliar territory.

“Spotting them a lead like that is not our style — we’re kind of a running football team if you will — we’re not a spread offense,” he said. “We had some breakdowns in the first eeight minutes of the game and we didn’t execute some things we needed to early.”

“I’ve been with this group since the seventh grade and to reach this point and watch this team grow is just amazing.”

—Gabriella Sartori

Despite the lead, Mount Sinai head coach Michael Pappalardo said he warned his team that the Tornadoes weren’t going to run out of steam that easily.

“Harborfields, they’re aggressive,” he said. “We told the girls this is going to be close. You don’t think that team is going to let you walk out of here giving you the championship.”

Harborfields senior Grace Zagaja scored on a putback, and teammate Kate Tardo hit a long-distance shot in the third, but Mount Sinai’s defense swarmed.

With 10 seconds left in the quarter, Johnson went to the line and sank both to make it a 10-point game, but Harborfields senior Falyn Dwyer came through with a buzzer-beating triple that helped her team cut the deficit to 40-33.

With just over four minutes left in regulation, Venezia came up with another putback (she finished with a double-double on 12 points and 15 rebounds) to re-extend the Mustangs’ lead, 45-36.

“They’re definitely a challenge — they always have been the past years we’ve played them,” Venezia said of Harborfields. “But our defense was the key in getting stops and rebounding, and turning those into points.”

Tardo, who tied with Dwyer for eight points, drained her second triple of the contest to make it a six-point game. Two minutes later, eighth-grader Madison Brady (seven points) picked off an in-bounds pass, went straight to the rim for the score and made it a four-point game, 45-41, with 3:10 left to play.

After Harborfields missed its final five shots from the field, Johnson went 7-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 31 seconds to put the win in the record book.

“It is ironic to win back-to-back titles against Harborfields — they’re a great team, but we worked really hard to be here.”

—Brooke Cergol

“We always talk about it in practice in every game — everyone’s going to have their ups and downs,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to be prepared for both. We had to fight our way through adversity to get here.”

Also on the championship-winning soccer team besides Johnson, Sartori and junior Olivia Williams, was sophomore Brooke Cergol, who rounded out the scoring with eight points.

“It feels amazing — especially after soccer,” she said. “It is ironic to win back-to-back titles against Harborfields — they’re a great team, but we worked really hard to be here. It was crazy, it was a really tense situation, but we pulled together.”

Mount Sinai moves on to face Mattituck for the Small School champion title at Suffolk County Community College Brentwood Feb. 28 at 5 p.m. The winner will face off against the Class AA qualifier for the Section XI title. That game will be played at Suffolk’s Selden campus March 5 at 5 p.m.

Regardless of the outcome of those games, Mount Sinai has the opportunity for another first, when the Mustangs take on the Section VIII Class A champion March 11 at SUNY Old Westbury at noon for the Long Island title.

By Bill Landon

The Tornadoes are already beginning to blow through the bracket.

The eyes of the storm, seniors Alex Merhige and Kyle Stolba, racked up 29 points each as the No. 1-seeded Harborfields boys’ basketball team, which totaled a lucky 13 3-pointers in the win, knocked out No. 8 Mount Sinai, 86-53, in the Class A quarterfinals Feb. 17.

Fresh off a thrilling overtime win the night before, a 70-63 win over No. 9 Comsewogue, the Mustangs’ season comes to an abrupt end.

From opening tipoff, the game was never in question. The Tornadoes flexed their muscles, racking up point after point — draining six 3-pointers in the first quarter alone.

Merhige, who finished the game with 12 rebounds and five blocks, wowed the crowd with his second dunk of the game in the second stanza. Stolba, who had a triple double with 10 assists and 10 rebounds, hit his fourth trey of the game, and the Tornadoes took a 30-point lead into the halftime break, 56-26.

“They’re always good competitors — they work hard even when they got down in the first quarter they never gave up on us,” Stolba said of Mount Sinai. “The coach had to wake us up a little in the second just to keep going, we caught fire and I think we showed why we’re the No. 1 seed.”

Stolba started the scoring for the second half with a pair of field goals, senior Joe Kelly hit a 3-pointer and Merhige drained his fourth trey for a 73-37 advantage heading into the final eight minutes of play.

“We played great — we moved the ball really well, our defense in the first half was unbelievable,” Merhige said. “We only missed like two three’s in the first half, but our next game definitely won’t be so easy.”

Harborfields head coach John Tampori pulled his starters and the bench took the team to the finish line.

Senior David Maitre answered the call with a field goal and a shot from beyond the arc to help put the win in the record book.

Mount Sinai head coach Ryan McNeely said he was proud to see his boys make it as far as they did.

“Some people counted us out when we were 3-6 in the league, but then we won five out of six before this game,” he said. “We knew they were an excellent team and they shot the ball much better than we saw watching tape, but I’m very proud of our guys in how we finished the season.”

Senior Harrison Bak led Mount Sinai with 13 points, and classmate Nick Rose followed close behind with 11.

Senior Shane Wagner made a pair of field goals and three triples to place him second in scoring behind Stolba and Merhige with 13 points.

Harborfields head coach John Tampori said he liked what he saw from his team, and hopes that the boys can keep up the good work.

“Mount Sinai is well coached and they’re a scrappy team that put forth a great effort,” he said. “We’re not that much better than they are, it’s just that tonight was our night. They had a tough overtime win last night and to come here the next day and played us hard and that’s a credit to them.”

Harborfields will play No. 5 Wyandanch at home Feb. 21 at 5 p.m. Wagner said if his team plays like it did against Mount Sinai, they’ll be ready.

“They came out hot, but we came out hotter,” Wagner said of Mount Sinai. “We were hitting shots. I don’t think we missed a shot in the first quarter, maybe a 3-pointer. For the next round, we are definitely mentally ready, and we’re physically ready.”

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Kate Tardo passes the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Harborfields’ Kate Tardo is the core of her team’s defense, who according to head coach Glenn Lavey is always tasked with guarding the opponent’s leading scorer. True to form, the senior held her opponent to just one basket in Harborfields’ crushing defeat of Amityville, 73-32, on the road Feb. 7.

Christiana de Borja drives the lane. Photo by Bill Landon

“She’s probably the most unsung hero probably in the county,” Lavey said of Tardo. “She has an assignment to guard really good players — [La’Niya Clark] is a 1,000-point scorer and Kate held her.”

Clark went on to score 13 points.

Lavey added that his All-County player does things behind the scenes that are an integral part of the team’s success.

“It’s like noticing an offensive lineman — no one notices the right tackle, they notice Tom Brady, so she’s the one that protects Brady, but all they write about is Tom Brady.”

Harborfields led 19-5 after eight minutes of play, and jumped ahead 41-21 by the halftime break.

“Our energy — we just kept pushing the ball,” Tardo said. “We were tiring them out and getting them frustrated. We kept up our pace and our intensity the entire game. We played a full 32 minutes.”

The defense held the Warriors at bay at every turn, as the shot clock worked against the home team. This is a tactic Lavey said his team has employed effectively all season.

Falyn Dwyer scores. Photo by Bill Landon

“We haven’t given up more than 37 points in a game all season,” he said. “That’s why we know we have a chance to go all the way — it’s because of our defense.”

Even after swapping his starters for bench players, Amityville couldn’t close the gap.

Senior Christiana de Borja led all scorers with 16 points and had seven assists. Eighth-grader Madison Brady, who hit a pair of 3-pointers, six free-throws and a field goal was close behind with 14 points, and senior Grace Zagaja finished with a double-double on 13 points and 11 rebounds.

“We kept our composure throughout the game,” Zagaja said. “We kept our energy up and that frustrated them. We kept picking at them until they [made mistakes], and then we started to make baskets, and that’s kinda how we do it.”

With the win, Harborfields, at 15-1 overall and 12-1 in League V, secured at least a share of the league title. Sayville currently sits at 11-2, so if Harborfields doesn’t win its final game of the regular season, a home game against Islip on Feb. 9, and Sayville wins its matchup, the two would share the top spot. Weather permitting, tip-off for the game against Islip is scheduled for
6 p.m.

Grace Zagaja looks for the rim inside the paint. Photo by Bill Landon

Lavey said although he’s not looking past Islip at home, his team needs to transition into playoff mode.

“What we want to get better at is running the floor and getting easier baskets,” he said. “We attack the rim, but we want to get the ball up the court, reverse and attack and not let our opponent set up its defense.”

Floor general de Borja, who is good at controlling the tempo this way, said she believes if the team keeps doing what it’s been doing, it’ll be successful.

“We definitely have the will to win, we just need the will to prepare in this home stretch,” she said. “And if we do that, I think we’ll have a good playoff run.”

The big guns brought it home for Mount Sinai.

John Parente won by a major decision, 12-0, at 195 pounds, and Bobby Christ edged his opponent, 4-3, in the finals to propel Mount Sinai to a second-place finish behind Half Hollow Hills West at the Bob Armstrong wrestling tournament at Port Jefferson Jan. 21.

“I told them if you want to wrestle in the county tournament this is the last time to show us what you’ve got,” Mount Sinai head coach Matt Armstrong, who is also Bob’s son, said he told his team. “A freshman that just came up, Adam Shata, had a big win at 160 pound with a solid pin, so we have some freshmen that are really stepping up.”

Jahvan Brown at 138 pounds and Neil Esposito at 145 pounds, made some noise and, according to Armstrong, are wrestling well for this time of year despite their inexperience. Although neither made it to the finals, four other Mustangs did. The team had nine place in total.

“We’re turning it around here toward the end of the season.”

—Robert Alberti

Northport finished with 168 points, just behind Mount Sinai, which finished with 174.

Unlike the Mustangs, the Tigers brought it home in the finals, as all three representing the blue-and-gold took home tournament titles.

“We’re turning it around here toward the end of the season,” Northport head coach Robert Alberti said. Seven of his other wrestlers placed.

Junior Jake Borland, a 113-pounder, is currently ranked sixth in the county in his weight class. He topped Mount Sinai’s Matt Campo, 9-2, who is a returning county champion.

“We expect him to win every time he goes out,” Alberti said of his grappler. “It was a good test for him leading up to counties.”

Borland placed third in the Armstrong tournament last year, and brought his A-game this time around. He won his first match with a pin, and the next two by technical falls.

“I feel confident scoring points,” he said, adding that he knew he had to have a strong mentality and wrestle smart to win in the finals, using his fireman’s carry, duck under and high crotch to help him gain points.

Borland said he can see improvements in his game from last season.

“I got better at getting out on bottom, because last year I struggled with that,” he said. “Now I get right up. Right after [Campo] took me down I got out and took a shot, and I got him right to his back and scored. I got two for a takedown and three for back points and from there I started scoring.”

“[Kenny Cracchiola] wants to make an impact and he’s really done it. He’s beaten some really good guys and overall, matchup-to-matchup, he continues to be a dominant wrestler.”

—Garry Schnettler

At 132 pounds, junior Chris Esposito clinched the championship title with a 9-2 decision over Ward Melville’s Rafael Lievano, who is currently ranked third in the county. Esposito beat his opponent last weekend as well.

“That was a good statement for Chris to come out and beat the kid for a second time in a row,” Alberti said. “He’s showing the county that he’s here to wrestle, and he’s not going to be happy without winning.”

Esposito was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler after recording the most pins in the least amount of time. He pinned his first opponent in 20 seconds, his second in 59 and his third in 1:30, before sizing up his final foe. He said he came into the match knowing what he needed to do, and he wanted to prove that his win last weekend wasn’t a fluke.

“I knew the first time I wrestled him I didn’t wrestle as good as I could,” Esposito said. “Mentally, every time I go out to a match I’m calm, no matter what. I always want to score first, but even if I get scored on I never lose it; I remain calm and keep working.”

Billy Shaw was the final champion for Northport, who won 6-5 over Mount Sinai’s Joe Goodrich at 152 pounds. It was the grappler’s first tournament win.

“He had a tough match at North Babylon on Friday wrestling the No. 1-ranked kid in the county — he got beat up a little bit,” Alberti said. ”So for him to come out the next day and win his first tournament as a varsity wrestler is good for him. For him to turn around is a testament to his hard work.”

Ward Melville finished fourth with 136 points. In a unique and rare scenario, Kenny Cracchiola beat teammate Richie Munoz by a technical fall, 16-0.

Cracchiola went 4-0 on the day, winning three of his matches by technical falls and the other by a pin.

“I shoot single legs to take them down and on top I do a variety of different tilts for back points, which rack up points for me pretty quickly,” he said.

“Even before I step on the mat I’m always focused on wrestling, nothing else distracts me.”

—Vin Miceli

Unfortunately, he had to use these moves against his teammate, but he said he liked seeing two Patriots make it to the finals in the same weight class.

Port Jefferson followed in fifth place with 126.5 points, and sent seven to the podium.

Vin Miceli edged Centereach’s Luis Fernandez, 6-4, and was named the Champion of Champions. He had two pins as he battled his way through the bracket.

He said he focused to be able to bring home the gold.

“Even before I step on the mat I’m always focused on wrestling, nothing else distracts me,” he said. “I put in a lot of work in the off-season, so it really shows how much you can get out of the work you put in.”

Joey Evangelista edged Half Hollow Hills West’s Joe Costa, 3-0, for his title at 145 pounds. He pinned his first three opponents, but said his finals match was tough.

“My coaches have preached mentality is everything, so I’ve been working on strengthening that,” he said.

According to head coach Mike Maletta, the junior has been a finalist in every tournament this season, and won two.

“As long as they both stay aggressive and take smart shots and pushing the pace, they’re going to be real successful in three weeks when they’re up in Albany,” Maletta said of the possibility of the Royals competing for state titles. “The excitement is that some guys are starting to exceed expectations.”

Centereach finished in seventh with 93 points. Jett Tancsik outscored his Half Hollow Hills West opponent 9-4, for the 160-pound championship title.

Centereach head coach Ray Bruno said he was pleased with his team’s performance. He said the tournament is a good tune up to get ready for the Cougars’ matches in the League III tournament.

“This is probably the 10th year for this tournament and I appreciate them doing it keeping my dad’s memory alive.”

— Matt Armstrong

Rounding out the scorers in the top 9 were No. 8 Harborfields with 88 points, and Comsewogue with 39.

According to Matt Armstrong, his father coached at Port Jefferson from 1969 to 1990, where they were league champions for eight years and won the New York State championship cup in 1986.

“They had some very successful teams here at the time,” he said. “It’s great to come back here as I see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time. Many of the kid’s parents wrestled for my dad. This is probably the 10th year for this tournament and I appreciate them doing it keeping my dad’s memory alive, it’s Mike Maletta who keeps it going, and he does a great job.”

Borland said his Northport team has exceeded his expectations, and he’s looking forward to rounding out the season with the final dual meet of the season Jan. 27 at Smithtown West at 6:45 p.m., before heading to Syosset for the Battle of the Belt tournament the next day.

“Coming into this year I thought we were going to be absolutely terrible,” he said. “I thought we were going to have three good kids and we were going to be that team that gets beat up on, but I realized we have a few freshmen that are going to make very good wrestlers. We’re a young team, but we’re doing damage.”

Bill Landon contributed reporting

By Bill Landon

The fourth quarter showed something the Tornadoes did little of all game: throwing.

Trailing by six points in the final minutes, the Harborfields football team came out hurling the ball against Rocky Point — making a push to tie — but time ran out on a fourth and long for a 20-14 homecoming loss.

Harborfields junior quarterback P.J. Clementi worked the sidelines and gained heavy yardage as the clock wound down to a minute left, airing the ball to junior wide receiver Gavin Buda, whose acrobatic catches and ability to get out of bounds after the grab brought the Tornadoes into Rocky Point’s zone. On a fourth and long, the Tornadoes were unable to convert as time expired.

“Rocky Point came out more physical than us in the beginning and that took away our [speed] and our running game, which forced us to pass, which is fine with us,” Harborfields head coach Rocco Colucci said. “These kids got a lot of heart, they fight to the bitter end no matter what the score is, no matter who we’re playing — they always believe they have a chance to win.”

Rocky Point struck first when junior running back Petey LaSalla punched into the end zone following a 22-yard run three minutes into the game. With senior quarterback Sean McGovern’s extra-point kick good, the Eagles were out front 7-0. McGovern shared the quarterback duties with junior Damian Rivera all afternoon.

“These kids got a lot of heart, they fight to the bitter end no matter what the score is, no matter who we’re playing — they always believe they have a chance to win.”

—Rocco Colucci

The Eagles struggled with their running game, and neither team scored in the second, as Rocky Point squandered a field goal attempt in the seconds before halftime.

Again, it was LaSalla who got the call to start off the scoring for the second half.

Early in the third, the junior broke several tackles, bounced outside and went the distance on a 32-yard run. McGovern’s foot put his team out front, 14-0.

LaSalla said he never doubted the outcome of the game.

“Not for a minute did we think we were going to lose,” he said. “Our defense really stepped up big today. We had a really good back field and we were able to shut them down, which forced them to throw the ball.”

After a sustained drive, Harborfields finally got on the scoreboard when senior running back Mark Malico ran off left tackle and took the ball 1 yard for six points. Harborfields senior kicker Thomas Beslity added another to make it a one-score game to trail 14-7.

“They’re always a tough team — we’ve had trouble with them in the past — obviously we had some trouble with them today,” Malico said of Rocky Point. “We turned it on [late] and we found our niche with our passing game with some nice catches on the sideline.”

On the ensuing kickoff, McGovern fielded the ball on his own 6-yard line, and sprinted up the left side, crosing midfield and jetting down the righ side line for a 94-yard kickoff return to stretch the Eagles lead to 20-7, with the extra-point attempt failing.

“We just had to stay consistent — every man has got to do their job and [not] overdo it,” McGovern said. “We battled through everything today between the turnovers and them coming back in the last two minutes, so we stayed calm and worked together.”

“We battled through everything today between the turnovers and them coming back in the last two minutes, so we stayed calm and worked together.”

—Sean McGovern

Harborfields switched to its passing attack with seven minutes remaining. Clementi worked the routes and the sideline, and connected with senior wide receiver Andrew Loiacono for a 70-yard catch and run to set up the Tornadoes’ next score. Clementi threw a screen pass to sophomore running back Thomas Sangiovanni, and he turned the corner jetted down the sideline for the touchdown. Beslity split the uprights to close the gap, 20-14.

“We analyzed our defense,” Sangiovanni said. “We had to execute the plays perfectly, we had to change a couple of things up and it worked out. [Rocky Point] just played harder than us in the end.”

Harborfields’ defense took a stand and a clock-eating drive forced the Eagles to punt with three minutes left. Rocky Point head coach Anthony DiLorenzo said he wasn’t surprised that the game was decided in the final seconds.

“We knew this was going to be a four quarter football game,” he said. “They’ve put it on film every week. We’ve done [that in only] two games so far, so our message all week was that this was going to be a four quarter game.”

Clementi went to the air picking apart the Eagles’ secondary, moving the chains downfield as he marched his team to Rocky Point’s 30-yard line with 1:37 left in the game.

On fourth down with 38 seconds, Clementi threw a strike to Buda crossing over the middle, but Rocky Point junior linebacker Alec Rinaldi knocked down the pass to seal the win.

Paul Lasinski, center, smiles with Harborfields High School Athletic Director John Valente, left, and Principal Rory Manning. Photo from Hansen Lee

Paul Lasinski of Greenlawn has been an athletic trainer and health teacher at Harborfields for nearly 20 years, and in less than two weeks he will walk the halls and fields of the high school for the last time as he prepares to retire.

It was about 18 years ago when Lasinski, or “Ski” as he’s known at school, took the position of athletic trainer. Ever since then, he has been a mainstay of the HF athletic program.

“I try to treat the student-athletes like I would want my child to be treated,” Lasinski said in an interview. “The kids here at Harborfields are really great. If you treat the students well and they know that you’re there for them, they know you’re giving your all for them, then a bond will come.”

Lasinski said he will be moving to South Carolina soon, and his replacement has already started training. Rachel Jersky, currently the athletic trainer at Bayport-Blue Point High School, will take over from him.

Lasinski’s history
• Hofstra athletic trainer in 1976, when men’s hoops first went to NCAA tournament
• Two sons graduated from HHS
• Was athletic trainer at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
• Has been at Harborfields since ’97

“Not having Paul roam the sidelines in his infamous trainer’s cart, or watch him tapes hundreds of ankles throughout the year, will be difficult to get used to,” said John Valente, Harborfields director of health, physical education, athletics, medical and nurse services. “[He] has left his mark on so many that he can never be replaced for who he is and what he has represented to the Harborfields Central School District.”

Lasinski said his favorite moments over the course of his HF career have been the times when he worked closely with the students. He said he was not looking forward to saying goodbye.

“The last week is going to be so difficult for me,” he said. “Being around the kids … and watching them play was such a highlight for me.”

He said one of his favorite memories was when the boys’ basketball team won the New York State championship in 2012. Lasinski was on the bus coming home with the team from Glens Falls when he said members of fire departments in the town reached out to him because they wanted to orchestrate a welcome home ceremony for the boys. He let the head coach know, and they decided to keep it a secret from the boys to surprise them.

“When we pulled around the corner … and the boys saw the sirens and the American flags, it was mayhem. That was a special moment,” he said.

Valente said it’s no secret the athletic director shares a bond with many student athletes.

“Behind this talented professional is a man revered by students, staff, parents and the entire community,” he said in an email. “Paul … gives of himself freely. He has been known to travel to athletes’ homes to check on an injury or provide care. It has always been inspiring and touching to witness the interaction that Paul has with the student athletes. They genuinely love Ski.”

Lucas Woodhouse, point guard of the 2012 team and now a key member of the Stony Brook University basketball roster, said Lasinski was an important piece of the group.

“[He] played a huge part in our team’s success over the years,” Woodhouse said. “He was great to be around, so much that people would go to just hang with him and talk about anything. It was great to have him be a major part of the team every year.”

The Greenlawn resident said he has enjoyed his time as a health teacher and said the most important part of teaching high schoolers is maintaining an open conversation, whether the topic is drugs, nutrition or sexual activity.

“You have to talk about it [with the students],” he said. “You really have to tell them what’s going on and make them aware of the choices they could make and how they affect them.”

Lasinski drives his golf cart around the grounds at Harborfields. Photo from Hansen Lee
Lasinski drives his golf cart around the grounds at Harborfields. Photo from Hansen Lee

As an athletic trainer, Lasinski would be looking over nearly 300 student athletes each day during the busier sports seasons.

“Thank God they don’t all get injured at once,” Lasinski joked.

He said a Saturday in the fall could have him working up to 12 hours, between soccer games in the morning and then football games in the later afternoon.

“You need to have a good wife,” he said of his wife Bonnie, who was a support system when he would work extra hours at the school. “She spent a lot of Saturdays without me, but she knows it’s what I love. This is what I do best. This keeps me young.”

And his efforts did not go unnoticed across the district. Valente said Lasinski has gone above and beyond his work responsibilities throughout his years of service.

“Paul works many hours and never looks at his watch,” he said. “It is not uncommon for him to be treating students as early as 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and then work over 10 hours throughout the day being at all of the contests.”

Superintendent Diana Todaro and Assistant Superintendent Francesco Ianni were both delighted the budget passed. File photo

Tuesday night was a success for school districts in the Huntington area, with all budgets approved, including Harborfields’ cap-piercing $82.8 million budget.

Throughout budget season, Assistant Superintendent for Administration and Human Resources Franceso Ianni had presented the board with several options for the 2016-17 budget. Some stayed within the 0.37 percent state–mandated tax levy cap, but did not offer programs the community had been asking for, like full-day kindergarten. Others included such programs but went above and beyond the cap. After much debate, the board adopted a nearly $83 million budget with a cap-busting 1.52 percent increase to the tax levy.

Among the costs in the budget are $600,000 for full-day kindergarten, $70,000 for a BOCES cultural arts program, $52,000 for a third-grade orchestra program and $120,000 for an additional special education teacher and two teaching assistants.

Harborfields residents have been vocal about wanting full-day kindergarten on the budget and one group, Fair Start: Harborfields Residents for Full-Day Kindergarten, traveled to Albany to seek help from state legislators on making it possible.

Rachael Risinger, a member of Fair Start, said she and the organization are elated to see a budget pass with full-day kindergarten on the menu.

“We are extremely thankful the Harborfields community came together to pass this year’s school budget,” she said in an email. “Kindergarten orientation was this week and we’ve heard from so many parents how excited their young kids are to go to full-day kindergarten starting in September. Now they will have the same fair start as every kindergarten student on Long Island.”

The district needed a 60 percent supermajority to override the cap in its budget, and with 2,099 votes in favor and 1,017 votes against, the supermajority was achieved.

Superintendent Diana Todaro said she is pleased with the outcome.

“It’s a budget that supports and meets the needs of all of our children, from kindergarten through the high school,” she said. “We just want to thank our community, parents, staff members and especially the board of education who supported us throughout this entire process.”

Ianni, who will be taking over for Todaro in 2017 as superintendent, said he is excited to work with the programs in this budget next year. “I’m very exited and pleased for the students and the community, [for] all the programs that we’re going to have,” he said. “I’m really excited [to go] into the new school year as the new superintendent in January, [with] these kinds of programs in place.”

Incumbent Hansen Lee and newcomer Colleen Wolcott were also voted in as school board members for the upcoming year, with 1,569 and 1,301 votes, respectively.

“I am extremely excited about the passing of this historic budget, and how the community came together for all of our kids,” Lee said. “[And] I am excited about my second term and [am] looking forward to more exciting things to come at Harborfields.”

Wolcott said she is eager to get started.

“I’m very excited to serve my community more than I have already been doing,” she said. “It is my honor. I’m excited to have a voice on the board of education and to work collaboratively with the district to make it better than it already is.”

Challengers Chris Kelly (1,001 votes), Marge Acosta (992 votes) and Joseph Savaglio (571 votes) fell short in their own bids.

Assistant principal Tim Russo smiles at the board of education meeting before his appointment as principal is announced. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Tornadoes have a new leader.

Assistant Principal Tim Russo was appointed principal of Harborfields High School Tuesday night at a board of education meeting.

Russo has been a part of the district for 15 years now, holding several roles over that time as an athletic coach, social studies teacher, student manager, and assistant principal.

“I think my experience in the district, being here so long, gave me an understanding of the culture of the district and the school itself,” Russo said of why he thinks he makes a good fit for the job.

Russo said he’s enjoyed his time at Harborfields and he feels like his time spent there has been an ideal scenario.

“This is the first district I ever worked in, and I couldn’t really see myself ever leaving the district,” he said. “I’m just so happy here. And this is a perfect fit for me; it felt like everything kind of aligned. You’re in the spot that you’d love to be, you get the opportunity to move forward professionally and continue to work still with all of your closest friends and colleagues.”

Current Principal Dr. Rory J. Manning is leaving the position to take over for Francesco Ianni as assistant superintendent for administration and human resources next year. And Ianni is leaving his post to become superintendent of the district, as it was announced earlier this year that Diana Todaro would be retiring in 2017.

“It has been a pleasure to work with Mr. Russo these past years in his roles as teacher, student manager and assistant principal,” Todaro said in a letter to the district. “I wish Mr. Russo much success in his new role and I am extremely confident that he will lead the high school through many new initiatives, in addition to ensuring the high standards of excellence.”

Ianni has been working with Russo for years, originally when Ianni was an assistant principal at the high school and Russo only just a social studies teacher there.

“He’s a great guy with an outstanding personality that works well with kids and the faculty,” Ianni said in a phone interview. “He’s been a great teacher, and coach, and in all of the communities here, he is very well respected. It’s always difficult to bring a great school to next level, but he has the ingredients to be successful and to provide students with the necessary support to go to the next level.”

Russo said is he up to the challenge of bringing the high school to that next level.

“I’ve been given the opportunity to take the school from being outstanding to maybe just a little bit more outstanding,” he said. “I want to be a guide, to lead the faculty and let them understand that we’re confident in everything we do in the buing and we just want to continue to do the right thing for the kids and make sure we continue to be great.”

Alex Petroski contributed reporting.

The 2016 Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame induction class was honored at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Hauppauge. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Greatness in the world of athletics was on display to be celebrated Friday night. Members of the 27th class of the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame were inducted at a ceremony held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Hauppauge. They will join past inductees like Boomer Esiason and Craig Biggio in the pantheon of impactful Suffolk sports figures.

“Each year we induct the very best of Suffolk County,” Master of Ceremonies and 1999 Hall of Fame inductee David Weiss said to kick off the evening. “These are men and women on and off the playing field who had a positive and lasting impact, and have left a legacy for all of Suffolk County.”

Among the inductees were Northport star lacrosse player Jill Byers; Setauket resident and 27-year New York Jets beat reporter, Rich Cimini; legendary Harborfields football coach and Smithtown football star, Tom Combs; the first varsity boys’ basketball coach at Comsewogue, Frank Romeo; and Deer Park three-sport standout and football All-American at Stony Brook University, Chuck Downey. Richie LoNigro, owner of Port Jefferson Sporting Goods, which has been open since 1973, was also honored with a special recognition award.

Byers graduated from Northport in 2005. She is the only athlete to be named All-Long Island team in three sports during her high school career, playing basketball, soccer and lacrosse. She was a two-time All-American in lacrosse during high school, and also received the distinction four times during her career at the University of Notre Dame. She also competed on the United States women’s lacrosse national team.

“African proverb states that it takes a village to raise a child,” Byers said during the ceremony Friday. She credited, among others, her three older brothers for her success, stating that they never let her win at anything. “Thank you to my village for giving me the opportunity to represent you here tonight.”

Setauket resident Rich Cimini was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a beat reporter for the New York Jets. Photo by Alex Petroski
Setauket resident Rich Cimini was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a beat reporter for the New York Jets. Photo by Alex Petroski

Cimini is the longest tenured Jets beat reporter in team history, working for the Daily News, Newsday and for the past six years, ESPN. He has received awards from the Associated Press and the Pro Football Writers of America for his work over the years.

He joked that he didn’t feel like he belonged in a class with people who accomplished so much on the field, being that his accomplishments took place entirely in the press box.

“I feel like the nerd who got invited to the cool kids party,” Cimini said.

He mentioned his supportive parents and his understanding wife of 25 years, who is okay with planning their lives yearly around the NFL schedule.

“She’s the real hall of famer in our family,” Cimini said of his wife Michelle, who is actually a lifelong New York Giants season ticket holder.

Tom Combs has been the athletic director in the Patchogue-Medford school district since 2003. Before that, he played Division II football at Ashland University in Ohio following his four years at Smithtown. He became the head football coach at Harborfields in 1990, where he won five county championships and two Long Island Championships over a 13-year run.

“I am humbled by the talent and accomplishments of this class,” Combs said. “I’m just very honored and blessed to be up here.”

Combs has two daughters who followed in his footsteps and became teachers and coaches.. He thanked his family, friends and players for helping him to achieve the successes that led to his induction.

“Being a football coach is always something I wanted to do,” he said, adding that his players earning scholarships to attend college and play football was always important to him. “That’s what I’m always proud of as a coach.”

In 1968, Frank Romeo became the first varsity basketball coach at Comsewogue. During a 24-year span, Romeo led Comsewogue to eight league titles, one large school Section XI title and 15 straight playoff appearances. From 1987 to 1990, Romeo’s record was 62-5. He left Comsewogue to become the head basketball coach at Suffolk County Community College in 1992, where he made the playoffs in all of his seven seasons there.

Romeo used the word “we” repeatedly about his spot in the Hall of Fame.

“For all of my former players at Comsewogue and at Suffolk Community College — they were the main ingredient in the term ‘we,’” he said. “They did the playing and they made the sacrifices. Some years we were good enough to win championships and other years we played just as hard and we didn’t win championships. They can now be assured that they made their mark in Suffolk County. They got us to the Hall of Fame.”

Frank Romeo was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as varsity basketball coach at Comsewogue High School and Suffolk County Community College. Photo by Alex Petroski
Frank Romeo was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as varsity basketball coach at Comsewogue High School and Suffolk County Community College. Photo by Alex Petroski

Chuck Downey was a standout wrestler, football player and lacrosse player during his years at Deer Park. He was a part of Stony Brook University’s first football team in 1984, where he still holds nearly 30 school records and 12 NCAA records. He was a three-time All-American while at Stony Brook, which earned him a professional contract with the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles. That marked the first time a Stony Brook athlete signed a professional sports contract. Downey has since followed in the footsteps of his father Raymond, an FDNY Battalion Chief. His father died in the line of duty on Sept. 11, 2001.

Weiss gave Downey a memorable introduction.

“What a great way to end a wonderful evening with an inductee who epitomizes the word hero from a family of heroes,” Weiss said of the last member to be announced.

Downey joked that he’d rather be in a burning building then standing in front of a room full of people to speak.

“I’m truly honored and deeply grateful to be up here tonight along with these other amazing athletes,” he said.

Many of Richie LoNigro’s 12 children, 25 grandchildren and five great grandchildren were present to honor the man who has become a fixture in Port Jefferson.

“I own a business that makes trophies and trophies are things that we’re all very proud of. I brought my trophies with me tonight and they’re all sitting out there in the audience,” he said, talking about his family. “These are my trophies and awards, and I take them with me wherever I go.”

To learn more about the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame visit www.suffolksportshof.com.

By Elana Glowatz

Desperate times call for desperate budget measures.

For the first time in four years, a northern Suffolk County school district is taking aim at its tax levy cap, looking to bust through that state budget ceiling as more districts around New York do the same in tight times.

The New York State School Boards Association said the number of school districts seeking a supermajority of voter approval — 60 percent — to override their caps has doubled since last year. The group blames that trend on inflation.

tax-cap-graphicwThe state cap limits the amount a school district or municipality can increase its tax levy, which is the total amount collected in taxes, from budget to budget. While commonly referred to as a “2 percent tax cap,” it actually limits levy increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation — whichever is lower — before certain excluded spending, like on capital projects and pension payments.

This year, the rate of inflation was calculated at just 0.12 percent and, after other calculations, the statewide average for an allowed tax levy increase will be 0.7 percent, according to NYSSBA.

“The quirks and vagaries of the cap formula mean it can fluctuate widely from year to year and district to district,” Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer said in a statement.

More school districts are feeling the pressure — a NYSSBA poll showed that 36 districts will ask voters to pass budgets that pop through their caps, double the number last year.

It may be easier said than done: Since the cap was enacted, typically almost half of proposed school district budgets that have tried to bust through it have failed at the polls. That’s compared to budgets that only needed a simple majority of support, which have passed 99 percent of the time since the cap started.

In 2012, the first year for the cap in schools, five districts on Suffolk’s North Shore sought to override it, including Mount Sinai, Comsewogue, Three Village, Rocky Point and Middle Country. Only the latter two were approved, forcing the others to craft new budget proposals and hold a second vote.

Middle Country barely squeaked by, with 60.8 percent of the community approving that budget, and Comsewogue just missed its target, falling shy by only 33 votes.

Numbers from the school boards’ association that year showed that more Long Island school districts had tried to exceed their caps and more budgets had failed than in any other region in the state.

But four years later, Harborfields school district is taking a shot.

Officials there adopted a budget that would increase its tax levy 1.52 percent next year, adding full-day kindergarten, a new high school music elective and a BOCES cultural arts program, among others. Harborfields board member Hansen Lee was “optimistic” that at least 60 percent of the Harborfields community would approve the budget.

“We’re Harborfields; we always come together for the success of our kids and the greater good,” Lee said.

The school boards’ association speculated that more school districts than just Harborfields would have tried to pierce their levy caps if not for a statewide boost in aid — New York State’s own budget increased school aid almost $25 billion, with $3 billion of that going specifically to Long Island.

Now that New York school districts have settled into the cap, Long Islanders’ eyes are on Harborfields, to see whether it becomes an example of changing tides.

Next Tuesday, Harborfields will see if it has enough public support to go where few Long Island districts have ever gone before, above and beyond the tax levy cap.

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